New Magazines Reflect Muslims' Diversity

By Omar Sacirbey
Religion News Service
Saturday, March 24, 2007

Holding an American flag and wearing a grin beneath her head scarf, Wardaw Chaudhary, a 16-year-old from Tulsa, radiated confidence and optimism, the perfect cover girl to grace the first issue of Muslim Girl magazine.

Launched in January with the tag line "Enlighten Celebrate Inspire," the bimonthly magazine targets what Editor in Chief Ausma Khan says are 400,000 Muslim teenage girls in North America, who, like other teenagers, want a magazine that reflects their lifestyles and aspirations.

"We want to tell the stories of Muslim girls who have grown up in America," said Khan, 37. "We want to give them a voice and a forum where they can see themselves and connect to other Muslim girls, but also demonstrate how much they're part of the fabric of American life."

Muslim Girl, with a circulation approaching 50,000, is the latest of several new magazines catering to Muslim Americans. Although they reach for distinct demographics -- teenagers, professionals, mothers, secular Muslims -- they share a common motivation: to define themselves at a time when many think Muslims have surrendered that responsibility to Western media that often get them wrong.

The magazines follow a few longer-established publications, such as Islamic Horizons, published by the Islamic Society of North America, and are more than an expression of Muslim American assertiveness. They reflect the community's diversity and a growing Muslim market that is catching the eye of advertisers and distributors.

Today's Muslim Girl readers might be tomorrow's subscribers to Azizah, which premiered in late 2000 calling itself the voice for Muslim women. Azizah, which means "dear" or "strong" in Arabic, blends profiles -- about, for instance, America's first Muslim female judge and a university "campus queen" -- with articles on health, travel, food and spirituality. But the quarterly glossy, with U.S. circulation of about 40,000, also handles tougher subjects, from custody battles and AIDS in the Muslim community to inheritance laws and how to spot men who marry for green cards.

Both Muslim Girl and Azizah were launched in part to correct stereotypes of Muslim women as oppressed and uneducated, fueled largely by news from overseas.

"Islam and Muslims are reported on in this country through the lens of Middle Eastern politics. So we see the Muslim woman as the Arab woman," said Tayyibah Taylor, 54, Azizah's publisher and editor.

A reader put it this way: "The emergence of these Muslim publications presents us with the opportunity to declare who we are and what we believe unapologetically, to force others to acknowledge our increasing presence in the West, and allows us to dispel the erroneous Muslim stereotypes too often presented and accepted in Western media," Gena Chung, a 32-year-old Muslim convert and mother of three in Laurel, wrote in an e-mail.

One of the new magazines, Islamica, serves up pieces on current affairs along with articles on art, culture, science and business, as well as fiction and poetry. It, too, was born of a desire to challenge conventional views about Islam. After briefly appearing as an academic journal in the early 1990s, Islamica was revived in 2003 as a quarterly. It has a circulation of 14,000, including more than 6,000 subscribers in North America.

"By extending the scope of what people understand about the religion, it may be easier for them to contextualize events and understand where Islam is coming from and how it's evolving, as opposed to through political events that tend to distort the religion," said senior editor Firas Ahmad, who likened his magazine to the Atlantic Monthly.

"What we're trying to do is provide alternatives to what we think the mainstream media might be missing," he said.

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