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Newsletter for August 2011
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Providing a Voice for the Muslim Community
by Diana Elbasha
In the United States, the Muslim population is one that is heavily featured in the media. However, extensive coverage does not necessarily imply accuracy: Muslims are possibly the most ill-represented group of people in American journalism. It is our job, then, as Muslim journalists, to provide a voice for our community that is so voiceless—and to do so with accuracy and fairness.
It is important that our fellow Americans receive proper
information about Islam so that they may be enlightened to look
past a false image that has been created for us, and to see the
reality of a religion that is peaceful.
This brings me to address one of the most prominent issues Muslims in the United States face: inadequate representation via American media. This action, providing misinformation to Americans, has led to several sub-issues we also encounter—discrimination and wrongful accusation, among others.
I embody a belief that journalists are naturally compelled to question. When a Muslim is scolded for an act of “terrorism,” for example, the question should be raised: What defines terrorism? When a man by the name of Mohammad is excessively searched at an airport, or a hijabi woman is refused service at a public business, we must question these actions. What necessitates these actions? Would such rules apply to this woman if she had walked into said business with her hair exposed? Would this man at the airport be delayed and searched the name on his passport were Michael? This is what we need to be addressing specifically as Muslim journalists. Anyone can question, but journalists have the power of the media: if we can publish accurate information, speak with the right people and demolish the discrimination behind these issues, our nation and our religion will, inshaAllah, flourish in this regard with acceptance and peace.
For two years, I worked as a columnist for the local paper in my hometown, the Frederick News-Post. During those years, I often used my column space as a way of addressing some of the aforementioned issues, in attempt to increase understanding of Islam in my region. One issue specifically that I picked up was the lack of parallelism in recognition of Muslim holidays in our school system. Although our city’s statistics showed that Islam was one of our most populous religions, Muslim holidays were not recognized on Frederick County Public School calendars. In my coverage of this matter, I included personal experiences of having to miss important days of school to celebrate Eid, or vice versa, missing my family’s Eid celebrations due to important schoolwork. Personally, I find this predicament unfair. As a result of publishing this column, a representative from the Frederick school board contacted my editor, asked that I call her, and she later put in a request for Muslim holidays (with dates I provided) to be included from then on in our school calendars. The following school year, Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha were all highlighted in the Frederick County Public School handbook and calendar.
Though the change I initiated merely succeeded in one county, I felt accomplished in making some positive impact to my local Muslim community. It reflected another issue that Muslim Americans face: lack of recognition and, in some cases, basic rights. And the result showed me that it is possible, when the right people are listening, to make a difference and gain the rights we deserve as American Muslims.
A factor that has drawn me to the field of journalism is that it is constantly expanding, improving, and adapting to the futuristic goals of American society. While some denounce the potential of journalism today due to our nation’s economic stance, I see this situation another way: the decline of print journalism simply enables us to write, speak, and reflect in alternative ways. For example, journalism has expanded today to the realm of social media, where news networks (and readers) are able to disseminate news via social networking sites, blogs, etc. I take full advantage of this as a citizen journalist. For example, recently, as I am sure you are aware, members at the Virginia House of Delegates have protested the attendance of Imam Johari Abdul-Malik (of Dar al-Hijrah) at one of their recent meetings. This event, an example of the discrimination mentioned above, naturally frustrated me as it comes as a result of misinformed citizens at the hands of the media. To spread the word, I used my Facebook page as a medium, voicing my perspective on the matter as a Muslim. I posted a link to a video and wrote a brief paragraph—citing the occurrence as an insult to Muslims and the result of misunderstanding between the two populations.
What I hope to accomplish as a Muslim journalist is the bridging of that gap: there shouldn’t be two “populations;” Muslims and non-Muslims in the United States should be able to coexist as one group. I hope to, with the support of our nation’s Ummah, create a sense of understanding that will rid our society of circumstances in which non-Muslim Americans feel threatened, afraid, or angered as did the Virginia Delegates. The word Sha’riah should not be one whose connotation is negative, as it is, in reality, a respectable set of values. Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance, but without the right coverage in media, we will never be understood as such—that’s what necessitates Muslim journalists.
Additionally, as a female, I hope to show America that Muslim women are not suppressed, and are just as capable and educated as anyone else. This is but an additional benefit to succeeding as a Muslim journalist in America.
Now is the time to stand up for ourselves and reach out to those around us. It is all in our hands, and it won’t happen unless we come together and educate others. As the Prophet (SAWS) said, “ink of the pen of a scholar is more precious than the blood of a martyr.” InshaAllah, I can continue to provide a strong defense to Muslims nationwide in a way that is peaceful, as Islam teaches – through journalism.
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