I’m a Muslim woman covering the diversity of Brooklyn. Sometimes all people see is my hijab.

By: Zainab IqbalJune 30, 2021  

Below is an excerpt from The Collective, Poynter’s newsletter by journalists of color for journalists of color and our allies. Subscribe here to get it in your inbox the last Wednesday of every month.

When I was covering a protest one day in Brooklyn, an elderly woman came up to me. She was shorter than me, her hair was silver, and she walked with a limp. I can’t remember if she held a cane. I was standing on the side of a crowd that had gathered, with a notepad in one hand, a camera around my shoulder and my press pass around my neck.

Old women at protests are usually sweet and warm. They ask me where I work, what I am covering, where I am from. Sometimes they tell me they like my hijab. And then they ramble on about how they went on their daily walk, saw the protest and just had to join. I always enjoy speaking with old women. So when she approached me, I smiled.

“Did Arabs murder any people today?” she asked. “Did your people burn any pregnant women?”

I was stunned. I couldn’t seem to comprehend what she asked. I stood there, and she stood there, too, staring at me, as if daring me to answer. I think I muttered a “no” until someone approached the woman and told her, “Let’s go walk over there.” She left, but I still stood there.

Later, I would wonder why I hadn’t answered her. I would wonder why I didn’t tell her, “Ma’am, you are racist.” I would wonder why I didn’t educate her. I would wonder why — as a person who encourages others to share with me their truth, as a person who is obsessed with words for a living — no words came out of my own mouth at a time when they should have most.

For the past three and a half years, I have covered everything Brooklyn. From crime, to the opening of a small business, to the pandemic, to lost dogs who later found each other, to politics, to death. Brooklyn is huge and it’s diverse. I live in a neighborhood surrounded by Muslims on one side, Orthodox Jews on the other. Right across from my building is a Roman Catholic church. Brooklyn is the only place I have ever truly known, which is why by default it’s a place that I write about. I try to write stories I never grew up reading, about communities not usually covered by the media. If we don’t share the stories of people in the communities that we belong to, how can we trust anybody else to?

People often write to me online. Sometimes they send an email. They DM me. They comment under my article on Facebook. “Anti-Semite.” “Terrorist.” This is nothing new, and thousands of Muslims experience the same thing. Other Muslim women journalists experience this, too.


First Denomination to Condemn Uyghur Muslim Genocide? Southern Baptists

Such statements that bridge faiths are rare, based on my two decades working on religious freedom. Christians need to make more.


While headlines focused on intra-Baptist fights during the recent Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in Nashville, many commentators overlooked a remarkable resolution advocating for Uyghur Muslims in China.

With Resolution 8, Southern Baptists joined Pope Francis in highlighting the abuses suffered by Uyghurs but went a step further by labeling their persecution as genocide.

Uyghurs are an ethnolinguistic group, predominately Muslim, found in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang. Chinese atrocities specifically targeting Uyghurs and other traditionally Muslim ethnic groups are well documented. These abuses by China were a rare area of agreement between the Trump and Biden administrations, with both labeling the Chinese persecution as a genocide.

In Nashville, among resolutions dealing with sexual abuse and electing a new SBC president, the 15,000 delegates or messengers considered Resolution 8: “On the Uyghur Genocide.” It cited “credible reporting from human rights journalists and researchers” which “concludes that more than a million Uyghurs, a majority Muslim ethnic group living in Central and East Asia, have been detained in a network of concentration camps in the Xinjiang Province.”  

Griffin Gulledge, a Ph.D. student in systematic theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, drafted the resolution. He became outspoken after watching videos of Uyghurs chained and shackled. “China is committing one of the grossest acts of human rights violations in modern history,” he wrote on Twitter, “and we aren’t saying a word because it financially benefits most of the rest of the world.”


Opinion: To save Muslim lives, let Muslims tell their own stories

A police officer stands guard in front of the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, Sunday, March 17, 2019, where one of two mass shootings occurred. New Zealand’s stricken residents reached out to Muslims in their neighborhoods and around the country on Saturday, to show kindness to a community in pain as a 28-year-old white supremacist stood silently before a judge, accused in mass shootings at two mosques that left dozens of people dead. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa is an Islamic cleric and the secretary general of the Muslim World League.

This month, a Canadian Muslim family was nearly wiped out after four members were killed in an Islamophobic terror attack, while the fifth — a 9-year-old boy — was left with serious injuries. This came two years after a gunman murdered 51 Muslims on the other side of the world, at a pair of mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. In the face of such mindless hate, many are asking what more can be done to save Muslim lives.

One way forward begins simply: Let Muslims tell their own stories.

Muslims often do not have agency over even their most traumatic stories. Earlier this month, a film called “They Are Us” was announced, starring Rose Byrne as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. The film focuses not on the murdered Muslims and their bereaved families, but on Ardern’s experience of the terror attacks. Even when portraying the worst instance of Western Islamophobia in years, Muslims are reduced (at best) supporting roles. The film was denounced by Ardern herself, who said her story is “not the one to be told.”

The chronic underrepresentation of Muslims in Hollywood and other Western media cannot be separated from the widespread bigotry faced by many members of our faith. This year, Islamophobia — which is not just the fear and hatred of Islam but also includes anti-Muslim discrimination and violence — reached “epidemic proportions.” The United Nations reported that nearly 1 in 3 Americans, and an even higher percentage of Europeans, view Muslims negatively.


Interfaith services pray for refugees, herald their strength, courage

WASHINGTON — On June 20, communities from around the globe celebrated World Refugee Day, established by the United Nations as an international day to acknowledge the strength and courage of people forced to flee their home countries due to conflict or persecution.

Yet, the commemoration of World Refugee Day comes at a record low for refugee resettlement.

Despite the long tradition of welcoming refugees in the United States, largely supported by faith-based organizations such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, the number of refugees resettled in the United States was at its the lowest in 2020 since the founding of the resettlement program in 1980.

At the same time, the past year marks a record high number of people forcibly displaced around the world.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates there are currently 26 million refugees who have been forcibly displaced due to “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, or membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

In response to the current climate for refugees, World Refugee Day interfaith prayer services were organized across the United States by MRS, in collaboration with the Roundtable Association of Catholic Diocesan Social Action Directors and the Princeton University Religion and Resettlement Project, to pray publicly for the well-being of refugees in the United States, across religious and political lines.

According to Todd Scribner of MRS, one of the principal organizers of the event, part of the purpose of these nationally coordinated services was to pray with and for refugees as a way to rebuild relationships with these communities, and highlight “the religious traditions out of which many of these communities have emerged and embraced.”



A must-see show at the Cooper Hewitt celebrates these exquisite designs


Muslim fashion is big business. Statistics from a 2016-2017 report by Thomson Reuters and DinarStandard, a global strategy firm that focuses on the Muslim market reports that Muslim women spent $44 billion on fashion that year, which represented 18 percent of the total estimated $243 billion spent by all Muslims on all clothing. By 2024, DinarStandard estimates, Muslim consumers will spend $402 billion.

Before it closes on July 11, try to catch “Contemporary Muslim Fashions,” an exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City. Not only are there dozens of gorgeous shimmery brocade, silk and satin gowns from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Middle East and Europe, but also hip hop-inspired contemporary sportswear, videos of interviews with young women Muslim designers (half under the age of 40) and fashion videos. There are examples of haute couture that Westerners like Karl Lagerfeld, Valentino and Oscar de la Renta adapted for their Middle Eastern clients, and affordable dresses sold at Macy’s and Uniqlo. The show is the last stop on a tour that began in San Francisco and then moved to Frankfurt. And sadly, though the museum just reopened June 10, the show is only on view for just a month at its final New York City stop.

It is an important show. “Contemporary Muslim Fashions” is the first major museum exhibition to focus on contemporary Muslim dress around the world—and it’s long overdue.

The origin of the show was kismet.

“It was one of the things I had in mind before coming to San Francisco in 2016,” says Max Hollein, the Austrian curator who became director of the de Young/Legion of Honor Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco that year, where the show originated. (Hollein is now director of the Met.) “It was the first time I was at an institution with a textiles collection, and because I had gone to Tehran a lot as director of the Sta[umlaut]del Museum in Frankfurt and spent considerable time in Istanbul and seen very fashionable women there, I got interested in Muslim dress codes.” (His wife, the Austrian architect Nina Hollein, is a fashion designer who founded her own label, NinaHollein, in 2009.)


Arab Christians in the Holy Land

A conversation with David Neuhaus, SJ

. David Neuhaus, SJ, the superior of the Jesuit community in the Holy Land, has taught Scripture at Bethlehem University and at the seminary of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. He was the vicar for Hebrew-speaking Catholics of the patriarchate from 2009 to 2017, and served as its coordinator of pastoral care for migrants and asylum seekers. He earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in political science from Hebrew University, his licentiate in theology from Centre Sèvres in Paris, and his licentiate in sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. The author of more than a dozen books and countless articles, Neuhaus is a frequent commentator on social and political issues facing present-day Israelis and Palestinians. His most recent book, in Arabic, is Judaism Evolved Among Us: An Introduction to Judaism for Christian Arabs (2019). He is currently involved in the formation of young Jesuits throughout the Middle East. His varied background (see below) gives him a wide perspective and unique insight into the problems afflicting Israel and the Palestinian territories. Nicholas Frankovich recently interviewed him by email; this interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

NICHOLAS FRANKOVICH: You’re a Catholic priest in Jerusalem and serve as the Jesuit superior there. You’re fluent in both Hebrew and Arabic. And in the eyes of the Israeli government, you’re a Jewish Israeli. Please describe your background in more detail, if you would. How does it affect your perspective on the religious and political conflicts and tensions in the region?

DAVID NEUHAUS: I was born into a German Jewish family that found refuge in South Africa during the 1930s. The family was dispersed around the globe, and all those who did not leave Germany were exterminated by the Nazis. This is a very important part of my identity. Being born in South Africa during the horrific years of apartheid and spending the first fifteen years of my life there also marked me deeply. My family was strongly opposed to the regime and we were brought up with a strong sense of justice.

Attending an excellent private Jewish school, I received a fine Jewish and secular education, and learned Hebrew and love of the language and culture. Arriving in Jerusalem at the age of fifteen for the first time in 1977, I was determined to understand what was going on. My first lifelong friend there was a Muslim Palestinian Arab, and this was the incentive to learn Arabic, as his family became like an adopted family for me. In their midst, I learned not only Arabic but also Arab culture, and experienced Islam as a religious tradition within a family that was very traditional. This marked my perspective profoundly.

However, at the same young age, I was also exposed to Christianity. I met a radiant witness to Christ in the figure of an eighty-nine-year-old Russian Orthodox nun, and her witness was absolutely convincing. I promised my parents I would wait ten years before seeking baptism, and when I did, I was asked to discern for a further two years by the Church. I was finally baptized in 1988 as a Roman Catholic, and then waited an additional three years in order to enter the Society of Jesus.

During these long years I studied at Hebrew University, completing my PhD in 1991, which focused on the Palestinian Arabs who are citizens of the state of Israel. After eight years abroad in Jesuit formation, I returned to Jerusalem to teach Scripture in Catholic and Jewish institutions in 2000, the year in which I was ordained to the priesthood.


Drawing from two worlds, immigrant dads share their experiences for Father’s Day

or immigrant men, fathering is drawn from two worlds – a mix of their upbringings in their home countries and lives in the United States.

Sharing lessons from their own lives are ways fathers connect with their children. For immigrant dads, that can mean sharing their journey to the U.S. and their earlier experiences back home.

About 1 in 14 Pennsylvania residents was an immigrant as of August, according to American Immigration Council.  And 8.98% of Bucks County residents were born outside the U.S. as of 2018, according to Data USA. 

Immigrant fathers juggle assimilating into American culture while passing along the traditions and values of their home countries to their children.

We spoke to three Bucks County dads about what it means to be an immigrant father in 2021, and to their children about what their dads mean to them.

Passing along ‘nuggets’ of culture

Perkasie resident Fabio Sciarrino was 8 years old when he emigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1986. Coming from a lower middle-class background in Sicily, his parents moved for better opportunities for education and employment.

Fabio Sciarrino and his children (from left) Lorenzo, 4, Cristian, 11, Giuliana, 7, and Matteo, 4, in their Perkasie home on Saturday, June 12, 2021.

“The understanding was, we’re all coming here collectively and individually to find better opportunities for ourselves,” Sciarrino said.

His family moved to Montgomery County, where Sciarrino attended school and faced prejudice. His principal at the time suggested he learn English separately from other students because “she was afraid that I would be a negative influence” if students heard his accent.

Sciarrino went on to be the first in his family to graduate from college and become an attorney – a job he didn’t think he’d have the opportunity to do as his parents and siblings worked in blue collar jobs.


Muslim Americans on finding love as third-culture-kids-turned-adults

“Some Muslims are looking for that magical middle. How can you … find that halal love and have everything our society tells us — that it’s full of passion and you’ll find your soulmate?” one chaplain said.

By Sakshi Venkatraman

When Mariam Mokhtar, 21, started taking karate classes for fun with her little brothers, she expected to get exercise and learn self-defense, not to meet her future husband. Mokhtar and Rai Shaw were both in high school at the time, and they became friends through the class.

“We were doing karate for years,” she said. “We’d see each other like every week, and, you know, it starts off as nothing, and then you become friends because you see them all the time. And then yeah, things just developed from there.”

A year after they met, he knew he wanted to marry her. She wasn’t so sure. 

“One day he was like, ‘I love you,’” Mokhtar said. “And I was like, ‘Uhhhh.’”

As a young woman hoping to find a partner one day, Mokhtar said she had always been searching for a middle ground between the traditions of their parents’ Muslim culture and the world of her non-Muslim peers. Western media and even Bollywood portray romance one way, but Muslim American couples and chaplains say the way they often meet, fall in love and eventually decide to get married are usually misunderstood or not told at all. 

“A lot of young Muslims are trying to navigate their story of love between traditional cultures that their parents may come from and their newly found American culture,” Imam Sohaib Sultan, a longtime chaplain at Princeton University who died in April, told NBC Asian America in February.

That made it hard for Mokhtar to be sure of what she wanted. Though she loved him too, they were so young and still had college ahead of them. And because of her faith, she didn’t really want to date in the way her non-Muslim peers did. 

“There’s a challenge navigating what social expectations are, what family expectations are and what a person’s own expectations are.”

“I was like, I would not marry this guy right now,” she said, laughing. “But then over the years, I saw him grow.”

So they waited, stayed friends, and eventually the time was right. The two got married last summer in an intimate ceremony with just the couple and their immediate family. Four years of waiting came to a head during a pandemic. But Mokhtar could not be happier. 

Navigating love wasn’t always easy for Mokhtar, who is Egyptian American. Growing up, she felt everyone around her had different ideas about what partnership and marriage were supposed to look like.


Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi to open in 2022

The cultural landmark in the UAE capital, which includes a synagogue, a church and a mosque, is meant to be a beacon of understanding and peaceful coexistence, inspired by the Document on Human Fraternity.

By Robin GomesThe Abrahamic Family House, which encloses a synagogue, a church and a mosque in a single complex, and which is scheduled to be inaugurated in 2022, is 20 percent complete, the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity (HCHF) said in a statement on Tuesday.  The  Committee, which is also supervising the project , said it is inspired by the 2019 Document on Human Fraternity.  Constructed on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, the project is closely followed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb of al-Azhar, who endorsed the design, the HCHF said.

The  Abrahamic Family House derives its name from the Old Testament biblical figure, Abraham, who is recognized and greatly revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Shared values
The Abrahamic Family House’s design, by architect Sir David Adjaye, captures. the values shared by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, through three main buildings, including a mosque, a church, and a synagogue in one place. “As such, the complex innovatively recounts the history and builds bridges between human civilizations and heavenly messages.”

The names of the three separate iconic houses of worship in the Abrahamic Family House complex are officially unveiled as “Imam AlTayeb Mosque,” “St. Francis Church,” and “Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue”.   Moses ben Maimon was a prolific and influential Sephardic Jewish philosopher of the Middle Ages.

Interfaith harmonious coexistence
Besides the 3 places of worship, the site includes a cultural center that aims to encourage people to exemplify human fraternity and solidarity within a community that cherishes the values of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence, while the unique character of each faith is preserved.

The design of the Abrahamic Family House was first unveiled by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, at a global gathering in New York in 2019, during the 2nd meeting of the HCHF. IT said the design was also presented to Pope Francis and the Grand Imam during a meeting with them in November that year.

“The Abrahamic Family House epitomizes interfaith harmonious coexistence and preserves the unique character of each religion,” said Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of the Department of Culture Abu Dhabi and an HCHF member. He said, “It personifies Abu Dhabi’s vision for human fraternity and embeds coexistence into the already diverse cultural fabric of the UAE. Overseeing the development of this iconic project is inspiring and reflective of the UAE efforts in realizing the values of the Document on Human Fraternity and fostering its lofty principles.” 


Putting Black at the center of interfaith

(RNS) — Every January, the city of New York hosts an interfaith breakfast that gathers my fellow New Yorkers who work to improve the lives of people in the five boroughs of NYC and beyond.

Gathered under one roof for several hours are representatives of the many different faiths that can be found in our city: Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and so many others assemble, not only to celebrate our diversity but to address pressing social justice issues, including racial equity, systematic racism and racially biased policing.

Interfaith coalitions have long taken up racial justice causes, most famously in the civil rights movements of the ‘60s, and New York’s is one of literally hundreds of similar gatherings I have attended in my life as a Black Christian minister.  

RELATED: Black religious leaders, stand with our LGBTQ family

Yet, interfaith organizations themselves have often not taken racial equity work seriously. Some of the great interfaith organizations of the early 20 century, such as the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ), have either actively discouraged the participation of Black leaders or passively signaled their disinterest by ignoring the struggle for racial justice that their Black and brown neighbors and their religious leaders were facing. 

This is despite the interfaith mingling that is woven into the history of Black people in America in traditional African religious traditions, Islam and Christianity as well as other faiths such as Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism. The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., has more than 1,000 religious artifacts that demonstrate the breadth of faith expressions among Black people since the first enslaved people from Africa brought their Muslim faith to this country.