Muslim journalists

A journalist's newsletter offers a glimpse into how Muslim Millennials think

A journalist's newsletter offers a glimpse into how Muslim Millennials think

One interesting note that came out of a recent Religion News Association meeting two months ago was a prayer meeting of Muslim journos who belong to the group. There was also a group of Jewish reporters who met for a Shabbat dinner.

Signs of a big change? As a veteran of probably two dozen such conferences, I remember the days when folks took care not to mention their religious preferences at all, even in the company of like-minded reporters. Some thought it was a journalistic sin to do so.

You never knew if that information could be held against you plus there were some newsrooms that –- if they suspected you were partial to a certain religious group –- would pull you off any stories about said group. Such rules were never applied to reporters from black, Hispanic, gay, Native American or other subsets, but I learned early on the less said about my personal faith background, the better.

So it was with great interest that I read Boston freelancer Aysha Khan’s entry on her “Creeping Sharia” newsletter.

Salaam! Last weekend I was in Columbus, Ohio, where I joined religion reporters around the country for the annual Religion News Association conference. There, I got to meet fellow Muslim journalists Aymann Ismail (Slate), Hannah Allam (BuzzFeed News), Amber Khan (Interfaith Voices), Jaweed Kaleem (L.A. Times), Dalia Hatuqa (freelance) and Dilshad Ali (AltMuslim). Seriously, how exciting is this photo?

These folks are pictured in the photo atop this blog that I got from Khan’s site. I assume Khan herself is on the far right.

When I went to RNA in D.C. for the first time two years ago, Dilshad, Dina Zingaro (60 Minutes), Ruth Nasrullah (freelance) and I were probably the only Muslim journos there. Last year, in Nashville, I think there were even fewer of us. But this year we were actually able to pray Jummah together in the hotel. Just surreal.

All of this got me to reading Khan’s new twice-monthly newsletter.

I’m guessing “creeping Sharia” is a tongue-in-cheek rebuke to those who see the specter of sharia law in America’s near future. Here’s a curated list of articles about Islam you might not see anywhere else.

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Muslim reporter helps the Seattle Times grasp the complexity of Ramadan in schools

Muslim reporter helps the Seattle Times grasp the complexity of Ramadan in schools

While zipping through the Seattle Times website for stories about religion, which are usually scarce, what should appear but a piece about how local schools are adapting to students who observe Ramadan while playing sports and attending graduation ceremonies.

The article showed an insider knowledge of local Muslims, a group most reporters would not have access to. It's pretty obvious when you are dealing with a reporter who is getting the details and facts right.

Investigating further, I saw one of the writers, Dahlia Bazzazz, is not only Muslim herself, but her family was from Iraq. She was born in Oregon, grew up close to my alma mater (Lewis & Clark College in Portland) and was editor-in-chief of the Daily Emerald, the student newspaper for the University of Oregon.

More recently, she’s been covering the education beat for the Seattle Times, which is how she came to write this:

As Renton High School seniors walked across the graduation stage on Wednesday, fellow graduate Sawda Mohamed stayed home with her family.

The 18-year-old had purchased her cap and gown, but earlier in the school year decided to skip the ceremony. Despite her mother’s protest, Mohamed described her choice as a fitting end to years of frustration she experienced in a school system she felt had little respect for her Muslim faith.

“Honestly, because everything I’ve dealt with in the past, just let it be,” Mohamed said earlier this week. “I bought the cap and gown for memories of the hard work and everything I accomplished, but it’s just not worth it at this point.”

This year, the most stressful time of the school year coincided with the holiest time for Mohamed: Ramadan, when Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset for a month in order to focus on spiritual growth, family and charity.

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Do we need more Muslim journalists? Religion News Service says 'yes'

Do we need more Muslim journalists? Religion News Service says 'yes'

   One thing I learned over several decades of reporting was to share as little of my personal convictions or private life with folks in the newsroom. Sometimes it was used against you. I will always remember my editor at a Florida newspaper was convinced I was a crypto-conservative because a certain article gave five more lines to quotes by Republicans than to Democrats. I told her that those five lines were devoted to a quote from then-President Reagan and in my mind, anything said by a sitting president didn’t belong to either side of the aisle.

            That was the kind of bean counting that used to go on. We were even discouraged from posting bumperstickers on our cars that might hint at bias. If you were found to have any religious sympathies, watch out. I’ll never forget one hapless reporter friend whose degree from Regent University (founded by Pat Robertson) caused him to be shut out of religion reporting jobs at two major newspapers. He was more than qualified, but the taint of Christian fervor was too much for the editors.

            But these days, some outlets want their reporters to have a personal brand and a point of view. Still, I was surprised to see the following Religion News Service story on the dearth of Muslim reporters:

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