Why Do You Want to be a Journalist?

April 15, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Editor’s note:  The TMO Foundation conducted a scholarship essay contest and TMO is now printing the essays of some of the entrants to the contest.

The following is the winning essay, by Zuleqa Husain, on the subject “Why do you want to be a journalist?” She received First Prize, a $1500 scholarship.

By Zuleqa Husain

ZHusain-Photo American’s fourth estate, the press, is one of the most influential game-changers in US living rooms. As an undergrad who majored in marketing and PR, I was always fascinated with the public’s information intake and subsequent behavior change based on that information. I joined the nascent International Media program at American University because of my desire to straddle the worlds of media analysis and mass communication.  Having worked at a policy shop—the Muslim Public Affairs Council—and an international media organization—Voice of America—I had an acute appreciation for the role of good journalism and its impact on the globe.  As I honed my interests through internships in radio (WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi), TV production (Story House), and international broadcast news (Al Jazeera English’s Riz Khan Show); I became increasingly interested in long-format programming. As I gain international media experience, I hope to join the policy-making community in the public diplomacy sector of the federal government.

When I quit medical school back home and came to the US, two months before 9/11 hit the nation, I wasn’t quite sure which direction my life would take. I knew that a good liberal arts education would help me decide what I wanted to do with my life. Marketing and PR seemed a good choice and I was good at it and so I majored in those subjects. Speaking skills, presentation skills and selling ideas, this came naturally to me. As America sought to understand Muslims and Islam, I co-founded the nation’s first publicly funded Muslim student organization at the University of Minnesota. Here, I was able to conduct workshops and presentations on Islam at high schools and community centers, churches and hospitals. I joined the Islamic Speakers Bureau and created packets of useful information on Muslims so that I could help contain the hysteria Americans were facing with George Bush’s War on Terror.

I graduated in 2004 and moved to Washington, D.C. That same month, Muslim Public Affairs Council’s national office offered me a position. Working at a policy shop such as MPAC was the best place to get the pulse of the Muslim American community and be able to define a unique Muslim identity for ourselves. Planning national communication strategies for MPAC’s ‘Countering Terrorism’ initiatives, helping abate the media frenzy during the Danish cartoon crisis, and fighting Islamophobic rhetoric stateside and abroad, helped me develop an appreciation for a focused strategy in media communications and an understanding of framework and messaging that is utilized in brand management.

The more we were in the spotlight of the media, and the more we were meeting with top government officials, the more I saw the need to change the paradigms that were present in our media systems. It wasn’t enough that we had a civil liberties organization like the Council on American Islamic Relations, looking out for our best interests. It wasn’t enough that top government liaisons for the Muslim community understood the predicament that American Muslims were facing because of the actions of a few misguided Muslims halfway across the world. To make the American people understand what was going on in the world, you had to get into their living rooms. I felt that if any change was to happen, it would be through the American media system. And that’s when I realized I wanted to be a journalist. I was busy telling the story for so long, I didn’t realize that the mike was turned off.

When I got a job as a reporter for Voice of America, for the first time, I felt like I was making a significant contribution. I was telling the true American story to the people of Pakistan and there was a considerable effect. We would get calls from viewers in Pakistan amazed that a hijabi Muslim in America was able to report on a story without being attacked on the street for being visibly Muslim. At VOA, I was able to bring the American-Muslim story to light for the Muslim populations worldwide. Our show was broadcast to 11 million viewers across the world.

Having worked for VOA for a year, and done numerous stories on American Muslims, concluded that the way forward was not to remain in the reporter track, but to become a producer. Producers control the content of the show. They decide what to air and what not to air. They have the final say in what stories get covered and how the show will be structured. I realized that if you wanted to change the dynamics of America’s newsrooms, the best route is to be a producer.
And for this, I went back to school.

During my three-year joint degree Masters program in International Media through the School of International Service and School of Communication at American University, I developed a solid academic grounding for how international media and communications work in today’s ever-shrinking world. In my coursework, I learn about international communication theory and why certain countries manage their journalists the way they do. I learned about propaganda, its role in mass media, the elements which make it effective and how to turn them in our favor. I also learn the art of producing a well-crafted news show that has a multi-media platform, including radio, video, web, and social media networks. I am also working on becoming a producer trained for long-format programming that is more conducive to good story-telling.  My final Masters project is a biopic documentary highlighting the historic tolerance and pluralism found in pre-independence India between the Hindu majority and the Muslim minority. Such narratives of tolerance and harmony need to be told, both for the American Muslim audience and for the Muslims around the world.

I have had the opportunity to learn the art of journalism at various prestigious media institutions during my degree program. I was a research assistant with The Kojo Nnamdi Show at NPR’s local affiliate in Washington DC. My input was most appreciated not when I was giving them a story idea about Muslims or Islam, but when I was giving them a fresh perspective on an existing story idea. They appreciated my nuanced insight on various subjects, political or otherwise.

I was also the assistant producer intern at the internationally acclaimed Riz Khan Show on Al-Jazeera English. There, I provided research and story ideas for the live daily talk show. I was able to direct the show to do stories that are under-represented in the media. Al-Jazeera English is keen on becoming the ‘Voice of the South’ and was open to my suggestions. 

Just last week, the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale rolled out a new communication strategy with the Muslim world, one that involved pro-actively shaping global narratives. In a statement to Congress, she announced a redefining of the State department to include a position for Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Media. This would bolster communications outreach to “inform, inspire, and persuade target audiences and to counter misinformation.” There is a visible paradigm shift in such a strategy compared to previous administrations that were trying to ‘win hearts and minds’ by bolstering those voices that helped their cause. Countering misinformation is a bigger, more challenging task and media efforts weakening the effects of disinformation is a more powerful strategy.

After working for a number of years in the news networks, I see myself working for the Public Diplomacy arm of the State department as an international media expert. Having worked with international media networks, I will have insight into what are the effective ways to utilize messaging to generate a positive response vs. those that create media trauma.

As for the Muslim American community’s media needs, there is a significant gap between the effort that the Muslim American media outlets are putting into getting the word out on the peaceful nature of Islam and the impact of this effort. This gap needs to close, if there is to be any change in the minds of the American people about Islam and Muslims. Public relations efforts and putting out fires as the Muslims American community is hit by one media nightmare or another is not the solution. A concerted effort is needed wherein Muslim journalists have a set identity within the media networks of the nation. The Muslim journalist is not exclusive with his/her reporting. There cannot be just a Muslim beat, or an ethnic or religious beat for the Muslim. Juggling various identities fluidly is the mark of a Muslim journalist today.

I want to be a journalist because I want Muslims to be able to present their stories, their narratives, their perspectives, their understanding of the world around them, without feeling that they are constantly defending their religious and cultural identity. Muslim Americans have a lot to offer to the diverse fabric of America. The United States of America is one of the best places to live as a practicing Muslim today and our job is to make sure that the press fulfills its duties to the citizens of our great nation.

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Muslim Family Services Fundraiser

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, MMNS

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Livonia–March 13—American Muslims have made inroads institutionally, with established mosques, advocacy groups, and media.  There are also fledgling efforts to build funeral services and graveyards and other necessary forms of care.  But the next level of institution building is to create self-sufficiency in medical and other care. 

One group which has begun the work of providing community and social and medical services to Muslims is Muslim Family Services, a devision of ICNA Relief.

Muslim Family Services held a fundraiser on Saturday night at the Radisson Hotel in Livonia, hosting about 250 people for an evening which celebrated the accomplishments and looked at the future goals of the organization.

Muslim Family Services is led most prominently by Dr. Ali Suleiman, Ph.D, who studied at the University of Michigan and at the University of Madina Saudi Arabia.  Dr. Asim Hussain (not to be confused with keynote speaker Altaf Husain), professor of Wayne State University, is also involved. Mr. Yousuf Vaid is also prominently involved. The organization focuses largely on providing social services, mainly specializing in marriage counseling, but also providing many other services including subsidizing funeral payments and providing food and other emergency care to Muslims in need.

The fundraising dinner began with Maghrib prayer, followed by a welcome by the MC Yousuf Vaid, followed by recitation of Qur`an by a young man, Nadeem Gulam, then dinner. Then there was a slide presentation by Steve Hernandez on the accomplishments of Muslim Family Services, followed by a keynote speech by Harvard Professor, Dr. Altaf Husain. Finally there was a fundraiser and a closing du’a.

Mr. Hernandez spoke movingly of the accomplishments of Muslim Family Services, pointing out its cooperation with other groups, and its work to support the community’s education, activities to minimize family violence (in coordination with ACCESS and the State of Michigan and Wayne County), counseling of individuals, families, pre-marital and marital counseling, psychological counseling, anger management, and substance abuse counseling.

He spoke movingly about MFS’s Janaza fund, which provides about seven funerals per year, at a cost of $3,000 each.

Dr. Altaf Husain also spoke movingly, focusing more on the future of Muslim healthcare in the United States, pointing out that the Muslim community faces similar challenges to those faced before by Catholics and Jews (such as dietary restrictions, discrimination, refused treatment, predatory missionary work by those who see vulnerable people of a different religion, and cultural conflicts)–who in the 1850s responded by building their own hospitals which exist to this day.  Husain emphasized one such hospital, Mt. Sinai, which had its origins in the need of Jews to respond to the above challenges, but which now serves the wider community.

Muslim Family Services emphasized that they provide services in a professional and confidential manner, and invited all Muslims facing issues to come to them for assistance.

Contact Muslim Family Services at 734-678-0435, or at www.muslimfamilyservices.org.

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See pictures from this event at www.muslimobserver.com.

IAGD Badminton Tournament

February 28, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Faraz Haq, haq.faraz786@gmail.com

SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC On the 6th, 7th, 13th, and 14th of February 2010, Islamic Association of Greater Detroit (IAGD) hosted its first annual men’s badminton tournament. This tournament was quite popular as the IAGD Board of Trustees chairman Dr. Ghaus Malik, Board of Directors President Br. Syed Hussain Akbar, Tawheed Center president Dr. Khalid Javed, Imam Aly Lela, and Imam Hafiz Ahmed Rabbani, and Mayor Bryan Barnett of Rochester Hills were all in attendance on the final day. The tournament was a hit as a fair amount of spectators were present throughout the tournament including many of the youth as well. Tasty food was available on all days and kids activities were planned on February 14th.

The tournament began with a short speech given by Dr. Malik emphasizing the importance of such sporting events being held at the Mosque and pledged his full support for the future. The teams represented the communities of IAGD of Rochester Hills, MCWS of Canton and the Tawheed Center of Farmington Hills. The tournament was highlighted by star player Azam Abbasi of Tawheed Center, who is a former university champion of Rajiv Gandhi Univ. of Health Sciences in India. 16 teams participated in doubles action, with 12 teams participating in singles action. The teams were divided into four groups. Teams played on a single league basis within their groups followed by the playoffs.

In singles action, Azam Abbasi defeated Syed Najam of IAGD to advance to the finals. His opponent in the final match was Amin Hashmi of IAGD who was able to defeat Syed Zia of IAGD. In the finals Azam was able to defeat Amin in a best of 3 series by a score of 15/4 for the first game, and 15/5 for the second. Azam displayed his repertoire of different shots including beautiful drop shots, powerful smashes, and sound backhands. He seemed to covering the court with great ease and made the game look effortless. Amin provided great competition, however, he proved to be no match for the skills of Azam.

In doubles action, Syed Najam and Mahmood Akhtar of IAGD defeated Mansoor Khan and  Shahid Ahmed of IAGD to advance to the finals. Their competition was the team of Azam and Irfan Bhatti of Tawheed Center who were able to defeat Nasir Husain and Amin Hashmi of IAGD in the semifinals. The doubles finals turned out to be the most intense encounter of the event. The team of Syed and Mahmood won the first game by a score of 15/6. Azam and Irfan came back strong to win the second game by the score of 15/10. In the third and final game, the score was tied at 14, with both teams having to score one point each to win. Azam performed one of his powerful smashes just to the left of Mahmood’s outstretched arms and was awarded the championship point of the tournament. Both teams were exceptional, performing a wide array of shots and giving 100% effort.

Winners and Runners teams of Singles & Doubles events received trophies from Mayor Barnett and IAGD president Br.  Akbar. Cash awards for Winners and Runners were given by Br. Shahid Tahir.

The first annual IAGD men’s badminton tournament was a big success. There was great game play, with a big audience in attendance. Mayor Barnett expressed his joy at watching the wonderful badminton game play, and emphasized the need for healthy competitions which bring the different communities together. IAGD president Hussain Akbar was thrilled with the event and praised all who took part in organizing the tournament.

IAGD Gym committee sincerely appreciates the support from Mutahir Jamali of MCWS and Tariq Tahir of Tawheed Center for making sure that their teams participated in the tournament. Gym committee also appreciates the effort of Muqueem Sports for setting up a sales booth in the gymnasium from where players and fans purchased badminton rackets, birdies, and other accessories.  Many thanks are also due to the hardworking volunteers: Muhammad Faisal, Asad Sabir Ali, Asghar Ali, Shan Haq, Syed Zafarullah, Shahab Khan, Faisal Sultan, and Sr.  Durdana Shamim. Special thanks to Dr. Nasir Husain for actively participating in the tournament. The tournament generated such a buzz that the IAGD Gym Committee is considering holding youth badminton and cricket camps to promote future youth tournaments. Once again, the IAGD Gym Committee Chair Shahid Ahmed and Vice Chair Muhammad Faisal are truly grateful to all for making this wonderful event possible and inshallah many more will be organized in the near future.

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Muslim Health Advocates

July 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Neveen Abdelghani

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) A delegation from American Muslim Health Professionals (AMHP) visited Washington, DC on June 25-26 to advocate for health reform.  The group met with a number of congressional offices and partner organizations, including Faithful for Health Reform, which held a rally at Freedom Plaza representing a coalition of faith community leaders passionate about health access and equity.   

With domestic health care reform high on the President’s agenda, AMHP felt the time was right to move forward with more direct and reaching advocacy efforts. “Both the Senate and the House were all on the right track regarding eliminating certain health care costs,” explained Dr. Yasir Shareef, neurologist from Phoenix who had the opportunity to meet with congressional staffers. “Currently, there are over 120 million people either uninsured or underinsured, and this motivates us to work harder before the problem continues to get worse.”

Members of AMHP felt a trip to Washington was critical in order to voice their concerns during this short window of opportunity for comprehensive reform.  AMHP has been deeply engaged in issues of health reform.  Last year, AMHP Policy Analyst, Rabia Akram, drafted a health policy brief comparing the McCain and Obama plans for healthcare overhaul.  Since then, AMHP has led a grassroots effort to articulate a vision for change.  AMHP organized a number of health reform seminars across the country in March of this year.  “These seminars attracted experts in the field that were able to educate and empower our communities to understand the nature of this crisis and take action”, said Dr.Faisal Qazi, President of AMHP and architect of its policy program.

“From both an Islamic and an American background, it is our duty to support these grassroots efforts in order to get things going,” said Dr. Shareef, a member AMHP’s Task Force on Health Affordability.  Members of this team have been constantly evaluating the data and following the language and committee hearings closely.

The AMHP Washington, DC delegation was an extension of this process.  Dr. Imran Khan, a member of the Task Force said, “It was a tremendous learning opportunity and we realized that these laws, even if 800 pages long, are written by people like you and me, most of whom appreciate some help writing them.”
Khizer Husain, the lead Washington-based coordinator for this recent lobby day said, “Muslim Americans need to build relationships with legislators.  We can be a conduit to our communities and folks on the Hill appreciate this.”

Besides this commitment to political engagement and health reform, AMHP enjoys the unique position of having a comprehensive public health view and has become an organization focused on education, prevention, access, delivery and policy in the realm of healthcare. The organization’s work places an emphasis on public service to all members of the community.

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Syed Adil Husain Wins MIT Business Award

February 14, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Award Recognizes Student’s Company for Top Consumer Service

By Rabiah Ahmed and Adil James

Cambridge, MA–Syed Adil Hussain, a Harvard graduate student, is a recipient of the world-renowned MIT $100K Executive Summary Competition (ESC) award in recognition for the high-quality online tutoring his company, uProdigy, begins delivering this week to American college students.

The MIT $100K ESC award is one of the world’s leading entrepreneur competitions and is designed to encourage students and researchers to act on their talent and ideas. It has produced hundreds of successful ventures since its establishment in 1990.

The winners of the ESC competition were announced Friday, February 8, at the Business Plan Competition kick off held at the Strata Center. Eight student-managed companies were selected from over 100 entries and were awarded cash prizes.

“I started this company because as an undergrad student, I could never afford the $60-$70 normally charged for help in higher-level math,” said Hussain, 26, CEO of uProdigy. “The MIT award recognizes the important social impact uProdigy can make by delivering quality and affordable academic tutoring services to American college students.”

Hussain’s company, based in Massachusetts, was selected from a panel of judges from the MIT and Boston venture communities. Judges were asked to select business plans that showed high growth potential, market leadership potential, stage of idea development, and quality and breadth of team among other things.

As part of it services, uProdigy offers live, around-the-clock homework assistance from highly educated, English-speaking tutors in South Asia.

The niche for uProdigy is college students who need low-cost emergency one-on-one help with understanding concepts from very qualified people. Mr. Husain explained that “We are just launching the business to the public–we just launched yesterday. We had an alpha release in November.”

He explained that “In India, there is so much talent, so many brilliant people. Most of the people we selected as tutors are professors at universities. There is really no shortage of them at all. We accepted only about 5% of those who applied to be tutors.”

As for the future, Husain explains that “this is really a huge huge market–what we are seeing now is only the beginning.” The biggest player in online tutoring now, he explains, is Tutorvista, which focuses on elementary school and middle school tutoring rather than the college students that uProdigy aims to serve.

Students will be able to use uProdigy’s services for only $15 per hour–and the first hour is free. People who join uProdigy as members will also (in the future) have access to general academic instructional videos. Visit their website to learn more.

For more information on uProdigy, visit www.uProdigy.com.

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Magic Post-Eid Banquet

October 25, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Jackson–October 20–MAJC is pronounced “magic,” and the magic of MAJC was evident Saturday night in the generous welcome offered to local non-Muslims by this especially well-connected Muslim community.

The event included singing performances by children, explanations of what it is to be Muslim, a warm atmosphere and fine food. Prominent people were present, including Michigan House Representative Marty Griffin (D-64th), who spoke very briefly and warmly to thank MAJC for hosting him.

Another speaker was Mrs. Gumar Husain, a social activist from Kalamazoo, described her understanding of marriage in Islam, describing it as a contract between two individuals. She described women’s rights in Islam, explaining “what she earns is hers to keep and she shares in her husband’s earnings too.”

She looked at the audience and pointedly said to them, “Isn’t that more than equal rights for women in Islam,” and the audience applauded.

In a brief interview with TMO, the Accountant Khawaja Ikram explained his happiness with this year’s MAJC event. Ikram is one of the main movers behind the MAJC community; he explained that the turnout was very good this weekend. “We ordered 300 seats and they are all full.”

“When we started not very many people came. This year for the first time 250 people RSVP’d” on their own that they would be coming. This he explains is a sign of progress, when compared with the first year when the MAJC community had to make a point of calling back all of those invited to make sure they would come.

About 300 people were present for the evening, about half of those who came were Muslim, and of the Muslims about half were actually from the Jackson community–the other half were composed in large part of members of the Ann Arbor Muslim community.

MAJC’s regular mosque is a converted two-story house–not large enough to entertain the hundreds of guests who attend this post-Eid “Introduction to Islam” banquet that MAJC holds. Therefore the event is held at local Jackson Community College.

The food for the event was provided by Kazi Catering from Rochester-and although the food was identifiably from the subcontinent and somewhat spicy, MAJC representatives explained to the guests of the evening that they had specifically asked for the food not to be too spicy.

Dr. Manzar Rajput, also of the MAJC community, explained that “We are very proud to be Muslim” and he expressed his happiness to be a part of the American and Jackson communities. “We are happy with the turnout–we have been doing this for 6 years and every year is better than the last.”

MAJC also runs an annual event in which it feeds homeless people on one night at Thanksgiving time. Another ongoing program the mosque conducts is to provide support to a community of about 30 Uzbek families who have come to Jackson as refugees and are living without much support, jobs, or even knowledge of the English language.

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