Members of the Islamic community gathered with others at the Philadelphia Masjid-Sister Clara Muhammad School in West Philadelphia on Tuesday, July 17 for a discussion on Islam and the media.
During the forum, panelists, who represented various media professionals, spoke on how Muslims are portrayed in the media and how they affect members of the Islamic faith.
Moderated by Aliya Khabir, the six-member panel took turns answering questions posed by members of the audience and shared their professional experience and observations.
“This is an opportunity to educate non-Muslims about Ramadan,” Khabir said.
The forum was hosted by the Unified Eid Committee. The group was built and crafted to educate the public about Muslims.
EID is the celebratory feast for Muslims held at the conclusion of Ramadan, the month long obligatory fast held each year. During Ramadan, Muslims who are physically able to do so are required to fast from sunup to sundown. This year, Ramadan starts Friday, July 20.
The first question posed to the panelists was, “what was your impression of Muslims?” to which those on the panel, including those who were of the Islamic faith, answered one at a time.
Shadeed Muhammad, Imam of the United Muslim Masjid said he converted to Islam before it became, according to him, unpopular in the media. His decision to become a Muslim was a result of the positive changes he said Islam had on the lives of other believers — some of whom were once criminals or lived other irreputable lifestyles.
“It is our responsibility to paint ourselves with our own brush,” he said.
Loraine Ballard-Morrill, news and public affairs director at Clear Channel radio, recalled the images of Muslims portrayed in such international trouble spots as Palestine and how the Islamic faith was portrayed by the media during conflicts abroad.
“There’s a wider community that needs to hear your story, that needs to hear you and that needs to be a two-way street,” she said.
While there may not be a lot of accurate information about Islam and Muslims, Morrill noted as a news director, she has not received a great deal of requests from Muslims announcing news stories that would let the public know about events happening in the Islamic community.
Nicole Newman, CEO of Newman Networks was another Muslim panelist, who stated despite some of the negative images of Muslims in the media, she was also influenced by the positive changes she observed in the lives of professed Muslims she met.
“I was influenced by my neighbor who had a husband who was there when all around her was single-female led households,” she said. “If we want to change what we think about ourselves, we have to change our information.”
Panelist Idris Abdul Zahir, of Nur Media, grew up in a Muslim household and was asked what it was like to be a practicing Muslim all of his life.
“My parents did an excellent job teaching me how to be comfortable with Islam,” he said. “The older I got the more I became exposed to what people thought about Muslims worldwide.”
While Zahir was different from other youth in the community, in that he didn’t eat pork and fasted during Ramadan, he experienced little difficulties or discrimination.
In fact, he participated in most of the activities without problem.
“Most people don’t know what they are rejecting,” Zahir said. “They reject Islam but don’t know any Muslims.” Zahir has studied other religions such as Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism as a student.
Other panelists included Darisha Miller, director and president of the Philadelphia Black Public Relations Society and Annette John Hall, columnist and reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer.