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Hidden messages and Coronavirus

Department: Journalism and Mass Communication (JMC)

Module (course): Storytelling in a contemporary context

Lesson: Hidden messages and Coronavirus

July 10th, 2020

Until recently – the message seems to have been dropped now – mobile phone networks in Afghanistan were carrying – along with the normal messages, one rather unusual one – along the following lines:

Eat a lot of lemon, sour orange and fruits rich in Vitamin C, it will protect against Coronavirus.

There are two problems with this message, which as I say has now been dropped. For one, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that intake of Vitamin C will help protect one against Coronavirus. In fact, the evidence is all stacked up against such a notion:

Secondly, there is what we call another, dangerous message hidden within this message. If you tell people that high intake of Vitamin C will protect them against Coronavirus, then you are encouraging them to ignore other, fundamental and indisputable measures, such as social distancing, washing hands, covering one’s mouth and nose when in proximity with others, keeping a safe distance from others and suchlike.

There is a common myth that foods rich in Vitamin C will protect you against Coronavirus. They won’t, and this myth contains a dangerous hidden message 

This is what is known as hidden messaging, and it is something one has to be very careful of in health education: one gives one message, but in the process one undermines an even more important message. For example here, by saying one can be protected from Coronavirus by a high intake of Vitamin C, one is undermining much more important messages, that really can protect one from the disease.

The great example of hidden messages from the life of the Holy Prophet is related in a Hadith of Mu’adh, who says he was riding behind the Prophet on an ass, ‘with nothing between him and me but the rear part of the saddle,’ when the Holy Prophet said,

‘Do you know, Mu’adh, what Allah has a right to expect from His servants, and what His servants have a right to expect from Allah?’ Mu’adh replied, ‘Allah and His Messenger know best.’ The Holy Prophet said, ‘What Allah has a right to expect from His servants is that they should worship Him, not associating anything with him; and what the servants have a right to expect from Allah is that He should not punish one who does not associate anything with Him.’ Mu’adh said, ‘Messenger of Allah, shall I not give this news to the people?’ The Holy Prophet replied, ‘Do not tell them, and have them trusting in it alone.’

(Bukhari and Muslim)

عَنْ مُعَاذِ بْنِ جَبَلٍ رضي الله عنه قَالَ: كُنْتُ رِدْفَ رَسُولِ اللّهِ صلى الله عليه و سلم عَلَى حِمَارٍ يُقَالُ لَهُ عُفَيْرٌ. قَالَ: فَقَالَ: يَا مُعَاذُ! أَتَدْرِي مَا حَقُّ اللّهِ عَلَى الْعِبَادِ وما حقُّ العبادِ عَلَى الله؟ قَالَ قُلْتُ: الله وَرَسُولُهُ أَعْلَمُ. قَالَ: «فَإِنَّ حَقَّ اللّهِ عَلَى الْعِبَادِ أَنْ يَعْبُدُوا اللّهِ وَلاَ يُشْرِكُوا بِهِ شَيْئاً. وَحَقُّ الْعِبَادِ عَلَى اللّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ أَنْ لاَ يُعَذِّبَ مَنْ لاَ يُشْرِكُ بِهِ شَيْئاً». قَالَ قُلْتُ: يَا رَسُولَ اللّهِ! أَفَلاَ أُبَشِّرُ النَّاسَ؟ قَالَ: «لاَ تُبَشِّرْهُمْ. فَيَتَّكِلُوا.»

(متفق علیه)

So here, to be clear, the hidden message is in the phrase: ‘Allah will not punish anyone who does not associate anything with Him.’ What is the hidden message? People will trust in that alone, and might abandon their religious obligations.

Inshallah, we will give multiple examples of hidden messages in radio drama – #StorytellingInAContemporaryContext – in our next lesson, but for now, staying on the theme of ancient religions, there is a hidden message in just about any religion, similar to the one alluded to by the Prophet of Islam.

For example, Hinduism and Buddhism believe in reincarnation. The hidden message here is that one can always make up for one’s deficiencies in this life, when one is born again. One will get another chance.

Christians believe in a doctrine of atonement: that Jesus died on the cross – that is Christians’ belief – in order to atone for the sins of mankind. The hidden message? ‘Well, Jesus, on whom be peace, died in order to atone for my sins, so I have nothing to worry about.’

Almost on a daily basis, when constructing a radio serial drama for health and other messaging, what I call #StorytellingWithAMoral, one comes face to face with hidden messaging. We will look at a few examples in our next dars, Inshallah.

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