On Sunday morning, CNN featured Islam in its “Faces of Faith” segment in the 8 am hour. The guest who came on to describe Ramadan and how too many American Muslims don’t feel they are respected was...Maria Ebrahimji, CNN’s own Director of Network Booking. Apparently, Ebrahimji, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, has embraced her role as a Muslim advocate inside CNN:
Her first job after college, in the late '90s, was rolling teleprompter for legendary CNN international anchor (and also Muslim) Riz Khan [who became an anchor at al-Jazeera English].
Since then, Maria has steadily ascended CNN's ranks. After 9/11, Maria was booking a who's who of Muslims and authors on Islam to explain and defend Islam to millions of viewers. Welcoming the challenge but often feeling like the token Muslim on the inside, Maria says, "It's a role I have embraced in the 12 years I have been with CNN."
On the website for her book compiling stories of Muslim-American women, Ebrahimji proclaimed: “As a member of the mainstream media, I am constantly exposed to the stereotyping of my faith, and continue to work in my own circles to advocate for distinctive reporting on Islam in addition to participating in conferences and panels to discuss media coverage of my faith. I am excited to use the knowledge I have gained in my profession to offer a new approach to presenting the public with a more candid and realistic idea of my life as a Muslim, and as an American woman.”
Inside CNN, Ebrahimji serves on several boards: as Vice Chair of the CNN Diversity Council and on the Turner Broadcasting Corporate Responsibility Council and Green Task Force.
The Sunday appearance was Ebrahimji's second on-air appearance this year. On May 8, she appeared in the same Sunday morning forum to promote her new book and decry an "otherness epidemic," and anchor T.J. Holmes really went after American "ignorance" of Islam:
T.J HOLMES: What has the reaction been when you see a story like that with these two Muslim men pulled off a plane, inexplicably, maybe we'll get some more answers, but we have seen these types of stories before.
MARIA EBRAHIMJI: We absolutely have and every time a story like this comes up it's very troubling to me as an American-Muslim but also as a journalist. Because part of what we do is tell stories about other people and we tell stories about what we hope would be a culture of civility in our country. And I think what this shows is there's still a great amount of fear in America about my religion in particular. And I think it also speaks to this concept of what I call otherness epidemic.
EBRAHIMJI: We always want to have this other person that we're looking to, to stereotype or to sort of alleviate the fears that we have, so we look to American Muslims as that...
HOLMES: What can we get from this that -- can this help us along quite frankly, because still that intolerance and frankly ignorance still exists?
EBRAHIMJI: Absolutely, I think Americans can get from this book what you would get from talking to your next door neighbor, right, a sense of appreciation about our back grounds, our history, our culture, but also the idea that all of us are just like you and me. I was born and raised in this country. My parents are refugees from another land. But I grew up really learning to appreciate the values that we have here in America, and I believe that my Islam and my religion actually don't contradict my American patriotism either.
Back in May, they also interviewed Ebrahimji for CNN.com and talked of Islamophobia. CNN's Jay Kernis noted that Ebrahimji's book of essays began with Yusra Tekbali, a blogger who worked on Capitol Hill for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and told of being hung up on because a constituent was offended by her Arab name. She wrote, "Sometimes, it feels like I am racing against a clock that always reads 9:11." He asked "How common is that experience-and what is the affect of that kind of suspicion, if not prejudice?" Ebrahimji replied:
For many American Muslims, including those born here, 9/11 was an awakening to our identity and to the idea that Muslims were now the new "other." Yusra's experience is not uncommon and many of us have felt some sort of prejudice against us at some time in our lives. In some cases, these experiences have more to do with lack of understanding and education about what Islam means and how we practice it, rather than pure intellectual and emotional hate.
Fortunately, in the ten years since 9/11, there are many more American Muslims who are working in civil society and government. Hopefully their presence alone will help to dispel what I call an "otherness" epidemic that seems to be our country's natural reaction to fear and the unknown.
In the August 7 interview, anchor Deborah Feyerick began:
On Monday, Muslims began observing Ramadan, a month of fasting and reflection. According to a Gallup report released last weeks, just 63 percent of Muslim-Americans feel respected when they practice their faith in public. That compares to 81 percent of Protestants and Catholics. To help us better understand Ramadan and what it means to be a Muslim in America I am joined by Maria Ebrahimji, she's co-editor of "I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim". She's also CNN's director of Network Booking. And Maria, this is one of the holiest months for Muslims everywhere.
Ebrahimji explained the rituals of fasting for Ramadan, but it grew a bit confusing when she insisted it's just like other monotheistic faiths, and claimed Jews do "sacrifice for Christ." What? Jews don't recognize Jesus as the messiah. The CNN anchor didn't notice the error.
EBRAHIMJI: Its self-discipline, control and sacrifice. You know, I'm -- Islam is like -- it's very much like other religions in the sense that they also had acts of sacrifice. I mean, there's Lent and Catholicism and Jews also perform acts of sacrifice for Christ as well.
EBRAHIMJI: And I think this is very similar to other monotheistic faiths.
Then naturally it turned to Islamophobia:
FEYERICK: Now when we think about, we talked about the Gallup report.
FEYERICK: All right, where people, where Muslims in America -- Muslims in America simply don't feel like they are being respected.
FEYERICK: What is your sense?
EBRAHIMJI: Well, many of the Muslims that I talked to do feel respected, actually. I was quite surprised by that statistic, I thought it might actually be greater but I think you know, due to the current events and some of the issues and the challenges that have came up in Muslim communities; very recently with the Ground Zero mosque controversy, the issues in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, very close to Atlanta.
FEYERICK: Of course.
EBRAHIMJI: I think it is -- there are still a deep-seated curiosity but also somewhat of a resistance to Islam by a lot of Muslim-Americans. And I think that can only be changed by more Muslim-Americans integrating into society, and really speaking out for themselves. And that's really why -- you know, my co-editor and I actually wrote that book is to showcase the narratives of Muslim-American women so they could showcase their lives in an everyday setting.
FEYERICK: Well, wonderful.
FEYERICK: It's a terrific book. Maria Ebrahimji, thank you so much.