Veninga Lecture: The Five ‘Media Pillars’ of Islam

Source: Wausau Daily Herald, Keith Uhlig

A leading scholar of anthropology will speak in Wausau about how Islam’s portrayal in the media shapes Americans’ view of Muslims.

The lecture Thursday night by Munir Jiwa comes as American and allied forces attack fighters from the terrorist group that has called itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. ISIL leaders say they are creating a caliphate, or Islamic state, in the territory they control. That is an affront to many Muslims, who say the group’s extreme violence does not represent them or Islam, and others argue that ISIL has not set up a “state.”

Jiwa might touch on the subject, but his Wausau visit was not planned to coincide with the rise of the extremist group, and his area of expertise is “more anthropological in nature, rather than political,” said John Viste, a program manager for the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service who organized the lecture.

Jiwa is the founding director of the Center for Islamic Studies in Berkeley, Calif., an associate professor of Islamic Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in the city and a visiting scholar at the Institutions and Governance Program at the University of California-Berkeley. He’ll present his lecture “Framing/Reframing: The Five ‘Media Pillars’ of Islam” at 7 p.m. Thursday at the UW Center for Civic Engagement, 625 Stewart Ave., Wausau.

The lecture will focus on how today’s media — television, movies, books and journalism — portray Muslim people, and how that depiction differs from reality for millions of Islamic faithful, Viste said.

Erroneous notions such as the perception that all Muslim women are required to wear veils, or that the religion supports terrorism “influences our perceptions of what Muslims are, and what they do,” said Viste, who spent about 20 years in the Middle East working for nongovernmental organizations. “And it also influences Muslims themselves, and how they respond to that perception.”

Jiwa’s presentation is part of the James F. Veninga Lecture on Religion and Politics series, named after the former dean of the University of Wisconsin Marathon County who died from cancer in January. Veninga, who was also a religious studies professor, created the lecture program as a way to engage people on matters of faith and politics, two of the most controversial and emotional issues of the modern era.

Veninga’s vision was to bring nationally known experts in the field to Wausau, and he’d had his eye on Munir Jiwa since starting the lecture series in 2012.

“When Jim put together a list of speakers he wanted to bring in, Munir was on it,” Viste said. “I think he saw Munir as an up-and-comer.”

For more information, please contact John Viste at or (715) 261-6105.