IN APRIL 9, 2018, the AB Islamic Studies of the Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU) became a victim of “fake news” that was circulated on social media. The said fake news attacked the program as a course in the university that promotes a single type of Islamic School of thought. This fake news was circulated in Facebook. Possible student applicants for the program were discouraged by their parents. The team from Ateneo who were supposed to conduct the admission exams were bashed and bullied on social media. As a result, the scheduled entrance examination for the university set in Cagayan de Oro City last April 14 was cancelled.
The students of the said program in the university were quick to issue a statement saying, “The Bachelor of Art in Ateneo Islamic Studies major in Political Economy is a program in Ateneo de Davao University that is under the Social Sciences with Ustadz Janor Balo as the Program Head. The curriculum that this course is following is from Ched. This course is not a course wherein a certain religion is to be taught but it is a study of the political economy in the Islamic perspective. It is a course wherein we will get to understand Islam’s history, culture, philosophy, law, and related studies to its political economy. The limited slots of scholarship that are offered are scholarships from the University President. The University, despite of it being a Jesuit school, advocates interreligious dialogue and respects every beliefs of students, faculty, and staff.”
What is fake news? There can be a lot definitions about this issue, but for us in Al Qalam, fake news is an information that is being circulated that is incorrect, either intentionally or unintentionally, to attack other people for political and economic interests. This issue is a serious concern.
It is a serious concern because it has bearing on the trust that the public has on certain people and institutions who are spreading these fake news. It also impacts the narrative being created against a person or a program without clear basis or even personal knowledge on the truths and basic facts of the subject. Similar to the case of the AB Islamic Studies program of the AdDU. The persons who are more reliable to discuss what this course is all about are the teachers and students who are under this program.
Parents, religious authorities, and teachers should teach young people how to identify "fake news”. Our youth must look beyond the social media as source of information. They need to accept and understand that it is okay to "exchange ideas”, allow inter faith and intra faith discussions to take place online and off-line. As part of the academe, it is also our role to equip young people with the skills needed to use the digital world critically in order to recognize information and unreliable claims on social media and falsified news with the purpose of persecuting other views and religions.
Moreover, we need our youth today to be critical minded to distinguish what is true from what is not true. We need to encourage them to see the world through different perspectives, appreciate different ideas, be open to different cultures. In today’s world, we need to understand and recognize diversity. We need to engage other groups who may have different views from us without attacking them or putting their dignity as a human being.
The Holy Quran mentioned, “Believers, if a troublemaker brings you news, check it first, in case you wrong others unwittingly and later regret what you have done, and be aware that it is God’s Messenger who is among you: in many matters you would certainly suffer if he were to follow your wishes. God has endeared faith to you and made it beautiful to your hearts; He has made disbelief, mischief, and disobedience hateful to you. It is people like this who are rightly guided through God’s favor and blessing: God is all knowing and all wise”. (Quran 49:6-8)
What happened to the AB Islamic Studies program of AdDU is a realization for all of us how certain individuals think and promote sectarian divide. This act is similar to the Arab practice called Takfir, “the pronouncement that someone is an unbeliever (kafir) and no longer Muslim”. I hope that this will not grow into something big that will encourage religious intolerance, violence, bigotry, and misunderstanding within our communities. Interfaith and interfaith dialogue must bridge us and not divide us.