“We do tend to be approached for the more negative stories about our own communities because those are the ones that get clicks,” agrees freelance journalist and author Shahed Ezaydi. “We get approached to write about our own community, but either in a negative way or a way that is more towards the white gaze than our own community.”
Shahed Ezaydi (L) and her book (R), which is currently being crowdfunded.
She explains: “There’s going to be a bit about intersectionality and liberation politics, and also looking at what Islam says about women’s rights. The last chapter is going to end on a hopeful note where I’ll be looking at what Muslim women have been doing for feminism for decades.”
For the most part, it’s a story that isn’t commonly seen in our media. For Ezaydi, the key to more accurate and reflective coverage is allowing Muslim writers to tell their own stories, with editors pushing past their own stereotypes of what they think the story is. “Editors need to trust and let the people who write the story actually write the story,” she stresses.
“We need more Muslim journalists across broadcast, print, radio, digital. We need to make sure they’re supported and empowered in their newsrooms.”
Zahra Warsame, journalist and Channel 4 producer
Zahra Warsame is a producer and journalist at Channel 4 and is passionate about increasing representation across the industry. “We need more Muslim journalists across broadcast, print, radio, digital,” she tells Journo Resources. “And, more importantly, we need to make sure they’re supported and empowered in their newsrooms.”
This is one of the primary goals of the Aziz Foundation, which offers funding for journalism master’s degrees and supports internships at major newspapers. To date, they have supported more than 350 British Muslims across a variety of industries.
As an aspiring journalist myself, initiatives like this give me hope. It’s been difficult to find entry routes into the industry — courses are expensive, and looking for a mentor and forming connections has been an arduous task. But the industry also needs to play its part.
“We are still mostly in the junior ranks,” says Ezaydi. “There aren’t many Muslim editors out there, especially in mainstream publications.”
Aisha Rimi (L) and Zahra Warsame (R)
Aisha Rimi, a freelance journalist for The Independent, Time Out, and Bustle, agrees: “It goes back to getting us through the doors in the first place, not just through internships. We need to be considered for editor and senior writer positions.
“It’s all good to have representation by name, but if it’s not representation across the board, it’s going to fail.”
A Diversity Of Voices At All Levels
Muslim journalists often lack opportunities for career progression. Structural and systemic barriers have made it difficult, especially for visible Muslims, to navigate workspaces. According to a report from the Social Mobility Commission, young Muslims believe racism and discrimination has affected their career progression.
It’s vital that newsrooms put in place structured support and pathways to progressions — as well as recognise the career wishes of individual journalists. Being pigeonholed was a common gripe among Muslim journalists I spoke to.
Taj Ali is a freelance journalist who has written for The Independent, Metro.co.uk, and Tribune Magazine. He tells Journo Resources: “It’s almost like you’re only allowed to talk about your own struggle — we’ve got more to contribute than our own oppression.”
It’s also important for editors to realise our wide and varied experiences. Warsame explains: “Muslims are not a homogenous group, therefore our issues vary from one to another.”
"Media institutions hold power and that power should be distributed for public interest rather than for the elite few — media should be working in the public interest."
Nafisa Bakkar, Co-Founder Amaliah
And she’s right: even among Muslims, our experiences differ based on how we present ourselves. “As a Muslim journalist, especially being visibly Muslim wearing the hijab, we are often dealing with preconceived notions,” she adds.
Telling The Stories Of Our Communities
But despite being tasked with the heavy burden of representing their communities, Muslim journalists feel they can tap into stories that their white, middle-class counterparts cannot.
Ali has embraced this beat, sharing: “It’s been my niche in journalism, talking about struggles that many in the media profession can’t, because they’re not from our communities.”
“Journalists come from backgrounds where they will never encounter people like us, they will never go into communities like Toxteth, Luton, Birmingham, or Bradford.” To Ali, the important thing is that journalism is rooted in communities.
Rimi has also adopted a similar approach to reporting. “I’m all about highlighting the positives and the everyday. I’m making sure that if I am going to pitch a story about Muslims, it isn’t negative or focusing on the stereotypes.”
While the distrust between Muslims and the media is powerful, a truly representative media can break down barriers, and tell the stories which are often overlooked. “When members of the community entrust me to tell their story, it makes it all worth it,” adds Warsame.
“I’m all about highlighting the positives and the everyday. I’m making sure that if I am going to pitch a story about Muslims, it isn’t negative or focusing on the stereotypes.”
Aisha Rimi, Freelance Journalist
Building Trust And Change
Amaliah is a Muslim-women-led publication that centres Muslim voices and experiences. Reaching 7.2 million people monthly, Amaliah believes “a media company that centres the voices of Muslim women is a powerful tool for cultural change”.
Nafisa Bakkar, CEO and co-founder, says they never set out to specifically tackle Islamophobia, but that by providing “a safe space for Muslim women” within their work, they’ve helped readers feel strengthened in their Muslim identity and practises. For example, feeling confident enough to request a place to pray at work.
For Bakkar, media representation is vital — and beneficial for all of us. “Media institutions hold power and that power should be distributed for public interest rather than for the elite few — media should be working in the public interest.
“If we take for example climate change conversations, legacy media has done a poor job in including voices and ideas from Muslim and other minoritised communities, which then affect how such communities engage with the topic.”
“The fact is we live in some of the most deprived parts of the country — we lack economic and political power,” says Ali. “I think that’s demonstrated when you look at our relationship with the media. It’s a byproduct of the lack of power in our society.
“For those of us who do know a bit about the media profession, it’s our job to talk about it to people in our communities.”
Warsame agrees: “We need to address the lack of trust between the media and the Muslim community because there are so many ordinary and extraordinary stories waiting to be told.”
There may not be hard and fast solutions, but with many Muslim journalists and organisations working to eradicate Islamophobia, create opportunities, and tell authentic stories, it feels like things are slowly changing.
More Muslims like myself are seeing journalism as an industry we can actually enter and more community-based stories are finally being shared in mainstream media. With more concerted efforts, we can push UK media to be more reflective of society.
But that relies on all of us — it’s not just the job of those from Muslim backgrounds. Ali says, “For those outside of our communities, there is an onus on them to actually engage with us. I don’t think it’s difficult to build those bridges.”
Header image courtesy of Vecteezy.
Part of the Journo Resources fellowship class of 2022, Sundus Abdi began her journey into journalism after completing a degree in political science and international relations.
She has previously written for student publications and a migrant-centred charity. Sundus’ work reflects her passion about migration, politics, Islam, race, and intersectional feminism.