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November 24, 2001


American Islamic Media: Assorted and Aspiring

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In Depth

When a visitor stopped by his office, Ahmed Osman pointed to a table laden with paperbacks that Amana Publications, a publisher of Islamic books, had been producing at its headquarters in Beltsville, Md., a Washington suburb, where Mr. Osman is director of publications.

"Muslim Teens: A Practical Islamic Parenting Guide" was one title. Others dealt with marriage, conversion and more. But the big seller was the Koran, in the English-language translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Mr. Osman said.

Amana belongs to a widely scattered universe of American Muslim publishing, which links members of an ethnically diverse community through newspapers, magazines, books and Internet sites.

But Muslims in America are of course a very long way from the communication and publishing operations of evangelical Protestants, whose ventures have set the gold standard for media identified with a particular religious group. Such resources raise a group's public profile and ensure that its views will be heard, because prominent members can be easily identified by journalists and policy makers.

Naim Beig, secretary general of the Islamic Circle of North America, based in Queens, said American Muslims got much of the news about their communities "through the ethnic papers," newspapers printed in Arabic, Urdu and English that are distributed to mosques.

"On a Friday," Mr. Beig said, "if you pass by any Islamic center, you will find a lot of these papers sitting there."

One, found in mosques frequented by African-Americans, is The Muslim Journal, affiliated with Imam W. Deen Muhammed, a national figure among black American Muslims.

Another is The Mirror International, a weekly that circulates among Pakistani immigrants. In October, one issue carried an editorial urging the development of Muslim news media, and for Muslim journalists and editors to go to work in mainstream news organizations.

Ibrahim Hooper, national director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said many American Muslims also got their news from the Internet.

One site is, with a 12-member staff and headquarters in Culver City, Calif. Its chief executive, Muhammed Abdul Aleem, said its goal was to create "a medium for Muslims around the world and for non-Muslims, where they can get an objective view of Islam."

Among its features, the site offers selected articles, from various news organizations, on American policy toward Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Southern California is also home to a weekly television program, "The American Muslim Hour," produced in Altadena, a Los Angeles suburb. The program, begun in 1985 and transmitted around the country over a variety of local cable channels and the Internet, focuses on discussions of the Koran, interreligious dialogue and American issues.

Aslam Abdullah, editor of The Minaret, a Muslim magazine with an investigative bent, said the day of a national Islamic media presence might not be far off.

"There is now a trend within the Muslim community where a lot of younger people are going to journalism courses," Mr. Abdullah said. "And some of them are getting jobs in local media."

"I'm confident that within two or three years, we'll have a national Muslim print media," he said, "either a weekly or a monthly."

A New Year's Thanksgiving

Given the holiday, this will be a weekend for members of the clergy to deliver messages of thanksgiving. But of course one may show gratitude at any time. Consider a resonant sermon of thanksgiving preached very long ago on a New Year's Day, about the fundamental issue of the right to personal liberty.

It was in 1808, when a federal law took effect barring the import of African slaves into the United States. The Rev. Absalom Jones, a former slave who had become an Episcopal priest in Philadelphia, delivered "A Thanksgiving Sermon," taking as his text Exodus 3:7-8, God's promise to deliver the Israelites from bondage in Egypt.

Father Jones was an elegant writer, whose message may be read in "American Sermons" (Library of America, 1999). He asked that Jan. 1 be always set aside as a day of thanksgiving for the end of American involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

He also wrote a prayerful concluding sentence that seems apt for the present moment, two centuries later. "Give peace in our day, we beseech thee, O thou God of peace," he said, "and grant that this highly favoured country may continue to afford a safe and peaceful retreat from the calamities of war and slavery, for ages yet to come."

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