The complex issue of media portrayal of Islam was the forefront of Buffalo’s Muslimedia event this weekend.
On Sunday afternoon, a panel of journalists, community members and local faith leaders discussed how Islam is covered in the media. The discussion took place at the Islamic Society of Niagara Frontier (ISNF) and roughly 100 people attended. Seven panelists discussed topics regarding misconceptions about Islam and journalism as well as the “terminology of terrorism.”
"We wanted to choose the topics that were most important and salient for this crowd, the bluntest subjects, the subjects that really would elicit answers and get to the heart of some of the conflicts between Journalists and the Muslim community,” said Jody K. Biehl, director of the UB Journalism Certificate Program.
Biehl along with Rasul Khan, president of the ISNF, moderated the discussion.
Biehl arranged the panel with the help of a grant from the Society of Professional Journalists. Biehl was inspired to bring the panel together when she noticed students and student-journalists writing stories about the Muslim community without having experiences within the community.
Attendees questioned the coverage of terrorism – especially with regard to the 2015 San Bernardino attack and broadcasts of the perpetrators’ home. Others asked for the panelists’ opinions on media outlets, such as Al Jazeera and its coverage in a post-9/11 world.
Dr. Khalid J. Qazi, a clinical professor at UB and former president and chair of the Islamic Society of Niagara Frontier, spoke as part of the panel.
“We certainly do want all citizens treated equally and equitably, all members of the community having an equal say in how we shape our community going forward,” Qazi said.
“There is a feeling, and it’s not only a feeling it is also a fact, that Muslims do not necessarily have a seat at the table most of the time. This event is one of the ways to highlight that concern.”
Dr. Qazi said hosting the event at the ISNF was an opportunity for the mosque to be an open house for the community to see Muslims in this setting.
Other topics addressed at Muslimedia focused on how terrorism can become defined by religion and how to engage individuals that don’t align with your own beliefs.
During the beginning of the event, Imam Syed Khalilullah Qadri, imam of the ISNF and part of Muslimedia’s panel, went through prayer with attendees. He discussed the purpose of showing obedience toward God and the spreading of peace after prayer, which occurs five times a day.
Lee Coppola, a UB alum and award-winning reporter and panelist, discussed the media and the difficulties in reporting the way Muslims want themselves portrayed.
Coppola touched on how the term “media” is applied to all kinds of media, regardless if it’s entertainment or news-related media.
“I think a lot of the problem is the general public – including the Muslim community – doesn’t understand how journalists work and how news works,” Coppola said. “That, I think is the difficult thing, the role of the journalist and the difficulty for journalists to try to present the news in a factual, unbiased manner. I took away from here that deep-rooted feeling that Muslims aren’t being treated well by the news media.”
Students attended the event to learn more about the relationship between media and religion.
Sarah Stanford, a senior English and psychology major attended to understand Islam in the current political climate.
“I loved how Imam Syed Khalilullah Qadri quoted the Quran and said ‘this is not the way we identify Islam’ – ‘Islamic terrorists’ are not Islamic, they are terrorists,” Stanford said. “I thought he was particularly eloquent and coming from a voice within the Buffalo Muslim community, it was beautiful.”
The event was sponsored on by an array of local sponsors including the ISNF, Congregation Havura, Access of WNY, Temple Beth Zion, Muslim Public Affairs Council of WNY, Westminster Presbyterian Church of Buffalo, The Society of Professional Journalists and the UB Journalism Certificate program.
At the conclusion of the event, halal food was served not only to bring about conversation but also to bring the community closer together.
Benjamin Blanchet is a Senior Arts Editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Benjamin Blanchet is the senior engagement editor for The Spectrum. His words have been seen in The Buffalo News (Gusto) and The Sun newspapers of Western New York. Loves cryptoquip and double-doubles.