A guide for writing about Muslim Americans for the struggling white male reporter who doesn’t want anyone to know Muslims make him nervous


First lady Mamie Doud Eisenhower and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower stand shoeless as they admire the architectural details pointed out by Sheikh Abdullah Al-Khayyal, Saudi Arabian ambassador, at the dedication ceremony of the Islamic Center and Mosque, in Washington, on June 28, 1957. PHOTO/AP/Time

President Trump announced another Muslim ban this past weekend and your editor wants a piece on the subject by 2 pm. She already rejected your pitch about why Riz Ahmed was your favorite character in Rogue One and now she wants you to talk to “everyday Muslims.”

It sucks, I know. And it’s confusing. Sunnis? Shias? And what’s that? There are Ahmadis, too? Of course, it doesn’t help matters that Kumail Nanjiani is being so damn unhelpful by not responding to the questions you tweeted at him about Islam.

That’s why I, a Muslim American, am here to help. I have written tons of profiles of Muslims and I have even been profiled (Hi, TSA!). With my template, you can write a compelling piece about Muslim Americans in just six easy paragraphs.

Paragraph One

Start with a character and an image. Since you like to give feminist literature to the women in your life (as your Instagram followers well know, #FeminismIsForMeToo), double down on that by making her a woman. Be sure to humanize your character by describing her many quirks. For example: “Fatima loves line dancing. In fact, she knows she should spend her money on GRE classes but prefers to buy cowboy boots instead.”

Paragraph Two

Hit readers with a curveball. “But Fatima is a hijab wearing 21-year-old Somali woman whose family fled to the US when she was five. She doesn’t drink, eat pork, or date, but she feels much more at ease at a Blake Shelton concert than in a mosque.”

Paragraph Three

Now that you have hooked your audience, go in on the Islamophobia stats and the latest news on Trump’s Muslim ban. Don’t go too deep because you need to zoom out quickly and talk about Fatima’s collection of bedazzled hijabs.

Paragraph Four

You made it through the rough part. Give yourself a cookie and talk about how you have never really had any problems with Muslims yourself. Remember that trip you took to Sharm El Sheikh for scuba diving when you spent a super-long layover in Cairo and everyone was extra nice to you? Exactly. That stuff is golden. Put it here.

Paragraph Five

Breathe. This one will be a bit tough, but I am confident you can get through. Include a quote here from Fatima about how she is nervous about her family’s safety and doesn’t know if her cousins in Somalia will be able to visit her again. Follow that with a comment from a scholar
— an objective one, someone perhaps not so “Muslimy” — who will argue that while Fatima has a point, she is still better off in Minneapolis than in Mogadishu.

Paragraph Six

Shit, that paragraph above was real dark, especially the part where Fatima thinks the issue is more about her racial identity than her faith. But hey, you did it. You made it to the end. Now wrap this piece up with a bit of hope and another striking image. Did you notice how at Fatima’s house, she had on top of her dresser a Muslim prayer mat right next to A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James? Does Fatima know that James is gay or that many of the groups she has liked on Facebook promote LGBTQ rights? Who knows but also who cares because you just found the closing two lines of your article. And here they are: “Could it be that in America — and only in America — a type of tolerant Islam is not only possible but also flourishing? I asked Fatima but she said she had no time to speak because she was driving down to Nashville again.”

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