Chicago Muslim Journalist Attends White House Correspondents Dinner

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Haia Radwan, CIOGC

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As a Deborah Orin Scholarship winner, I was recently invited to the Annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner. This experience was possible because of the grace of Allah and my work as a graduate student at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

It was truly a humbling experience, Alhamdulillah. I was able to enter a VIP room before the event where I met Sean Penn, Jon Hamm and Seth Meyers – Hamm even complimented me on my hijab. I was able to take pictures with President Obama and the First Lady. I talked to the President about the horrendous traffic in Chicago every time he visited, and it made him laugh.

After dinner, the program began with the award ceremony. As my name was called, I walked confidently across that stage. I did not feel nervous; rather I was proud to wear hijab on national television and represent Muslim women. It was great to show the world that Muslim women are smart and educated, and not oppressed. Islam has always given women the rights to vote, be educated, work, and be an integral part of society. It is so beautiful how the Quran has a whole chapter called Surat An-Nisaa (Chapter of Women) dedicated to women

Meeting the President and receiving an award in journalism was wonderful, but the highlight of my night was to show what Muslim women can do. Being the only one wearing a hijab made me very recognizable and that was a good thing. Many people including journalists, congressmen and women and even some celebrities congratulated me. I believe my hijab is empowering, and a blessing.

When employers look at my work, they can judge me based on my talents and not the way I look. The important thing is to be proud of the hijab, and proud that the United States gives us the freedom to be who we are. Now it is our jobs to give back as active citizens. We need to vote and be involved in the community on every level.

I left the event with many business cards and contacts. However, what was even better was leaving knowing that I represented Islam for what it really is. Alhamdulilah, I never once felt uncomfortable about who I was as a Muslim. I hope that Allah gives me the strength to excel as a journalist and I hope I can inspire other young Muslim girls to be proud of their identity and to know that anything is possible.

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Why I Want to Be a Journalist

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a 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.

This is the essay of a $500 scholarship winner, by Nidah Chatriwala, on the subject “Why I Want to Be a Journalist.” She received a $500 scholarship.

By Nidah Chatriwala

I want to be a journalist for many reasons, but before we jump into the reasons why, let me share with you the first moment I was given the hint of having a career in this field. I remember clearly even today, I used to read the Fun Times, a children’s newspaper in Saudi Arabia. In one of their issues they had given examples of few careers for children to ponder about and one of them was journalist. Without a second thought I laid my finger on it and screamed confidently, “that’s what I want to be!” Then in high school my influential teachers gave birth to my hidden talent, which has today become my companion in life, writing. Then came time for graduating high school and I had couple of ideas for my career since freshmen year which changed from being an actor to an interior designer then a psychologist and finally, a journalist. 

I wanted to be a journalist and I didn’t have a solid reason to support my decision. This led to my research in the career and I discovered how a specialization in journalism gelled with my skills and personality. I believe journalism is the perfect career for me because of the certain mindset, personality, and skills it requires; basically it requires me. There are four sections that complete the soul of a journalist, which are communication, discipline, problem-solving skills, and working with people.

To be interested into the journalism path, one must have considered achievement and independence important. They must possess artistic abilities such as working with artistic forms because it gives them freedom to be expressive. Having an investigative personality is an important trait of a true journalist as they to search for facts and figure out solutions to problems with their minds. Journalists have strong enterprising skills because they carry the trait of strong leadership into creating and carrying out projects. Of course having the sense of recognition and support from co-workers and employers is intensely important to me and to a journalist; this description of a journalist equals me.

Skills which I am graciously gifted to be a journalist are:  to be comfortable with the inspiring language of English, competent with the use of the latest computer and other technologies, being aware of the shared link between communications and media, and administrative and management abilities.

These are the qualities that are combined to build a sensational journalist today. Though I am capable of all specializations of journalism, I have chosen public relations.

I chose public relations because I believe that I contain the necessary skills this department requires. I encompass enthusiastic presentation skills with an obsession for planning, which is beneficial in managing events for my clients. My communication skills can assist me in retrieving clear expectations from my clients to creating and maintaining cooperative relationships. My artistic flare can visually show my clients their idea in action. My partnership with goodwill will magically transform my clients’ image positively. My editorial skills can mechanically flow the information to other media outlets or to create speeches. My business side can market an idea or a product with fresh techniques to profit the client.

I strongly believe that, especially in today’s time, we need more Muslims in this field because due to the damage media has already done on the peaceful image of Islam, it needs to be cleared. Successful and positive examples need to be illuminated by the media to show what Islam really is, and who Muslims really are. Muslim journalists need to work as public relations examples of Islam, to promote its true message with facts and successful examples.

A few serious issues our Muslim American community faces today are the fear of hiring a Muslim for a job and being stereotyped. To address these conflicts we need to unite as a Muslim community and work together living proudly under the freedom this nation has provided us with. We must raise our voices together to get action on our views, but most of all, we need to become good Muslims. That is because we need to win Allah on our side first and we can do that by practicing our religion and sharing knowledge with each other.

If Allah is on our side then nothing is impossible. To solve the Islamphobia, we as Muslims should unite, become good Muslims, and promote Islam in our communities. We should participate in our local events, spread knowledge to our non-Muslim brothers and sisters, and invite them to learn about our religion, but most importantly we as Muslim journalist should promote Islam.

One issue close to my heart is the treatment us Muslim women get, who wear the hijab, at the workplace. In my experience, I have received the skeptical stares, unfair questions, and difficulty in being hired for a job position. I have heard from my Muslim sisters that at times their employers asked them to take off their hijabs and these situations have been mishandled to even leading to a lawsuit against the employer, but in majority of the cases the employer agreed to have the Muslim sister to continue to wear her hijab after a religious explanation. Once again it narrows down to spreading knowledge of Islam for a clear and better understanding of who we are.

One of the aspects of today’s media that irritates me is the choice of words they invent while referring to the terrorists; for example, the Islamic fundamentalists, the extremists, the Islamic world or the Muslim world. These terms are used to describe terrorists and their destructive activities or train of thought the Muslim dictator of a country’s viewpoint. This is unfair and unethical. These terms should be taken out immediately because Islam has no relation to terrorists and their tactics or to the political ideas the Middle Eastern countries’ president has.

Muslims need to participate in debates and policy-making events because it’s important–not because it’s a right which we have earned as citizens of this nation, but because we need to make our government to remember that it in itself is nothing without the people. We the people run these nations and the government should abide by justice, organize itself with a president, who declares the majority ruling. The government has its own ways of checking itself and the president, but we the people have the power over all. So we Muslims should show our community power by participating in our governmental hearings, most importantly make our votes count, and take part in politics.

We Muslim Americans can relate to other Muslims in other parts of the world by the beautiful faith we share between us.

We all have our own share of difficulties we have to pass through in our lives every day. We all surrender to one and only god, Allah. We all bow our heads down towards the Ka’aba five times a day. We fast during the month of Ramadan together. We all make a goal of performing hajj at least once in our lifetime. We both give charity and offer help to the poor. These five pillars of Islam, belief in Allah, and our daily hurdles, bring us on the common ground of hope and friendship between each other. Not only that, we are all brothers and sisters in Islam, who were created out of Adam–we worship Allah, and follow our beloved Prophet Muhammad’s (s) teachings.

We Muslim Americans are already a part of the American pluralism. We have the most diversity of people in our religion, we follow the religion which is the solution for humanity, we have been taught to tolerate and bear with patience when treated unfairly and we learned to accept and offer help to each other. We strive to reach a common ground of agreement between each other. Our social societies promote positive energy with rules and guidance provided by the best sources such as the Qur`an, hadiths, and Allah’s blessings. We blend and accept each other’s culture. We can create an example of a perfect society.

In conclusion, I believe that more than ever before we are in strong need of Muslim journalists and opportunities to fund our education should be highly created especially for this area of study.

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Journalism: An Islamic Perspective

May 6, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

By Musa Odeh

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.

This is the essay of a $500 scholarship winner, by Musa Odeh, on the subject “Journalism:  An Islamic Perspective.” He received a $500 scholarship.

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It was the morning of September 11, 2001.  Hijackers overtook a commercial plane and smashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.  As the world watched the building diminish and burn to the ground, a second airplane collided into the south tower like a guided missile in a war zone.  It took two hours, and the World Trade Center was no more. The attacks of September  11th would be remembered forever as the worst attack on U.S. soil.  The World Trade Center would never be the same again. The United States would never be the same again. The world would never be the same again. Islam would never be the same again.

My life changed on September 11th as the U.S. launched a “War on Terrorism.”   The media began to portray Islam as an enemy towards mankind, especially here in the West.  Islam was the new face of the public enemy, and this was not justified.  False portrayals of Muslims as terrorists forced me to take action.  The word “terrorism” has become a synonym to “Islam.” 

I have taken it upon myself to prove otherwise.  I feel it is my obligation to show the other side of the story.  It is my calling to battle skewed reports and unbalanced coverage of Muslims in the media.  It is my job to shed light on the truth.  In a time of war and hate crimes against Muslims, it is I who shall show the world the truth–by fighting and battling–because in the end, the pen is mightier than the sword.

When I was younger, my mother used to tell me to pick my battles and choose them wisely.  If something was not a good idea to pursue, she would tell me, “This is not your fight.  Let it go.”  She also taught me to never start a fight I couldn’t finish.  I never really understood her advice until today.  Showing the world the truth and reporting the facts is my fight.  It is a battle I wisely choose to fight and it is definitely my struggle.  This is a fight I will not back down from and I am determined to stand tall because I cannot be defeated in this fight.

I chose to be a journalist because I want to be an advocate for Islam and show the true meaning of the religion from a broad perspective.  Islam has been covered in the media through a tainted and biased lens and I feel that journalism chose me, to find the stories that dig deeper into human interest and show the truth of Islam and its followers.  When I watch the news, I feel so much more strongly about this cause.  I feel it is my duty to speak on behalf of the oppressed Muslims who are portrayed as monsters, the law abiding, hard working Muslims who are looked down upon because of their faith. 

I want to become a journalist because I enjoy learning and interacting with people.  I would write and report stories that show people something they did not know before reading my piece.  It is my goal to report the story that nobody else has ever thought of.  The story is not about me, it’s about the people I am interviewing. The story is also about the communities I am working for.  I want to publicize the stories of the little people, who without me would not have had their story told to the world or their voices heard.   Helping people and communities is all the compensation and reward I need for being a journalist.  My long term goal is to win a Pulitzer Prize for the phenomenal work I have done to help people tell their stories and to allow their voices to be heard.

By definition, a journalist is someone who gathers or broadcasts news to the public.  In all honesty, I feel there is no correct or accurate definition of the word “journalist.”  My ultimate goal is to find a job as a reporter and/or writer for the mainstream media of the U.S.  I want to bring out the truth and report stories that show the actual face of Islam and its followers.  For example, I would love to cover Muslims in the Dearborn area and show the world how Muslims live on a day to day basis, by showing that they have close family ties and work every day jobs.  It is my hope that the biased world would be able to relate and the “terrorist” image would begin to fade away.  I want to be the reporter who shows what Muslim life is actually like. Contrary to the western mentality of Muslims sitting around in “madrasas” all day plotting their next act of evil; when in reality, those thoughts are non-existent.

As a Muslim who tries his best to live his life by Islam, I feel that it is my responsibility and obligation to portray Islam in a positive light. I do that through my interactions with people on a daily basis by showing how Muslims deal with others in a kind and respectful manner. Islam was first spread by merchants who went to faraway lands that had never heard of Islam.  It is through their positive interactions with non-Muslim merchants and citizens that they influenced the communities they stumbled upon. 

When the followers of other religions witnessed the respectful, honest and fair ways of the Muslims they began to inquire about this religion.  The kindness of Islam draws people closer and closer to the religion.  Muslim merchants’ mannerisms were exemplary, to the point that it piqued people’s interest and motivated them to inquire about the religion.  That helped the spread of Islam.  Muslim merchants led by example and became ambassadors of Islam– as I plan to do in my daily works as a Muslim journalist—God willing.

Becoming a journalist is hard enough, but becoming a Muslim journalist is ten times harder.  A Muslim journalist must be perfect in every aspect of his job because his actions are already magnified from day one.  As a Muslim journalist, one will be criticized and ridiculed because of the religion he/she chooses to follow.  This forces the Muslim journalist to have thick skin and be flawless in the work of reporting, as well as extremely accurate with facts and sources.  A hiccup for a Muslim journalist is viewed as a heart attack to the rest of the world.  All eyes are on a Muslim when entering the world of journalism as a Muslim.

The biggest reason Muslims are hated in the eyes of the United States public is because of their ignorance which led them to learn the fear of Islam.  The best and most effective way to counter “Islamophobia” is by educating the public about the true essence of Islam.  It is the journalist’s job to be objective and tell the facts.  Educating the world about Islam and its followers will result in the world beginning to view the religion in a new light.

Islam teaches its followers to respect all religions and that should be included in some coverage.  Other coverage could detail stories of the Prophet Muhammed (s) and how he once passed a Bible on the ground and how he stopped to pick it up, teaching his companions that we should respect “their” book.  He respected the book and the people who follow it.  Islam also preaches being nice to your neighbors.  Why not find a story of a Christian family having nothing but good things to say about a neighboring Muslim household whom they have lived next to for 20 years? 

Little things can change the way the public views Islam, but as a Muslim journalist, my first job is to educate the public about Islam in direct and indirect ways.  One can counter ignorance by educating.  One can counter stereotypes by disproving them and showing they are not true.  We can counter “Islamophobia” by showing the public there is nothing to fear besides the biases of one nation.

Finally, I have not chosen journalism.  Journalism has chosen me.  I feel that I have been chosen to make a difference in this world and I will rise to the occasion.  I will use my skill in writing and my outspoken ways to serve Islam as journalist.  I ask the Almighty to grant me success in doing so.

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