CHICAGO – Challenging the majority of first and second generation American Muslims, who wanted their kids to become doctors or lawyers, a growing number of US Muslims have been invading newsrooms, taking journalism as their target career.
“Blame it on the parents,” jokes one prominent American Muslim when asked to explain the dearth of Muslims in the US media, Religion News Service reported on Tuesday.
Like the majority of US Muslims, the parents of Rummana Hussain envisioned her in a white coat with a stethoscope around her neck.
Starting as a cub reporter two decades ago, Hussain now gathers informally with about 20 Chicago-area Muslim journalists, as her parents came to understand journalism as a good career choice for their daughter.
Now at the Sun-Times, Hussain has never explicitly been assigned to cover Islam. But she has enhanced its coverage of Muslim Americans by drawing on her knowledge of her faith and the Chicago religious community of which she is a part.
Maria Ebrahimji, a journalist who began working for CNN in Atlanta in the mid-1990s, is one the early Muslims who challenged the status quo.
She says she knew hardly any Muslims in the field then, and also didn’t identify herself as Muslim at work.
“For many years at CNN, I didn’t address my faith,” she said.
But after 9/11, Ebrahimji decided to bring her religion to the table.
“I became an in-house expert once I declared I was a Muslim, and I encouraged people to ask me questions,” Ebrahimji, now a media consultant, added.
Ebrahimji started a Facebook group for Muslim women in media in Oct. 2014, which now includes more than 200 members.
“What has been heartwarming and reassuring is to see the number of young Muslims becoming increasingly interested in journalism as a career, and engaging with the media even though it might not necessarily be their career,” she said.
The media consultant added that the increasing number of Muslims in American journalism was not a target in itself, rather than the increase of their “level of influence.”
She has often delivered a message for Muslim mothers and fathers upset with news coverage of Muslims.
“If you are going to continue to criticize, one way to really help is to encourage your sons, your daughters to be actively involved in the media, and to tell their own stories, and to ultimately encourage it as a profession.”
Richard Prince, a former Washington Post journalist who now writes a column on diversity for the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education in Oakland, California, urged news organization to seek more diversity in their staffs.
“When we want to cover communities accurately it helps to have people from those communities in our newsrooms, and in leadership positions as well,” Prince said.