Tips for Journalists on Covering Islam: Fresh Ideas You Can Use Today

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All journalists regularly covering religion around the world find themselves reporting on Islam and, in 2019, we encounter extreme voices—fueled by a rising tide of nationalism in response to global conflicts, migration and the plight of refugees.

Where are these strident voices? All journalists are aware of the often toxic claims coming from some American politicians. But the U.S. is not alone. These strident responses to Islam are showing up in many countries. Pew Research’s latest report on political restrictions on Islam concluded that, in a growing number of countries, Muslims now face more restrictions than any other religious group.

What’s the good news? There also is strong evidence from many sources, now, that simply meeting Muslim men and women is an antidote to Islamophobia, including this Pew report about Europe.

U.S. journalists taking action

Journalists in the U.S.—well aware that many Islamophobic voices are arising in the U.S.—are leading a charge to encourage their everyday readers and viewers to simply go out and meet the Muslim families in their midst.

Here are three examples:

The Michigan State University (MSU) School of Journalism assigned students to compile the book, 100 Questions and Answers about Muslim Americans, with a Foreword by the popular scholar John Esposito. Fresh Idea: In your home country, could you join with other journalists to produce a guide like this to religious minorities? If you are considering this idea, the MSU journalism team would like to hear about your efforts and might be able to help.

The U.S.-based ReadTheSpirit online magazine, edited by the IARJ’s David Crumm, posed a New Year’s challenge to its readers: Meet a Muslim this year! To help encourage non-Muslims to meet Muslims in their communities, ReadTheSpirit also published a book in February (along with an endorsement on the book’s cover from the IARJ’s Larbi Megari) titled, Our Muslim Neighbors. Fresh Idea: In your home country, could you start a series of columns or TV/radio reports, perhaps called, “Meet a Muslim (or a Hindu, or a Buddhist, etc.)” and introduce ordinary men and women from religious minorities. Or, as a news organization, could you host a listening session for everyday men and women from diverse religious backgrounds?

Also in February, the highly respected journalist Kalpana Jain published Six Reporting Tips for Covering Islam in America for the Harvard Kennedy School website Journalist’s Resource. Kalpana first became known around the world for her reporting at The Times of India. Now, she is based at Harvard.

Please read—and share with colleagues—her entire report. The over-arching theme of her detailed advice is: When planning your reporting on Islam, begin with an understanding that Muslims’ everyday lives and attitudes are diverse and no single religious leader—or even regular attendees at a mosque—can speak for “the Muslim community.” Kalpana urges journalists to do what amounts to solid reporting: We need to get out into the heart of our communities and talk to many people.

Fresh Idea: After reading Kalpana’s column, which is focused on the U.S., do you have tips to share from your part of the world? If so, please contact us here at the IARJ. We encourage a helpful dialogue among our members.

IARJ Taking Action

The founding values of the IARJ are to encourage fairness, accuracy and balance in reporting on all groups. Since our founding, we have added resources to our website to help journalists fulfill these goals. Of course, resources on Islam are a part of that effort.

Here are some examples:

  • When the IARJ debuted online after our founding in 2012, we posted a helpful Primer on Islam by John Esposito.
  • In 2014, the IARJ’s Executive Director Endy Bayuni, based in Indonesia, reported for the prestigious Global Plus series on Democracy and Islam.
  • In 2016, we re-organized our list of online Religion Resources, including information about Islam.
  • In 2018, the IARJ’s Co-Managing Director Larbi Megari, based in Algeria, also contributed to the Global Plus series on Knowing Your Muslim Neighbor.
  • Today, in 2019, we are sharing this summary of news and Fresh Ideas. Would you take a moment and simply share this column with friends and colleagues via social media?

Fresh Idea: Are there further resources you would like to see the IARJ provide to our members and online readers? Please, contact us.