A journalist's newsletter offers a glimpse into how Muslim Millennials think

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One interesting note that came out of a recent Religion News Association meeting two months ago was a prayer meeting of Muslim journos who belong to the group. There was also a group of Jewish reporters who met for a Shabbat dinner.

Signs of a big change? As a veteran of probably two dozen such conferences, I remember the days when folks took care not to mention their religious preferences at all, even in the company of like-minded reporters. Some thought it was a journalistic sin to do so.

You never knew if that information could be held against you plus there were some newsrooms that –- if they suspected you were partial to a certain religious group –- would pull you off any stories about said group. Such rules were never applied to reporters from black, Hispanic, gay, Native American or other subsets, but I learned early on the less said about my personal faith background, the better.

So it was with great interest that I read Boston freelancer Aysha Khan’s entry on her “Creeping Sharia” newsletter.

Salaam! Last weekend I was in Columbus, Ohio, where I joined religion reporters around the country for the annual Religion News Association conference. There, I got to meet fellow Muslim journalists Aymann Ismail (Slate), Hannah Allam (BuzzFeed News), Amber Khan (Interfaith Voices), Jaweed Kaleem (L.A. Times), Dalia Hatuqa (freelance) and Dilshad Ali (AltMuslim). Seriously, how exciting is this photo?

These folks are pictured in the photo atop this blog that I got from Khan’s site. I assume Khan herself is on the far right.

When I went to RNA in D.C. for the first time two years ago, Dilshad, Dina Zingaro (60 Minutes), Ruth Nasrullah (freelance) and I were probably the only Muslim journos there. Last year, in Nashville, I think there were even fewer of us. But this year we were actually able to pray Jummah together in the hotel. Just surreal.

All of this got me to reading Khan’s new twice-monthly newsletter.

I’m guessing “creeping Sharia” is a tongue-in-cheek rebuke to those who see the specter of sharia law in America’s near future. Here’s a curated list of articles about Islam you might not see anywhere else.

She links to the Dearborn, Mich.-based Institute for Social Policy and Understanding an organization that researches American Muslims. I can’t comment on the ISPU as I’ve never used it to help source any articles and there are some questions about its function as a charity. But they seem to be the closest thing we have to an American Muslim think tank.

Perusing Khan’s newsletter/blog does land you in another world. I hadn’t seen HuffPost’s piece on female Muslims (here in the States) who are the targets of road rage. It’s not just Driving While Muslim, it’s Driving With a Hijab.

Or a Think Progress report on an anti-Muslim rally in Houston. (Khan has worked with ThinkProgress in the past. She’s also been the social media editor for Religion News Service, although she’s not now. Am not sure if she was one of the folks who left the wire service during its upheaval last April or if she left for other reasons).

(NOTE - Aysha responded to my post Monday morning by saying she’s still with RNS. The description of her on their page: Aysha Khan is a Boston-based journalist reporting on American Muslims and millennial faith. Her newsletter, Creeping Sharia, focuses on Muslims in the U.S. Previously, she was the social media editor at RNS, gives the impression she’s not on staff but maybe that’s just me. She responded to several of my other points via Twitter here).

Or this fascinating Jezebel story about a women-led mosque in Manhattan’s Tribeca district. And this Slate piece about why bean pie belongs to Islamic cuisine.

Khan began her newsletter in March as an effort to get beyond the usual hate-crimes-against-Muslims reporting to more winsome stuff that shows the religion in a different light. She also wants to highlight under-reported parts of the community: “undocumented, disabled, mentally ill, incarcerated, women, black, Latin@, LGBTQ+, Shia, Ahmadi, Ismaili and more,” she writes.

Khan definitely has a POV and she’s focused more on the Millennial expression of Islam in this country, but she does dig up pieces about American Muslims that the Pew Research Center’s daily compilation of top religion stories (that get sent to many religion reporters) tend to miss. One thing that the four outlets (Jezebel, Slate, HuffPost and Think Progress) I’ve named above have in common is they’re politically liberal and their reporting is highly subjective.

I’m not saying every source in her newsletter is hard left. There’s mainline sources, like this link to NBC’s story on DKNY’s new Ramadan fashion line. (Note to guys: DKNY is a fashion label.) But are we also going to see anything on, say, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the participation of immigrant Muslims (and their 5-year-old daughters) in female genital mutilation here in the United States?

I’m subscribing to Kahn’s newsletter — and I think other journalists could do so as well — to get a look into how the young Muslim demographic thinks. Besides, where else would you find articles on how Amazon mistreats Muslim workers at a Minnesota warehouse during Ramadan?

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