by Guest Contributors Sobia and Krista, originally published at Muslimah Media Watch
After getting all of that sarcasm out of our systems two weeks ago, we decided it might be useful to put together a list of actual guidelines for writing about Muslims. Of course, this is mostly just wishful thinking, because if reporters actually seemed willing to adhere to guidelines like this, then there would be no need for this blog. But here are some suggestions anyway.
A lot of this isn’t new stuff, as you’ll see from the many MMW posts that we link to, which illustrate some of our guidelines in more detail.
So, here you go: the shockingly un-sarcastic version of “How to Write About Muslims.”
Rule #1: Don’t assume that Muslim women need to be saved, or that you know how to save them.
By making this assumption, what one is essentially doing is:
* Assuming that all Muslim women are somehow oppressed at the hands of their fellow Muslims. The Muslim community is just as diverse as any other. By generalizing in such a way, one maligns the entire community, including the women. This is offensive to the many women who are treated with respect and equality by their fellow Muslims, including Muslim men. This assumption also ignores the forms of oppression that Muslim women may be facing from outside of the Muslim community, such as racism and Islamophobia (or even war and occupation, in cases like Iraq and Afghanistan), which for some women can be much more disastrous than anything they experience from their Muslim community.
* Assuming that Muslim women can’t take care of themselves. This is very patronizing. Muslim women have agency, and a great deal of it. Throughout history and today, Muslim women have been taking various forms of leadership. In situations where women are being oppressed, they are resisting in all sort of ways that the media doesn’t always think about. Additionally, most Muslim countries have Muslim women’s organizations that are working hard to support themselves and other women.
* Assuming that what you’re going to do for them is going to be helpful. The assumption is that you know better than them what’s good for them. It also suggests that you are actually in a position to help them, which might not be true.
These two posts by Faith go into more detail about what is wrong with making these assumptions.
Rule #2:Rather than assuming you know what Muslim women’s lives are like, try asking them.
Too often, writers write about Muslim women without ever having tried to find out what Muslim women’s lives are like from their perspective. This is poor research, and feeds into the problematic assumptions discussed in Rule #1. Do your homework, and try hard to connect to the specific women that you are writing about. Even if you are writing about women in another country, try to connect to women’s organisations in that country. At the very least, try to connect to women from that country who are living in your own community.
Rule #3: Be careful of who you talk to regarding Islam and/or Muslim women.
Don’t assume, just because someone is Muslim, that all Muslims will agree with them or that they represent all Muslims. For example, Muslims who have made a career out of calling other Muslims Islamists, and who base their credibility on the number of other Muslims who don’t like them, are not a good source of information. Generally, people who work within an Islamic framework, as opposed to always bashing Islam, are more likely to understand the Muslim community. Continue reading