A widely attended event hosted by American Muslim Institution highlighted the need for the Muslim community to be part of the mainstream media conversation in a way that fosters awareness about their achievements.
The event on “The Challenges Facing Minorities in Today’s America”, held in Gaithersburg, Maryland, provided a platform for direct interaction between some of the known American Muslim journalists and members of the community.
The stories shared by journalists and questions raised by the audience revolved around two aspects : how to correct the narrative that often stereotypes Muslims and how to motivate more American Muslims to join the media industry.
Journalist and author, Wajahat Ali, moderated the conversation with some witty jibes and satirical commentary on some of the ongoing issues related to immigration policies and common perceptions about Muslims.
Amusingly, he regretted that the American Muslim community does not encourage its children to be journalists since it is not seen as a financially rewarding profession. It was also a common struggle for almost all on the panel to convince their peers and families that joining journalism could change their lives for the better.
Sabrina Siddiqui, a political correspondent for The Guardian, said that she had always desired to be a journalist as she strongly felt the absence of Muslims in American media newsrooms.
Ms. Siddiqui, who wrote a piece documenting her feelings as a Muslim journalist covering the 2016 election – with its anti-Muslim rhetoric – that gained a lot of attention, said the Muslim community should realize how important it is to be a journalist in these times.
Ayman Mohyeldin, who won acclaim as an NBC News correspondent while covering conflicts in the Middle East, told the audience that he did not receive positive feedback from his friends and family when he chose to be a journalist since the profession was tough and not viewed as offering an attractive career.
Mohyeldin inspired the community with his remark that “Muslims have a role to play in shaping the destiny of the country.”
Malika Bilal, who works for Al-Jazeera English, brought a uniquely diverse perspective to the discussion, relating how she covered the election and shattered stereotypes as a black, Hijab-wearing, female Muslim journalist.
Sharaf Mowjood, a senior CBS producer, said he had to overcome the usual lack of enthusiasm from friends and family on joining the media. He shared his story of tenacity and perseverance – including the success of his first assignment when he opposed characterization of Muslims in generalized ways, and told the audience that there was no reason why young American Muslims could not make it to the top in journalism.
AMI Chairman, Dr. Aquilur Rahman, earlier welcomed the speakers and the audience to the event, saying everyone in the community should be engaged in serving the communities they live in, and citing examples of Muslims’ places of worship offering shelter and food to their neighbors recently affected by Hurricane Harvey in the Greater Houston area of Texas.
AMI President, Ambassador Islam Siddiqui, emphasized the need to advance and encourage the young generation of American Muslims to take part in the mainstream discourse through the media, education and outreach.