Shaima is a broadcast journalism student at Arizona State University. After being told by a professor that she would never be made head anchor because of her headscarf, she filed a formal complaint to the Cronkite School of Journalism, in which the professor denied making the remarks. However, upon hearing this, other students started to come forward and relate their own stories of discrimination based on their accents or looks. These confessions, along with the denial of the professor and dean of these statements, led Shaima to organize the “Its Who I Am That Matters, Not What I Wear” silent protest where students from different races came together to show the school that everyone has equal opportunity.
|1. How did you decide you wanted to go into journalism?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I wanted to find a career that would give my writing an unconditional purpose and I believe I have found that in journalism.
|2. After your professor told you that you wont make it in the broadcast field in your hijab, what was your reaction?
I’ve heard this from different professors quite a few times– they would tell me that I will face many challenges as a hijabi and that I will have to make sacrifices in order to make it in the business. When seeking advice, I appreciated this candid honesty. However, when I was speaking to the News Director of our school’s broadcasting station, I heard what I didn’t need to hear: “I wouldn’t make you my top anchor because of your scarf,” he said to me. As someone who is hiring, that is a discriminatory statement. He had no right to tell me that because I, like every other student, attend the school for the best education possible and if I wanted to pursue working for the school’s news station, I should expect to be treated and evaluated like any other applicant. Even if he’d never make me a top anchor because of my scarf, he shouldn’t be allowed to say this to me so candidly, especially without even seeing my work as a journalist and evaluating me accordingly.
|3. While someone else might have been weakened in their determination by such remarks, you organized a protest. Tell us about that.
I’m not going to lie and say that I managed to keep a constant attitude of strength and confidence all throughout this challenge. I had my weak moments and to be honest with you, I wanted to move completely past it and ignore it. But then my family and I discussed it and they brought to my attention this: if I allow his actions to go without consequence, he and others will find it in them to repeat this same mistake and wrong other Muslim journalists- and if God has blessed me with the strength to stand against it, I will! I do not want any other woman to be taken for granted; I wanted to put an end to this and regain the respect I- and future Muslim journalists- have as a journalist, a woman, a Muslim and a human being who deserves equal opportunity.
|4. How do you explain hijab and your devotion to it to a non Muslim?
I wear it for modesty; I wear it because it keeps me mindful of God; I wear it out of respect of my own body and mind. It’s that simple to me.
|5. What is the most common misconception about Muslim women that you would like to see change?
The most common misconception I would love to see eradicated would be that we are unapproachable. I think many people, both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, perceive us as people who can’t be spoken to– and to be honest with you, we Muslim women may be to blame. I want for both Muslims to know that it is okay to smile to a stranger or say hello- and I want non-Muslims to understand it is okay to initiate or simply respond to these interactions and gestures. Then there are the more obvious misconceptions like patriarchy choking the life out of us and our every move, but I honestly believe that simple and most personal human interactions imprint images of people much more profoundly than any Fox news report would. Smile, and smile back! Remind others that we are all human.
|6. Do you think there is a change coming with Muslim women in the media?
Yes, I do. Christiane Amanpour wore the scarf for the first time on national news; here I am becoming the first Hijabi woman at the Cronkite School’s News Service broadcasting station; etc. Change is coming, but it can only come when we welcome change and work towards it. And we can do that by inviting all our Muslim brothers and sisters to follow their dreams and hearts and lead a passionate life- and that goes for all passions, FYI. If we do what we love and we love what we do, people are going to see that; everyone loves passion and ambition, regardless of where it comes from. And as we are seen as the successful doctors, journalists, artists, musicians and teachers that we are, the misconceptions of Muslims will be replaced with a more human and relative (to others) perception.
|7. What advice do you give to other covered women who are looking to get into journalism?
If you love it, please don’t let it go regardless of the challenges you may face. It will be hard for the industry to look past your scarf, but I challenge you to make it hard for them to look past your work! Allow your work to speak louder than your hijab– and I am not saying this because we should be ashamed of our scarves, not at all. But you’ll hear the argument that a hijabi-wearing reporter is a biased one and that is what those looking to hire will tell you. But when you pull out your work from your portfolio or news reel, surprise them with your work and always go that extra mile. Your work should be louder than any lame reason why a hijabi journalist isn’t one for hiring. You’ll have to go the extra mile and your stories have to be that much better than the next reporter, but that will only work for your benefit.
|8. Tell us about the news project you are currently working on.
I am currently in the process of launching a news website, www.faxtorynow.com, where I will be showcasing my investigative reports on healthcare, politics and education. I will use this website to not only answer the 5W’s and the how of each story, but I will also connect the stories to one another so that readers are allowed for a more grounded, yet panoramic, view of issues.
Also, I did get hired as a reporter (by the same news director who said he wouldn’t make me top anchor because of my scarf). Alhamdulillah. I hope to enjoy this experience and grow from it as I make a statement for all hijabi journalist.
|9. Do you have any Muslim women role models, in the media and in general?
My role model would have to Khadija (RA), whom without her, Islam wouldn’t be where it is. She is a woman of great courage and confidence, and one who defied the role of women during her time and beyond. My more recent role model would have to be my mother; every time I come home, be it on a regular day or a day of great significance, she is always simplifying it for me: telling me to simply follow your heart and ignore all else. She is always reminding me, verbally and by example, that if I have the right intentions, there is little to worry about.
|10. How do you feel your religion has helped you succeed and overcome your obstacles?
My religion has kept me focused. If it weren’t for my awareness of Allah, I wouldn’t have found a purpose to my life nor would I have found it in me to set the goals that I have set for myself. It is because I take Allah’s words seriously when He tells me that I must look for the signs in this dunya to bring me closer to Him that I have established myself as a journalist- and ultimately, as a seeker of truth. Alhamdulillah, I know I wouldn’t be half the journalist and bioengineer that I am if it weren’t for Allah. He has guided me every step of the way. Also, the teachings of the Prophet PBUH are my golden tokens. He tells us to fix the wrong with our hands, and if not with our mouths and if not in our hearts! I live by that hadith. My journalism work is my way of fixing the wrong with my own hands, Alhamdulillah! I aim to shed light on issues that otherwise wouldn’t be covered and I aim to do so with the best of intentions: to right the wrong and bring justice to where it is not always found. And I have found the passion to do that through the Prophet’s PBUH life and teachings. Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah! Journalism is my sacrificial labor of love to Allah, the Prophet PBUH and humanity!
Isn’t Shaima’s determination refreshing? I feel like we are going to see great things from her Inshallah.
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