2017, Vol. 79(3) 219–244
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of Muslims and Islam
from 2000 to 2015:
Department of Communication, University of California,
Department of Communication, University of Vienna, Austria
This article reports a meta-analysis of 345 published studies to examine the media’s
role in construction of a Muslim and Islamic identity. A quantitative analysis highlights
the geographical focus, methods, theories, authorship, media types, and time frames of
published studies. A qualitative analysis investigated the most prominent researched
themes. Our findings suggest that a large majority of studies covered Western coun-
tries, while Muslim countries and Muslim media have been neglected. We also identified
an evident lack of comparative research, a neglect of visuals, and a dearth of research
on online media. We found that most studies investigated the themes of ‘migration’,
‘terrorism’, and ‘war’. Moreover, our meta-study shows that Muslims tend to be nega-
tively framed, while Islam is dominantly portrayed as a violent religion. Implications of
these findings are discussed.
Islam, media portrayals, media representation, meta-analysis, Muslims
Media representation of minorities is a well-researched topic in the academic com-
munity (Hall, 1990; Poole, 2002; Van Dijk, 1991). The past few decades have seen
a resurgence of interest, as indicated by extensive scholarly work examining the
relationships between media representation of minorities and issues concerning
ethnicity, race, multiculturalism, and identity politics. However, today, of all the
Saifuddin Ahmed, Department of Communication, University of California, Davis, 354 Kerr Hall, 1 Shields
Avenue, Davis, CA 95616, USA.
minorities in world aﬀairs, Muslims and Islam are at the crux of much censure and
debate. Since the horriﬁc events of 9/11, media and political debates surrounding
issues pertaining to Muslims and Islam have narrowed to an Orientalist discourse
(Saeed, 2007), while the relationship between Western nations and Muslims
has been re-interpreted as a divide between the West and the world of traditional
Islam (Ibrahim, 2010). There is a dominant antagonistic view against Muslims and
Islam across many societies, with the most strained sociopolitical relationships
being witnessed in the USA (Powell, 2011). The ‘clash of civilizations’ proposition
saw a return during the Bush administration (Kumar, 2010: 255), while incidents in
other parts of the world (e.g., Jyllands-Posten and Charlie Hebdo cartoon contro-
versies) evidence a simplistic public understanding about Islam, resulting in pos-
sible anti-Muslim sentiments (Akbarzadeh and Smith, 2005).
Numerous scholars across disciplines have investigated media representation of
Muslims and Islam through various lenses of analytical inquiry and across varying
geo-political contexts, which include: North America (Ibrahim, 2010; Kumar,
2010; Said, 1978, 1980; Shaheen, 2009), Europe (Ehrkamp, 2010; Poole, 2002),
Asia (Ahmed, 2010, 2012; Green, 2013), Latin America (Ahlin and Carler, 2011)
and Oceanian countries (Ewart, 2012; Kabir, 2010, 2011; Patil, 2015). Despite the
vast scholarship, we are still lacking a systematic analysis of literature providing us
with a detailed understanding of overall ﬁndings and trends.
This study presents a meta-analysis of 345 academic studies pertaining to media
representations of Muslims and Islam from 2000 to 2015. Our interest in this area is
manifold: First, in the last two decades, hundreds of studies have investigated the
portrayal of Muslims and Islam in the media, to establish that social resentment,
coupled with cultural and economic factors, have led to the alienation of Muslims
from societies. Our study considers the diﬀerent methods, perspectives, and ﬁnd-
ings from all these studies in order to provide a consolidated picture of the present
literature. Second, we examine the media’s role in the construction of a Muslim and
Islamic identity to propose a common, general framework of media representations
of Muslims and Islam across societies. Third, we are interested in knowing if and
how these studies consider or represent the perspective of Muslims. The Muslim
community has over a billion people, and it stretches across six continents encom-
passing hundreds of cultures (Courbage and Todd, 2014). Thus, understanding the
focus on Muslim people is important for global geo-political concerns.
For our study, we followed a content-based meta-analytical approach
(Kamhawi and Weaver, 2003; Li and Tang, 2012; Matthes, 2009) because most
of the studies in our sample did not allow for computing eﬀect sizes and other
statistical indices. We followed a two-step meta-analytical procedure: In the ﬁrst
step, we used quantitative measures to examine theoretical perspectives being used,
countries and continents being investigated, methods and data gathering instru-
ments being employed, media resources being examined, the time frame being
considered, as well as authorship details. In the second step, we followed an in-
depth qualitative approach to conduct an analytical review and identify the most
common themes or topics related to the portrayal of Islam and Muslims in the
220 the International Communication Gazette 79(3)
media. Taken together, our study provides insights which can enable researchers to
comprehensively understand the status of the research, ﬁll gaps in the literature and
build on existing strands of research.
Media representation of minorities
Mass media play an important role in the creation and distribution of ideologies
(Gitlin, 1980; Hall, 1990) and thereby contribute to the overall cultural production
of knowledge (Poole, 2002). The stories and images in the media provide resources
(symbols) through which we organize a common culture and through the appropri-
ation of which we insert ourselves into this culture (Van Dijk, 1991). Numerous studies
have shown mass media to articulate dominant social values, ideologies and develop-
ments, and that these characteristics often lead to misrepresentation or stereotypical
portrayals of minorities in the media (Hall, 1990, 1992a, 1992b; Saha, 2012; Van Dijk,
1991). Over the years, scholars have investigated media portrayals of minorities
through the lenses of race, ethnicity, and religion. Hartmann and Husband (1974)
and Hartmann et al. (1974), for instance, investigated the ethnic news coverage in
Britain during the 1960s and found that the emerging news framework encouraged the
perspective of ‘people of color’ as problems, aberrations, or just oddities. Hall (1992a;
1992b) found similar results, as blacks in the UK were symbolized as less civilized and
culturally inferior due to diﬀerences in theirraceandcolorascomparedtothemajor-
ity. Besides the UK, scholars investigating race relations in the USA in the 1980s also
found stereotypical representations of Latinos and other minorities in the American
press (Totti, 1987; Wilson and Gutierrez, 1985). Media discourses were frequent in
associating minorities with drug involvements and depicting them as problematic to
society (Wilson and Gutierrez, 1985). Media portrayals of African-Americans were
found to align with majority white preconceptions of blacks being thieves, trouble-
makers, violent, and drug pushers (Oliver, 1994; Staples, 2011). Scholars in other parts
of the world found similar representation of other minorities (Kabir, 2010).
Van Dijk (1991) analyzed two decades of research investigating the relations
between media and minority groups across North America and Europe and con-
cluded that the media was representative of a white supremacy which predomin-
antly depicted minorities as ‘a problem or a threat, and mostly in association with
crime, violence, conﬂict, unacceptable cultural diﬀerences, or other forms of devi-
ance’ (Van Dijk, 1991: 20). Scholars in the last two decades have continued to
obtain similar ﬁndings of stereotypical representation of minorities in the media
(Poole, 2002; Saha, 2012). Since the resurgence of religion in public life in late
2000s, there has been a shift in the academic interest of media studies from race
and ethnicity to religion, and Islam has been at the fore (Knott and Poole, 2013).
Media, Muslims, and the West
The anti-Muslim discourse in the Western media began with the Iranian
Revolution in 1979 and the ensuing US hostage crisis, and it grew belligerent
Ahmed and Matthes 221
during the periodic crises over Libya and the Middle East in the 1980s (Said, 2008).
In past decades, wars in Iraq in the 1990s, and the consequent events of 9/11 in
2001, further ampliﬁed the tone and volume of the discourse (Ahmed, 2012).
Perceptions of Islam as anti-democratic, and a menace to the West, have persisted
since the late 1970s (Esposito, 1995; Said, 1981). However, academic interest in the
representation of Islam in the media grew after the publication of the Runnymede
Trust’s report, Islamophobia: A Challenge for All of Us in 1997 (Knott and Poole,
2013). Poole’s (2002) investigation was one of the seminal studies in this area of
research in recent times. Since then a number of scholars across societies have
investigated the relationships between media, Muslims, and Islam.
Although over the years the media have paid detailed attention to conﬂicts
involving Muslims and Islam, there are grounds to assume they have failed to
comprehend the sociopolitical and economic reasons behind such issues. In the
generalizability of assumptions, ‘The West’ and ‘Islam’ can be expected to be
deﬁned as opposites, propagating the idea of confrontation (Poole, 2002).
Scholars have argued that what is said or written about Muslim thought, nature,
religion, or culture in the mainstream Western media is not the same as what is said
or discussed about Africans, Jews, other Orientals, or Asians (Said, 1980). Islam is
portrayed as populated by ‘an undiﬀerentiated mob of scimitar-waving oil sup-
pliers’ (Said, 1980: 19) or as a religion of irrational violence that subordinates its
women (Said, 1980). In recent research, studies have found that the media repre-
sents Islam as a monolithic, homogenized, or sexist religion (Korteweg, 2008;
Mishra, 2007a). Muslims are often framed as heartless, brutal, uncivilized, religious
fanatics (Shaheen, 2009), as militants and terrorists (Ewart, 2012; Ibrahim, 2010;
Powell, 2011), or as societal problems (Bowe et al., 2013; Hussain, 2007; Ibrahim,
2010) within well-constructed war and conﬂict stories (Akbarzadeh and Smith,
2005; Poole, 2002). Islam is presented from the perspective of a ‘white man’s
world’ and Muslims are categorized as ‘them’ and presented as a threat to ‘us’
(Osuri and Banerjee, 2004: 167).
Despite this rich body of research, we lack a systematic overview of research
ﬁndings and trends. Such an overview may provide a comprehensive understanding
of how Muslims and Islam are covered in the media, and how this topic is treated
by scholars. We investigate the most common themes covered in the literature.
Furthermore, we systematically analyze the geographical focus, methods, theories,
authorship, media types, and time frames of published studies. The present meta-
study therefore adds to the existing body of work by providing an overview of
how media scholars have investigated the coverage of Muslims and Islam.
These insights can be used as a roadmap for future research.
Meta-analysis is a ‘systematic quantitative technique used to ascertain relationships
among variables’, which is a valuable and popular research tool (Emmers-
Sommer and Allen, 1999: 486). Scholars suggest that meta-analyses help elucidate
222 the International Communication Gazette 79(3)
misperceptions in literature, examine methodological arguments, and oﬀer a com-
prehensive assessment of theoretical standpoints (Allen, 2009). However, as Li and
Tang (2012: 406) suggest, sometimes meta-analyses can be limited in examining a
topic with a varied spectrum of sub-topics, as in the case of media representations
of Muslims and Islam. Therefore, an analytical review of the topic is also presented
in this study to support the ﬁndings of the meta-analyses.
Sample and inclusion criteria for studies
We used the following combination of keywords: ‘media’, ‘media portrayals’, ‘media
representation’, ‘media coverage’, ‘media stereotype’ AND ‘Muslim’, ‘Muslims’,
‘Islam’, ‘Islamic’, ‘Islamophobia’, ‘Sharia’, ‘Shia’, ‘Sunni’, ‘Arabs’, ‘Middle East’,
and a list of Muslim countries (e.g., Algeria, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and
Jordan, among others). The following databases were searched: Web of Science
(SSCI), EBSCO, JSTOR, SCOPUS, Taylor and Francis, Wiley Online Library,
ProQuest, and Google Scholar. We initially identiﬁed 522 articles. Book reviews
were ignored. The abstract of each article was read to see if it investigated or dis-
cussed media portrayals of Muslims or Islam. Here, studies investigating topics
involving the Muslim (ethnic) media rather than media representations of Muslims
were also ignored. Our ﬁnal criteria for inclusion in the sample resulted in a total of
345 articles. The choice of the period 2000–2015 was selected to reveal how research
on media representation of Muslims has been conducted in the new century. Due to
limitations of knowledge of multiple languages, the ﬁndings of this study are neces-
sarily bound to the selection of English language journals; this is, however, a
common procedure for meta-studies (Matthes, 2009).
The present meta-analysis was conducted in two steps. At the ﬁrst step, we con-
ducted a quantitative data analysis, coding the most important characteristics of
the sampled studies, which are discussed in detail below. At the second step, a
qualitative analysis was conducted to identify the most common themes investi-
gated in studies of media portrayals of Muslims and Islam.
Quantitative analysis coding
At the quantitative stage, each article was coded for the following categories:
1. Year of publication
5. Authorship: The authorship category was coded for the ﬁrst author’s country
of aﬃliated university.
Ahmed and Matthes 223
6. Methodological approach: We coded three methodological approaches: quan-
titative analysis, qualitative analysis, and mixed analysis. An article was coded
as quantitative if ‘the results determined involved numerical or counting pro-
cedures and statistics were used to report the data’ (Kamhawi and Weaver,
2003: 11); otherwise, an article was coded as qualitative. If both approaches
were adopted, it was categorized as mixed.
7. Data-gathering instrument: Each quantitative study was coded for the follow-
ing subcategories of instruments:
a). Content analysis, b) survey, c) secondary data, d) experiment, e) mixed
(if more than one instrument was used), and f) other.
Each qualitative study was coded for the following subcategories of instruments:
a). Textual analysis, b) review, c) interview, d) focus group, e) mixed, and f)
Each study which followed the mixed methodological approach was coded
respectively for the both quantitative and qualitative instruments adopted.
8. Theory: Theories refers to frameworks of empirical evidence, which are scientiﬁc
ways of thinking about social life that encompass methods of explaining social
behavior and ideas of how societies change and develop (Harrington, 2005).
Each article was coded for the utilized theory. If multiple theories were men-
tioned, one unit for the category was equally subdivided among each mentioned
9. Analysis perspective: Each article was coded for the central analysis’ focus on
a) only media content, or b) both media and audience.
10. Type of media analyzed: The diﬀerent types of media coded were a) television
content, b) newspapers, c) Internet and online media, d) radio, e) mixed, and f)
11. Time frame: Each article was coded on the basis of ﬁve time frames: a) less
than a month, b) a month to six months, c) six months to two years, d) two to
ﬁve years, or e) more than ﬁve years.
12. Muslim Perspective: We wanted to analyze whether a study considered the
Muslim perspective in its analysis. To do so, we checked whether the study
included a) media content generated by Muslim news organizations (e.g.,
Al Jazeera Arabic), b) a Muslim sample (for surveys, interviews, focus
groups), or c) both (a) and (b).
Qualitative analysis review
Based on the focus of each study, two coders categorized a study into an overall
contextual theme. These clusters of studies varied, from investigations focusing on
224 the International Communication Gazette 79(3)
September 11 attacks, to issues pertaining to mosques, to bombings in London
(2005), Bali (2002), and Boston (2013). If a study discussed more than one theme, it
was categorized into each theme investigated. However, such cross-theme investi-
gations were few in number. We must acknowledge that some of the studies did not
fall into a commonly investigated theme and, hence, are under-represented in our
Coders and reliability
A team of two coders were employed to code the articles for the above mentioned
categories (Cohen’s kappa 0.74 to 0.96, N¼76, randomly selected).
Articles by year (2000–2015). The overall mean of articles for the 16-year period
stands at a high rate of 21.56 articles per year. Figure 1 shows the increasing
interest in this area of research, with the most productive years being 2010 and
2013 (N¼34), closely followed by 2012 (N¼31) and 2014 (N¼31).
Figure 1. Trend in academic research 2000–2015.
Ahmed and Matthes 225
Country and continent focus. Out of the 39 countries under investigation, 19 countries
had one (or fewer) studies. The results of all the countries under investigation along
with the percentage of Muslims in their respective societies are presented in Table 1.
The US was the most researched country in the world, with 99 studies (28.70%).
The UK, with 70 studies (20.28%), was the next most researched, followed by
Australia (39, 11.16%).
Analyzing by continent, we found that the research was mainly focused on
Europe (N¼100.5, 34.93%) and North America (N¼112.53, 32.61%). Australia
(Oceanic), despite its smaller size, featured a respectable 12.32.08% (N¼42.5).
Only 14.62% of studies focused on Asia (N¼50.5), where there was a major con-
centration on war-torn countries as we can see in Table 1. Research focused on
Africa (N¼14. 4.06%) and South America (N¼1, 0.29%) was minimal.
Journals. Studies were published in journals across several disciplines. The Journal of
Arab and Muslim Media Research was at the top (N¼36), followed by the International
Communication Gazette (N¼26) and the Journal of Muslim Minority Aﬀairs (N¼24).
Other journals included the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (N¼16),
Contemporary Islam (N¼13), and the Journal of Media and Religion (N¼13).
Authorship. Authors from a total of 38 countries contributed to our data set.
As shown in Figure 2, authors from the USA (N¼132, 38.24%) were the most
common, followed by those from the UK (N¼69, 20%). Australian scholars
(N¼34, 9.86%) were the third largest group of contributors worldwide, while
authors from the Netherlands (N¼16, 4.64%) and Germany (N¼16, 4.64%)
were the most productive in Europe.
Methodological approach. Out of 345 articles under inspection, 53.62% (N¼185) of
the studies favored a quantitative method, while 38.84% (N¼134) of the studies
followed a qualitative approach. Studies that followed both a quantitative and
qualitative approach were few in number (N¼26, 7.54%). Our ﬁndings corrobor-
ate previous meta-analyses results analyzing communication studies, where most
scholars were found to use quantitative methods (Li and Tang, 2012).
We further analyzed the instruments used in each of the methodological
approaches. As Table 2 shows, among quantitative studies, content analysis was
used exceedingly (N¼141, 76.22%), but the use of surveys (N¼19, 10.27%) and
experiments (N¼8, 4.32%) were minimal. For qualitative studies, the majority
were critical reviews and analytical arguments (N¼77, 57.46%), followed by text-
ual analysis (N¼24, 17.91), while focus groups were under-utilized (N¼7, 5.22%).
For mixed methodological approaches, content analysis and interviews were
Theoretical usage. More than half the studies (N¼213, 61.74%) built their research
on a theoretical framework. Overall, a total of 33 theories were used, with more
than half of them being used just once. Framing (Entman, 1993) was the most
226 the International Communication Gazette 79(3)
Table 1. List of countries by research ranking.
% of Muslim
1 USA 99.03 28.70 0.8
2 United Kingdom 69.95 20.28 4.6
3 Australia 38.5 11.16 1.9
4 Germany 14.12 4.09 5
5 Canada 13.5 3.91 2.8
6 Netherlands 10.75 3.12 5.5
7 France 9.62 2.79 7.5
8 Iraq 9.5 2.75 99
9 India 6.5 1.88 14.6
10 Denmark 6 1.74 4.1
11 Iran 6 1.74 99.4
12 Egypt 6 1.74 94.7
13 Italy 5 1.45 2.6
14 South Africa 5 1.45 1.5
15 Saudi Arabia 5 1.45 97.1
16 Afghanistan 5 1.45 99
17 New Zealand 4 1.16 0.9
18 Syria 4 1.16 90
19 Palestine 3 0.87 97.5
20 Indonesia 2.5 0.72 88.1
21 Philippines 1.5 0.43 5.1
22 Sweden 1.5 0.43 4.9
23 Switzerland 1.17 0.34 5.7
24 Algeria 1 0.29 98.2
25 Argentina 1 0.29 2.5
26 Austria 1 0.29 5.7
27 Greece 1 0.29 4.7
28 Hong Kong 1 0.29 1.3
29 South Korea 1 0.29 0.2
30 Malaysia 1 0.29 61.4
31 Mali 1 0.29 92.4
32 Nigeria 1 0.29 47.9
33 Russia 1 0.29 11.7
34 Turkey 1 0.29 98.6
35 Uzbekistan 1 0.29 96.5
36 Yemen 1 0.29 99
Ahmed and Matthes 227
commonly used theoretical approach (N¼128, 60.01%), followed by Edward
Said’s Orientalism (N¼49, 23.01%). Agenda-setting (McCombs and Shaw,
1972) was the third most commonly used theory (N¼18, 8.45%) followed by
critical discourse analysis (N¼11, 5.16%), social identity theory (N¼7, 3.28%),
and integrated threat theory (N¼7, 3.28%).
Analysis perspective. Approximately 90% of the studies (N¼310) focused solely on
discussing or analyzing media content. Only a small percentage of studies explored
both media and audience perspective (N¼35, 10.14%). Out of the studies explor-
ing the media-audience relationship, only a few focused on the role of media
discourses in Islamophobia. With regard to these, greater attention was paid to
resulting attitudinal eﬀects on non-Muslim majorities (N¼14) as compared to
Muslim minorities (N¼9).
Table 1. Continued
% of Muslim
37 Sri Lanka 0.5 0.14 8.5
38 Spain 0.2 0.06 2.3
39 Belgium 0.17 0.05 6.1
40 No country focus 4 1.16 —
Figure 2. Authorship by top 10 affiliated countries.
228 the International Communication Gazette 79(3)
Types of media analyzed. Figure 3 shows that half the studies focused on analyzing
newspapers (N¼167, 48.41%). We found the focus on television content to be
marginally low (N¼45, 13.04%). A small number of studies focused on the
Internet (N¼20, 5.80%), and we found just one study on radio.
Time frame. Figure 4 shows a majority of the studies (N¼188, 54.49%) analyzed
media content over a time period. Of those that did, it was found they largely
examined media content spanning less than a month (N¼49, 26.06%), followed
by studies which examined content between six months and two years (N¼46,
Table 2. Methodology.
Content analysis 141 76.22
Survey 19 10.27
Secondary data 11 5.95
Experiment 8 4.32
Mixed 6 3.24
Total 185 100
Review 71 52.99
Textual analysis 28 20.90
Interview 16 11.94
Ethnography 8 5.97
Focus group 6 4.48
Mixed 5 3.73
Total 134 100
Mixed method: quantitative part
Content analysis 20 76.92
Secondary data 4 15.38
Survey 2 7.69
Total 26 100
Mixed method: qualitative part
Interview 13 50
Textual analysis 9 34.61
Review 2 7.69
Mixed 2 7.69
Total 26 100
Ahmed and Matthes 229
24.47%). It was encouraging to see that 16.49% of the studies (N¼31) examined
media content spanning over ﬁve years.
Muslim perspective. It was found that only 9.56% (N¼33) of the studies incorporated
Muslim audiences or pro-Muslim media institutions (Al Jazeera,Al Hayat, and others)
in their analysis. Most of these studies either focused on Arab news networks’ coverage
of Middle East wars or compared the coverage of Western and Arab networks.
In this section, we review eight of the most commonly occurring themes found in
our sample. These are presented in descending order of their overall frequency of
Figure 4. Breakdown of time frames of studies.
Figure 3. Types of media analyzed.
230 the International Communication Gazette 79(3)
Before and after 9/11. In our review, we found that a large proportion of studies
investigated the portrayals of Muslims and Islam in various types and sources of
media, within and outside of the USA, following the before and/or after 9/11
framework. Findings suggest a change in the patterns of representations of
Muslims and Islam in the mainstream media since the attacks of 11 September
2001 (Brown, 2006). Post 9/11, media portrayals of Muslims and Islam worldwide
were mostly negative, with Muslims and Islam being framed within the context of
religious extremism and a clash of civilizations and cultures (El-Aswad, 2013;
Kumar, 2010). Critical scholars argue that the US media paralleled the views of
the Bush administration in deploying spectacles of 9/11 terror to promote speciﬁc
political agendas (Kellner, 2004) and avoided discussing any relations between the
attacks and US policies in the Middle East (Abrahamanian, 2003).
Within the USA, there were changes in volume, themes, and stereotypical
references to Islam and American Muslims. Among speciﬁc media sources, the
New York Times (Mishra, 2007b), the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington
Post (Trevino et al., 2010) were unfavorable in their representations, with
a common theme being Muslims are ‘terrorists’, ‘extremists’, ‘fundamentalists’,
‘radicals’, and ‘fanatics’. These ﬁndings corroborate studies of visual frames in
major American news networks (Ibrahim, 2010; Kumar, 2010) and verbal frames
in CNN message boards (Martin and Phelan, 2002), that reinforce that Islam is
represented as a sexist religion spawning terrorism, incapable of rationality.
Studies outside the USA have also identiﬁed that the September 11 attacks appear
to have inﬂuenced a rise in overt and indirect discrimination against Muslims—as
was witnessed in the UK (Sheridan, 2006) and Canada (Poynting and Perry, 2007).
Overall, media representations of September 11 emphasized Muslims as a threat to
universal ‘white’ values of democracy and freedom (Osuri and Banerjee, 2004).
Terrorism. The ﬁndings also point media portrayals of Muslims to be strongly asso-
ciated with terrorism, and this association was generally more pronounced after a
major terrorist event (more so, if it was local). Muslims are consequently presented
as a direct or indirect threat in societies through such portrayals. Saeed (2007)
suggests that these media misrepresentations can be linked to the development of
‘racism’, as oftentimes deep-rooted societal issues such as asylum seeking are con-
ﬂated with Islamic fundamentalism or terrorism.
Although terrorist event-speciﬁc studies were usually published years later than
the actual events, we have provided Figure 5 as a brief reference to understand the
association between overall research trends we found for 2000–2015 and the major
terrorist activities (along with major political activities—bottom half) across the
world during the same phase.
Studies investigating terrorist attacks were able to identify them as the catalytic
point when the national media and majority society adopted a common negative
stance towards Islam. For example, D’Haenens and Bink (2007) found that
before the assassination of ﬁlm-maker Theo van Gogh in 2004, the Dutch press
focused on Islam in general, but after the murder, the negative pronouncements
Ahmed and Matthes 231
about Muslims were more evident and stories focused on the crude relationships
between Islam and Dutch society. Similarly, after the 7/7 London terror attacks
and the 2007 Glasgow International Airport attack, the media in the UK con-
structed stereotypes of Muslim terrorists and conﬂated Islamic beliefs as terrorism
(Ewart, 2012; Shaw, 2012).
Figure 5. Major terrorist attacks and US political activities since 2000 against overall research
232 the International Communication Gazette 79(3)
Jackson (2010) argues for an implementation of thematic, analytical, and critical
media literacy in social studies classrooms to critically respond to portrayals of
Muslims as terrorists.
Muslim women. Several studies investigated how the media represents Muslim
women (Fahmy, 2004; Mishra, 2007a, 2007b; Williamson, 2014). The identities
of Muslim women are excluded from the overall construction of women in most
nations. There is a dominant belief that Muslim women are victims of their own
culture and a threat to the modernization of women’s identities in developed coun-
tries (Navarro, 2010). Studies by Haque (2010) and Mishra (2007a) have identiﬁed
that, post 9/11, the Western media has portrayed Muslim women as oppressed
victims in need of liberation from a religion that is gender-oppressive and violent;
furthermore, these portrayals have rendered Muslim women as mistrusted out-
siders in society.
Numerous scholars over the years have also investigated media portrayals
and perception of hijab usage by Muslim women (Donnell, 2003; Fahmy, 2004).
The events of 9/11 replaced constructions of the veil as ‘an object of mystique,
exoticism and eroticism’ with a ‘xenophobic, more speciﬁcally Islamophobic gaze
through which the veil, or headscarf, is seen as a highly visible sign of a despised
diﬀerence’ (Donnell, 2003: 123). Others highlight that the media created a general
understanding that veiled Muslim women should not be a part of the non-Muslim
progressive public sphere (Byng, 2010).
War . Several studies have focused on media representations of wars within and
between Muslim countries, with special emphasis on the wars in Afghanistan
(2001–present) and Iraq (2003–2011). Researchers comparing the USA and the
foreign media observed that the US media used pro-war and anti-Muslim/Arab
frames, while the media outside of the USA were anti-war and more humanistic in
their portrayals—examples include the results of a visual framing analysis for the
Afghan war in the International Herald Tribune and Al-Hayat (Fahmy, 2010) and a
textual comparison of elite newspapers in the USA and Sweden (Dimitrova and
¨ck, 2005). Similarly, studies investigating the framing of the Iraq war have
identiﬁed that the Western media reported the war in a dissimilar way to the Arab
networks (Salih, 2009), and even more so than the non-Arab countries (Maslog
et al., 2006). The news coverage of the Iraq war in Muslim countries was more
supportive of Iraq than was the coverage in newspapers from non-Muslim coun-
tries, which were pro-war and supported the American/British outlook.
Coverage of other wars, such as the Gaza war (Marzano, 2011) and the 1991 Gulf
war (Muscati, 2002), demonstrated that Arabs and Muslims were constructed as an
inferior, threatening, and immoral community, in order to help win public support
for war, and Islam was presented as a combatting democratic Western societies.
Migrants. Western media’s coverage of migration and the integration of Muslim
immigrants has been a hotly debated topic in the last decade (Byng, 2010).
Ahmed and Matthes 233
The culturalist approach adopted by the media focuses on the culture of the ‘origin’
and excludes the ‘broader political, cultural, economic, and social contexts’ within
which the immigrants are situated (Eliassi, 2013: 43). A greater emphasis remains on
the negative ethno-political consensus, where Muslim migrants are largely presented
as a threat to national cultures (Hussain, 2007). Others have identiﬁed the media as
raising several cultural questions in the context of Muslim immigrants, such as when
the German press discussed honor killings and forced marriages of Muslim migrant
women in Germany (Ehrkamp, 2010) or when the French and New Zealand press
subjected Muslim immigrants to labeling, harsh stereotyping, discrimination, and
suspicion (Kabir, 2010). Most have found these media stances to obstruct societal
integration of Muslim immigrants and, as a result, the alleged unassimilability dis-
course is then raised as a vital argument to avoid immigration from countries with a
high Muslim population (Fekete, 2006).
Public opinion and Islamophobia. Few studies investigated the relationship between the
media representation of Muslims and Islam and the attitudes of non-Muslims
toward Muslim minorities—or the eﬀects of these representations on Muslim
Ogan et al. (2013) found that while Islamophobia signiﬁcantly increased in the
USA between 2004 and 2008, this trend was not observed in Europe. They add that
anti-Muslim prejudice in the USA is increasingly associated with anti-Muslim
media discourses. These prejudices against Muslims were speciﬁcally driven by
security threat perceptions in the media, with the cultural threat remaining a mar-
ginal determinant (Ciftci, 2012; Wike and Grim, 2010).
It is generally observed that adolescents, oldest age cohort (Ahmed, 2012;
Brockett and Baird, 2008; Christian and Lapinski, 2003) and conservatives (Field,
2007) were more likely to exhibit Islamophobia. In non-Western countries, it was
found that foreign media, rather than national media, perpetuates higher negative
attitudes against Muslims (Ahmed, 2012). However, personal interaction and close
association with Muslims can negate Islamophobia (Ahmed, 2012; Brockett and
Baird, 2008). Rane and Abdalla (2008) found that 80% of Queenslanders did not
consider Muslims to be a national threat, and more than half the respondents
recognized that media representations of Muslims were stereotypical.
From the minority perspective, studies investigating Muslim audiences found
that the community felt the media were biased against them, and this resulted in
them distancing themselves from societies (Kunst et al., 2012) and feeling more
aﬃliated to an imagined global Muslim community (Gu
¨ney, 2010; Kabir, 2008).
Mosques. Several studies examined issues concerning mosques and their discussion
in the media. Scholars suggest that the construction of Islam in news media content
by political actors inﬂuences mosque-building debates, as they present local facts to
a national readership and infuse fear by extending the popular negative discourse
on Islam (Bowe, 2013; Saint-Blancat and Schmidt di Friedberg, 2005). Bowe (2013)
found that some political actors framed Muslims as contributing members of
234 the International Communication Gazette 79(3)
society; others portrayed them as an out-group with sinister foreign ideologies
threatening American culture. In Australia, too, ﬁndings by Dunn (2001) suggest
that mosque opponents in Sydney were (mis)informed by these stereotypical nega-
tive images of Muslims and Islam.
Event-specific. Several framing studies have been conducted in the context of speciﬁc
events related to Muslims and Islam. In the case of the publication of cartoons of
the prophet Mohammad in Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, studies identiﬁed
that instead of acting as a mediator between Western society and the Muslim
community, the media acted negatively against Islam and criticized the religion
for the lack of freedom of expression (Stro
¨ck et al., 2008).
In the case of the Darfur crisis, Galander (2012) established that the Western
categorization of the crisis was a typical case cross-cultural framing, since frames of
the Western media were subsequently copied by Muslim media.
In the case of the death of Bob Woolmer, a British national and the coach of
Pakistan’s national cricket team, Malcolm et al. (2010) found that British news’
sports coverage replicated ‘mainstream’ reporting as Muslims were presented as
violent, irrational, and backward. Finally, in the negative representation of
Muslims in Spooks (a BBC program), Morey (2010) suggested that that was a
symbolic position of British Muslims in the country as untrustworthy and of dubi-
Our ﬁndings suggest that, with the incidents of 9/11 acting as a catalyst,
media discourse evoked Said’s Orientalist approach for constructing meanings
and identities of Muslims as the ‘others’ in liberal societies. The events of 9/11
had an eﬀect on the Western world’s perception about Muslims and Islam. Post
9/11, the international media focused intensively on Muslims and Islam and the
Middle East in particular. Furthermore, the murder of Theo Van Gogh (2004) and
the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy (2005) raised the question of
Muslim integration in non-Muslim-majority societies, while the bombings in
Madrid (2004), London (2005), Toronto (2006), Mumbai (2006), and Glasgow
(2007) highlighted the threat of Muslim extremism globally. Correspondingly, we
found numerous studies to follow 9/11, migration, terrorism, and war themes. This
thematic pattern of linking Muslims and Islam with terrorism, violence, and ortho-
dox ideals, highlights the religion as a threat of a resurgent atavism, and calls to
mind Said’s criticism of the media (Said, 1978, 1981).
Since the social interactions between majorities and Muslim minorities in most
societies are quite restricted, the content produced by the media may inﬂuence
individual and societal opinions and attitudes (Hall, 1990; Hartmann and
Husband, 1974). As evidenced in our ﬁndings, anti-Muslim sentiments in the
USA are on the rise, but elsewhere the ﬁndings remain mixed. A 2015 Pew
Research Center survey corroborates our ﬁndings with most Americans
Ahmed and Matthes 235
perceiving Muslims unfavorably, while among European nations, only Italy and
Poland were critical of Muslims; anti-Muslim sentiments in France, Germany,
and the UK were not severe. There is agreement on the anti-Muslim rhetoric in
the media across most countries, but this does not always result in anti-Muslim
sentiments among all citizens. Therefore, our ﬁndings raise an important question
about the media’s inﬂuence and the ability of audiences to shape their own
opinion. In the wake of the wave of recent terrorist attacks across Europe,
the European Islamophobia Report found Islamophobia advancing across the
board—‘political environment, media outlets, on streets and in business life’—of
most European nations (EIR, 2016: 1). The report suggests that acts of terrorism
trigger Islamophobic activities, which was also witnessed in the USA after the 9/11
attacks. Therefore, given the current political and social crises involving Muslims in
most nations, researchers investigating relationships between media and Islam
should pay greater attention to how this inﬂuences perceptions and attitudes in
a majority-minority milieu.
While most of the Western mainstream media has constructed negative images
of Muslims and Islam, there is a constant eﬀort by some critical scholars to oppose
these views. These scholars argue that the media should recognize Muslims as
social partners and include them in the organization and production of media
content. According to this view, academic discourses run the risk of using pre-
constructed media categories when studying Muslims and Islam. It is thus argued
that there is a need for scholars to go beyond the frequently used paradigms and
research categories. More speciﬁcally, there is a clear need to include the range of
rapidly shifting social, political, and religious contexts.
In the remainder of this article, we suggest ﬁve points that future research in this
area should take into account.
Need to focus on new geographical regions
We found scholars from the USA to be most productive on this topic, followed by
researchers from the UK and Australia, which might explain some of the geograph-
ical biases found in this article. The attention has predominantly been on Europe
(largely the UK), North America (largely the USA), and Australia. Attention to
Arab countries has mainly focused on the war-torn regions of Iran, Iraq, and
Afghanistan, while countries in Latin America and Africa remain largely ignored.
This speciﬁcally belies the current events and existing volumes of literature discuss-
ing the turbulent relationship between Muslim immigrants, the government, and
the media in other Asian, European, and African nations.
The skew in geographical focus also results in a large proportion of research
concentration on English media sources, predominantly the New York Times,The
Guardian, ABC, BBC, and The Sun. Across Europe and Asia, the main media
sources are non-English. For a representative overview, it is thus necessary to
analyze media sources in other languages outside of English, including but not
limited to Dutch, French, German, Hindi, or Mandarin. Clearly, research needs
236 the International Communication Gazette 79(3)
to integrate the Muslim perspective to a larger extent, for instance, by studying
Muslim news organizations or Muslim samples.
We understand the focus on the USA and the UK might be a reﬂection of the
general trend in English-language social science academic research, which is largely
dominated by these two countries and a few others. The presence of credible and
well-funded research universities and organizations in these regions may further
facilitate this trend. Another factor which may reaﬃrm this trend is the limited
funding opportunities to conduct academic research when breaking new ground.
Proposals which are conventional and follow tried-and-true approaches may be
more likely to be funded, rather than new, challenging, or unorthodox proposals
dealing, for instance, with under-researched countries (Armstrong, 1997). Overall,
there is an urgent need to break the existing geographical bias and investigate
under-explored countries where Muslims are facing tense relations with either
the local, national, or international media.
Need for cross-national comparative work
The worldwide media representation of Muslims qualiﬁes the debate as highly
suitable for conducting comparative investigations, but, except for a few studies,
we found a lack of transnational comparative approaches. This is also important
for the advancement of framing research, the most commonly used framework
found in our sample. Investigations of international, domestic, or issue-speciﬁc
frames across nations would not only expand the comparative media studies
ﬁeld, but would also provide us with a better understanding of the similarities
and diﬀerences in the construction of media frames across societies. Our ﬁndings
suggest that many issues concerning Muslims and Islam are common across coun-
tries and continents; for instance, the negative portrayals of Muslims and the
domestic issue of integration is debated in European nations including Austria,
Belgium, France, and Switzerland, as well as in Asian countries such as Burma and
India. A model of cross-country inquiry comparing two or more contrasting socie-
ties can help scholars to show the robustness of a relationship between dependent
and independent variables, while comparing two similar countries can increase the
possibility of eliminating factors responsible for diﬀerences between them.
Need for cross-discipline collaboration
We found a good mix of communication, political science, sociology, psychology,
and education scholars examining issues related to Muslims and Islam. It would be
useful, however, for future scholars to expand the current understanding of the
investigated topics with truly cross-discipline collaborations. Scholars from com-
munication, sociology, political science, psychology, and related ﬁelds should
borrow and work with researchers and critical studies scholars from international
relations, religious studies, or Islamic studies to reﬁne their work. A cross-discipline
collaboration can help achieve a better understanding of media portrayals of
Ahmed and Matthes 237
Muslims and Islam because, as Dewulf et al. (2007: 13) have stated, ‘single discip-
lines are generally ill-equipped to deal with issues that are both technically and
socially complex and interdependent’.
We do acknowledge that there may be studies published in non-English-
language journals in Europe and Asia. A number of critical studies scholars
write in French, German, or other languages. However, due to language and geo-
graphical barriers, this research is not easily accessible to the international research
community. Therefore, synthesizing worldwide research on a global topic like
media representation of Islam becomes limited. A cross-discipline approach can
also be a way to scale the research focus beyond geographical boundaries and
breach cultural and linguistic impediments.
Need to focus on new media content
Our ﬁndings show that scholarship mostly focused on analyzing traditional
media, with a large emphasis on textual newspaper content. The focus on television
content was most common in the earlier period between 2004 and 2008, probably
due to the evolution of the Internet which facilitated easy access to large archives
of newspaper content after 2008. Also, the evolution of Web 2.0 technologies
platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other forms of social
networking, is forcing communication scholars to reconsider their samples and
rethink their traditional eﬀects models. Recent evidence suggests that social
media platforms serve as important outlets for the framing of news and informa-
tion (Hamdy and Gomaa, 2012) and shape public opinion and cultural
perceptions (Burch et al., 2015). Therefore, there is an urgent need to incorporate
the evolving new media environment (Cacciatore et al., 2016). Ahmed (2012), for
instance, found that adolescents who favored online media sources for their news
consumption showed greater negative attitudes towards Muslims as compared
to those who preferred traditional media. Furthermore, the availability of big
data has made it easier for social science scholars to analyze a wider range of
sources. Such data also enable sophisticated longitudinal analyses, which could
provide insights into developments or variations in the media portrayals of
Muslims and Islam.
Need to focus on visuals
We found that most scholars analyzed newspaper content, and that the analysis of
visual elements in newspapers or television coverage was under-represented. While
Fahmy (Fahmy, 2004, 2010; Fahmy and Al Emad, 2011; Fahmy and Kim, 2008)
was a consistent scholar in analyzing visuals, there remains a lack of much-required
attention to investigating the representation of Muslims and Islam through visuals.
An explanation for the lack of visual analysis could be driven by the fact that
coding visuals can be diﬃcult. However, as Graber (1989: 149) stated, ‘purely
verbal analyses not only miss the information contained in the pictures and
238 the International Communication Gazette 79(3)
nonverbal sounds, they even fail to interpret the verbal content appropriately
because that content is modiﬁed by its combination with picture messages’.
In sum, we have identiﬁed important research gaps, such as the neglect of visuals
and online media, the dearth of research on Muslim media and non-Western
countries, as well as an apparent lack of comparative research, and a neglect
of the minority perspective. However, it is important to address some of the limi-
tations to this study. We have only examined English language studies which is a
common procedure in meta-studies. The analysis of non-English articles was
beyond the scope of this work. Having said that, it is important to stress that
even if non-English work on the media coverage of Muslims and Islam exists, it
is hardly accessible to the international research community. As common in meta-
studies, our data set excludes book reviews and conference papers and this may
have inﬂuenced our results. The themes followed in our qualitative analysis were
selective, and there were few studies which could not be included under any of the
described themes. Also, the decision to exclude book chapters and monographs
might have limited our results. Finally, summarizing the perspectives of critical
scholarship surrounding this topic is a complex task given the evolving nature and
varied perspectives on the subject itself. We do acknowledge that this study’s
attempt to detail critical academic viewpoints does suﬀer due to brevity require-
ments. These limitations notwithstanding, we believe our ﬁndings can be used by
scholars to improve and expand this increasingly important research domain. The
depiction of Muslims in the media can be a severe political concern with important
implications not only for society, but also for single individuals whose lives are
aﬀected by such coverage.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conﬂicts of interest with respect to the research, author-
ship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no ﬁnancial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication
of this article.
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