Cameras, notebooks, pens and tape recorders signify the world of journalism. There’s only one catch, I’m Muslim.
It was December 2008 when I first walked through large brown wooden doors to Fox 2 Detroit headquarters in Southfield, Mich. It was a dry sunny and chilly day, sending Goosebumps down my spine as I thought of my interview with the news director at the local news station.
Dressed in khaki pants and a blazer, I topped my outfit with a red hijab. “Must not wear black,” I thought to myself. I didn’t want to reflect the stereotypical Muslim woman portrayed by media – women who wore all black and people labeled as oppressed.
Kevin Roseborough, the assistant news director at Fox 2, looked up from his desk as he worked. After a few clicks at the computer keyboard, he apologized and explained the chaos of news work. He extended his hand.
Politely, I put my hand over my heart and said, “Sorry, I don’t shake hands.”
“Why not?” he asked.
“It’s a part of my religion. I can’t shake hands with men,” I replied.
As he continued examining my clips, he took notes and moved on.
“What are my chances,” I asked.
“You have a sound ground in journalism,” he said, that was a plus.
A few days later I received an email from Debra Lawson, the intern recruiter confirming my internship for winter 2009.
The internship consisted of monitoring police radios for breaking news, answering phone calls from viewers who shared news ideas, or wanted to clarify something they heard on the earlier newscasts. I always scribbled down messages from the phone calls, just in case one was worthy of news.
Doug McKenzie, assignment editor, would pick-out catchy stories and interns would put them into the news story database. The story ideas would later be debated in editorial meetings.
On those days in the newsroom, I’d take prayer breaks mainly for Maghrib and Isha prayer. Employees were friendly and allowed me to use the editorial room, where it private and quiet.
“I’m going to go pray,” I’d tell McKenzie.
On other days Reporter Ron Savage would walk up to the curved assignment desk and say, “What are your plans for today? Want to go out today?” I’d tag along on his news assignments.
Savage, who stands above 6 ft., is also an anchor and a part-time fire-fighter in the Brighton Area Fire Department. He is serious about his work, but never fails to smile, and usually carries fruits for snacking.
Just my third day at Fox 2, Savage took me along to interview the police commissioner of Warren, William Dwyer, on a drug bust. Surprisingly, he let me do the interview. Once out of the golden building, we were headed to the Charity Preview of the Auto Show. There was just one problem, I had to pray.
“Is it okay if I pray in the van,” I asked Tim, a photographer.
“You can pray wherever you want,” he replied, as he and Savage crept out of the van to wait until I was done.
Inside Cobo Hall, Savage politely introduced me to colleagues, and reminded them I don’t shake hands when they stuck out their hands waiting for my hand to appear.
Fox 2 had a mix of busy days as well, when interns would act as reporters, accompanying photographers that led the way. Through this I met nine of the 14 candidates for Detroit Mayor in the May 5, special elections.
I asked five of the candidates after a panel discussion what they’d do to prevent incidents like the Synagro Scandal, which was looming over Detroit last year, calling city officials to take responsibility for taking bribes from a sludge company.
I traveled with Photographer Matt Phillips to three mayoral parties after the special elections, for Warren Evans, Nicholas Hood, and Dave Bing. I was there when the crowds screamed for Bing, and when Evans, grim-faced, acknowledged the voters had spoken.
A young man in his 20s caught me at Evans’ party and said he was surprised a hijabi was interning at Fox 2. “How does it feel,” he asked.
“It has its good days and its’ bad,” I replied.
One such incident occurred when a part-time photographer mistakenly thought I was from the Middle East, lived in Dearborn and therefore was subjected to Vitamin-D deficiency, based on a study he had read that stated women who cover up more are subject to less sunlight. I corrected him, saying I didn’t fit any of the criteria he described.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, Michigan
It was a crisp summer day when I stopped in for an interview with the Council on American-Islamic Relations in March 2009. I needed a summer internship that would help me grow as a journalist and help me better understand Muslim issues in the press.
At the time I was debating between a daily newspaper and the well-known national non-profit agency that was looking for two media interns to help spice up their blogs and report on incidents that took place over the summer.
While I typed away stories on people who were making a difference for Islam and Muslims, I also learned how to shoot basic videos using Windows Movie Maker and wrote scripts on hot items in the local Muslim community.
From getting stopped in the airport, to not being able to pray in the workplace, Muslims were being discriminated. I learned how to determine what news was.
Executive Director Dawud Walid often said people needed to speak up, whether it is when people are saying radical things in the masjid, or when informants wrongfully show up in houses of worship. The non-profit group aimed to clear up misconceptions, not feed into them.
CAIR-MI was an outlet to correct negative voices. I was a part of that.
Two days a week when I was in the office, employees and interns would come together for 10 minutes to pray Zahra. This was one of my favorite times in the office, when all people of different levels, positions and backgrounds came together in the single act of worship. We were African-American, Lebanese, Bangladeshi and Pakistani, but we were Muslim first.
The South End, Wayne State University
Being in the midst of a multicultural college campus has its ups and downs. The best part however is covering stories for The South End, Wayne State University’s student newspaper, where I have been writing since winter 2007.
The paper has a voice for all, including the Muslim Students Association, a student group that aims to teach others about Islam while striving to build a stronger Muslim community on campus. As a writer for the South End I attempt to include Muslim voices in the paper and bring Islamic-related topics to the attention of editors.
“Sorry, I don’t shake hands,” was a perspective article I wrote for the paper discussing the issues with male-female handshaking in Islam. It was my duty to inform and explain as a journalist, and help clear up misconceptions, especially in professional settings like my previous internship at Fox 2.
Fellow journalists from Wayne State’s Journalism Institute for Media Diversity, where I am a member, said the article helped them understand how to interact with Muslims while on duty.
The institute is a part of the college’s learning community. It helps journalism students network, engage in friendly competition with peers, stay afloat in academics, and land jobs.
Every two months the group meets to discuss professional opportunities, class work and personal issues that may get in the way of putting our best foot forward. During these meetings, I often ask to leave, to pray.
“Things start going wrong if I don’t pray on time,” I told the journalism group, who have often seen me pray on the fifth floor of Manoogian.
As a social family, the group sends out congratulatory emails when one of the journalism members does a good job. They also send out “happy holidays” emails. On Eid and during Ramadan, I often send out informational emails to help explain the holidays, and invite members to attend the Fast-A-Thon on campus to get a glimpse of fasting.
It’s my duty
As a journalism major and psychology minor at Wayne State University, it’s my duty to raise my voice for Islam. Islam is a part of me and I cannot imagine working in an environment that is hostile to that reality.
According to a 2009 Washington Post article, Muslims are going into social services, law and journalism to help rebuild the image of Muslims, especially after the September 11terrorist attacks.
Without some Muslims shifting away from traditional doctor and engineer jobs, who will help the message get out? Non-Muslims need Muslims to speak up about the truth.
Being a Muslim journalist doesn’t mean preaching Islam at the workplace, it means praying in news stations, and helping Muslim voices get into the paper through journalism and living as an example, something the Prophet Muhammad (sws) once did.