Top 30 do's and don'ts when covering Islam and Muslims
By Wajahat Ali, co-host of Al Jazeera America’s The Stream
First, I will quote the greatest Sufi Shaikh of all time, Yoda: “Do or do not, there is no try.”
Do diversify your portfolio of token Muslims. Different Muslim super heroes have different superpowers.
Do not assume Arabs = Muslims and Muslims = Arab. Do not use them interchangeably.
Do seek out Muslims who are black and/or white and or other colors. They exist, not all are brown.
Do not assume bearded men or covered women are religious Muslims.
Do not assume clean shaven men or uncovered women are not religious Muslims.
Do talk to more women, who are the majority of Muslim populations.
Do more stories about Muslim women not involving hijab or the burqa or honor killing or FGM.
Do not use the words “unveil” in your title.
Do not assume just because a person claims to represent Muslim communities, he/she does.
Do not use fringe Muslims as representatives for diverse Muslim communities. For example, Graeme Wood relied on Anjem Choudary for his infamous “What is ISIS” Atlantic article. Anjem is like the Pastor Jones of Muslim communities.
Do not assume all Muslims can talk about Islam.
Do have some Muslims talking about Islam. Just like you should have African Americans talking about racism, and women talking about feminism, and South Asians talking about Bollywood. Note: If your panel on Islam has no Muslims, that is a problem.
Do not assume practicing Muslims support ISIS or Al-Qaeda. Unlike Don Lemon, do not ask “do you support ISIS, or AQAP, or Taliban?”
Do not ask or frame a conversation around the question: “Where are Moderate Muslims? Do they exist? Are they bearded unicorns?”
Do use “Moderate Muslim” in your title if you’re intentionally disrupting that simplistic narrative and showing the nuances.
Do appreciate Muslims are the most diverse religious communities in America – based on ethnicity, education, ideology, and so forth.
Do not say “The Moslems.”
Do not say “The Muslim world” – there is no Muslim world.
Do not say “The Muslim community” – there are many Muslim communities.
Do not ask “What does Islam say?” – Islam doesn't say anything, Muslims do.
Do appreciate the unique differences between Shiism and Sunnism and the many different communities within them.
Do not lump Islamist with Jihadist with Salafist with Traditionalist.
Do not use religiously laden terms to describe groups like ISIS or Al Qaeda as “Islamic extremist” or “Islamic terrorist” – just use terrorist, criminals or violent extremists.
Do reach out to local, national and international Muslims using social media or whatever means – be proactive, establish a relationship.
Do reach across the aisle in good faith, and you will generally see reciprocity. Muslims are still young and evolving in certain arenas – including media, philanthropy, and institution-building.
Do attend a local, national community event – an iftar, a jumaa, college event, a local presentation, etc.
Do focus on interesting stories done by Americans who just happen to be Muslims.
Do write on American Muslim stories that are not framed around national security or terrorism or extremism.
Do find utility and value in American Muslim experiences and contributions other than helping national security or fighting terrorism and countering violent extremism.
Do not compare Zayn Malik to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Do more stories on Zayn Malik. Teenage girls love Zayn Malik.
Do projects, stories, events with American Muslims around shared values, rather than just “Muslim” issues. Let's create a superhero Justice League comprised of the coalition of the willing.
Don’t have double standards.