Pulitzer Center Update

ONA20 Everywhere: 'Covering American Muslims'

On October 8, 2020, the Pulitzer Center partnered with the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) to present “Covering American Muslims” during ONA20 Everywhere, the Online News Association’s annual conference. 

During the hour-long virtual event, Dalia Mogahed, ISPU director of research and former executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, presented findings from ISPU’s 2020 American Muslim Poll and gave the audience tips for covering American Muslims in their reporting. 

Mogahed explained that media coverage of American Muslims is critical because “roughly half of Americans do not know a ‘real-life’ Muslim—they know Muslims from the media.”

Following Mogahed’s opening presentation, panelists described their experiences covering the diversity of the Muslim experience in the U.S. Panelists included Hind Makki, an ISPU educator and founder of the website Side Entrance; Pulitzer Center grantee Dr. Seema Yasmin, a multimedia reporter, medical doctor, and director of the Stanford Health Communication Initiative; and Pulitzer Center grantee Zahra Ahmad, a journalist whose reporting project Iraq: The Journey Home was published by MLive.

Yasmin, author of Muslim Women Are Everything: Stereotype-Shattering Stories of Courage, Inspiration, and Adventure, described the public conversations that led her to write a book that challenged the stereotype of Muslim women as a “monolith.” Yasmin noted that in writing the book she didn’t only include “real-life people who are saintly and perfect.” 

“I’ve picked people who are problematic. Because guess what? We get to be all of those things,” Yasmin said.

Ahmad, who traveled to Iraq in 2019 to visit her father’s family and report on her family’s immigration story, recounted how stereotypes of Muslim women that were formed from a vantage point in the United States were challenged in Iraq. 

“As I spoke more and more to my aunt, I started to shatter my own stereotypes that I had about Muslim women,” Ahmad said. Her expectations of women’s place and status in Muslim communities were challenged when she saw the women in her family “were either orthopedic surgeons, surgical assistants, orthopedic assistants, or teachers.” 

Finally, Makki outlined the guidelines for the website Side Entrance and explained how the site seeks to show Muslim women’s experiences without promoting the stereotypes that “Islam is misogynistic” or that “Muslim women do not have agency.” Side Entrance, as Makki described, “asks women and girls to share their prayer experiences in mosques in the U.S. and around the world.” 

Makki continued, “The aim of that is really to highlight what women's prayer experiences are like but also to get some changes on the ground in terms of addressing and redressing the unequal, subpar spaces that many women have to pray in, in mosques in the U.S.” 

Makki ended her presentation by sharing examples of “dos and don’ts” that she uses to guide the work on the website that would be applicable for journalists in other spaces reporting on the experiences of American Muslims.