How to Talk to the Media
By Adil James, MMNS
How do you explain the treatment of women in Islam? Why donâ€™t Muslim leaders ever apologize for acts of terror done by Muslims? Are Muslims supposed to beat their wives?
Experienced Muslim speakers hear these questions and variations all the time–but how to respond? For this reason CAIR Michigan is sponsoring a series of lectures at local mosques to discuss the subject â€œHow to speak to the media.â€
This past weekend at the Bloomfield Unity Center in Bloomfield Hills, CAIR sponsored just such a lecture, which was very well-attended by about 100 participants. The primary speakers were the MC, Dr. Muzammil Ahmed (a member of the CAIR Michigan board of directors), Imam Dawud Walid (Executive Director of CAIR-Michigan), and Mrs. Najah Bazzy (Senior Advisor of the Islamic Center of Americaâ€™s Young Muslim Association on Ford Road).
Dr. Ahmed explained that â€œThe underlying theme is to respond to what people really want to know, rather than what they are asking.â€
The lectures are a free service, Dr. Ahmed explained, so â€œMuslims can be equipped to answer difficult questions.â€ He explained that a person might ask â€œDo women have to wear scarves in Islamâ€ or a similar question but actually might really want to know what are the relations between men and women in Islam. The question a person asks, he further explained, might actually be a reflection of their own past personal experience, perhaps of difficult relations.
Both of the main speakers, Mrs. Bazzy and Imam Walid through growing up as American Muslims have both a devotion to Islam and a profound understanding of Americans and Christianity and the Bible that combine to make them very fluent in answering the questions typically asked of Muslims by non-Muslims.
Imam Dawud Walid explained, â€œTry to place yourself in the mindset of the questioner.â€
Mrs. Bazzy explained some of the practiced techniques she uses for responding to persistent questions.
She emphasizes commonalities between her own religion and that of her audience; when speaking to Catholics focusing on the reverence we hold as Muslims for Maryam (as), the virgin mother of Jesus (as), saying â€œThe Blessed Motherâ€ and referring to passages of the Bible that require more rigorous acts than are practised by Muslims. Her self-confidence in her belief is very strong, as was shown when she advised those in attendance at the event â€œWe are teachers, not defenders of Islam. We have to get that in our head.â€
On the issue of hijab, Mrs. Bazzy emphasized the fact of all people having varying notions of modesty, a sliding scale that at one point might mean hijab and at a different level might mean at least wearing clothes–and she explained how she carefully answers the hijab question by starting with the moment when Adam and Eve felt ashamed of their nakedness–and quoting a standard line she uses of â€œI hope you will at some point be more concerned with that is in my head, and not what is on my head.â€
CAIR Michigan paid $2,000 for the facilities and for a delicious banquet of Middle Eastern food for the event.
CAIR plans further training lectures at ICA on February 23rd, and MCWS (the Canton Mosque) on March 1st, and an additional series of lectures on more advanced techniques for dealing with the media.