Saturday, June 28, 2008

Creating a small niche

Publisher, Niche of Truth, tries to dispel the many misconceptions of Islam through books, cassettes and pamphlets

By Shevlin Sebastian

On May 24, 2001, M. M. Akbar, the executive director of publisher Niche of Truth, had a debate about Islam and Hinduism with the then President of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (Kerala unit), Dr. Puthezhath Ramachandran at Perunalmannal, Malappuram. About 10,000 people were in attendance.

Following the debate, Ramachandran told Akbar that the several misconceptions he had about Islam were cleared. “Imagine, the president of the VHP was telling me this,” says Akbar, 42. “So, that meant he did not know the real picture, even though he was fighting against Islam.” Ramachandran says, “It was an enlightening experience for me.”

Akbar says that in Kerala people live along segregated lines, and are ignorant about the beliefs of others. “Hence, there are so many misinterpretations, which lead to a clash between communities.”

To counter this, Niche of Truth was set up in 1990 in Malappuram. Subsequently, its headquarters has now been shifted to Kochi.

The aim, says Akbar, is to spread the message of Islam and remove apprehensions that the religion propagates terrorism and that jihad means the killing of non-Muslims. He says the message is propagated through books, CDs and pamphlets.

“We encourage people to ask questions about Islam and we give our responses,” he says. “We are aware that terrorist activities are taking place in the name of Islam and we are fighting against that.”

Ramchandran says that a few terrorists are creating the impression that every Muslim is a fanatic. “In fact, more than 90 per cent of the Muslims are peace-loving,” he says.

Niche of Truth publishes books which advocate the relevance of the Quran in modern life, the necessity of religion in the era of science, and the authenticity of the Holy Book.

However, at the book fair at ‘Salvation-the international exhibition of Islam’ at the JN International Stadium at Kochi a few weeks ago, it was interesting to see that there were as many CDs as books.

“People are reading less these days,” says Akbar, with a smile. “The CDs sells more than the books. People do not want to strive to get knowledge. It seems to me they are just lazy.”

But Akbar is not lazy. In fact, he is keen to change the negative perception of Islam, which, he feels, is being propagated by the mainstream media.

“The media in India is a product of globalisation,” he says. “In globalisation, Islam is enemy No. 1. The Western bias is being followed by the Indian media. We are doing our best to clear the falsehoods, but the negativity continues.”

The Niche of Truth office is on the third floor of the Salafi Cultural Complex, near Vytilla. Inside, on shelves, books and CDs are on sale. On one side, there is the office of Snehasamvadan, a monthly magazine.

On the opposite side, is the Creative Media section where the CDs and the documentaries are made, a research unit, a recording studio, an administrative section, as well as a library.

“We have Muslim and non-Muslim visitors who come to the library,” says Nabeel Mohammed V, who works at Niche.

Apart from publishing original works, Niche also does several translations. Says Shameem K. Hashim: “We usually translate world-famous Islamic books into Malayalam. The last book I translated is called, ‘From my sisters’ lips’ by Na’ima B. Robert.”

Born in Britain, Nai’ma, a black of South African descent, embraced Islam and, as the synopsis in says, the book ‘recounts the compelling story of her conversion, and also offers first-hand accounts of some of the extraordinary Muslim women she has come to know in recent years - women like herself who have chosen to live behind the veil.’

However, the best-selling book for Niche is ‘The authenticity of Quran’ written by Akbar himself. “Around 10,000 copies have been sold,” he says. “In the book, I answer many criticisms against Islam and the Quran.”

(Copyright: The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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