Link Love: 'My Best Friend Is Muslim', An Interview With Interfaith Bloggers

'My Sister Is Muslim', one of the personal stories on My Best Friend Is A Muslim

What: 
A huge influx of Muslim orientated blogs are sharing and reporting on the many hidden realities of the Muslim lifestyle. By 2009 more than 133 million blogs[1] were calculated, so we do really need more? Yes. More Muslim blogging platforms are being created with the banner of "muslimness" to perform the role that mainstream media has neglected. One new project called {My Best Friend Is Muslimis portraying real Muslim friendships, ambitions and the intimate relationships of an altruistic faith which 'Western' news ignores. I love MFBIM for promoting interfaith friendship with a real personal message.

Who: 
I asked MBFIM founder Ateqah Khaki how the My Best Friend Is Muslim blog started up and why. This is what she had to say in a Muslimness exclusive interview.


Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up, what's your Muslim community like?
My family has roots in Gujrat, India. My parents were both born and raised in Tanzania. I was born in the UK, but I've lived in America for most of my life. I grew up in a quiet suburb outside of Seattle, Washington, and went to a small liberal arts college in a town called Walla Walla (yes, it's a real place!) where I studied sociology. From elementary school through college, I was one of the only Muslim kids in my community. My family is quite religious; in fact my parents are the founders and leaders of a religious community. My parents raised me to be proud of my faith and culture, and so I never felt weird or out-of-place as the only Muslim around, and I was always happy to answer my friends' questions about my religion and my roots. Today, I live in New York City, and work in communications for a national civil rights organization.


What are your reactions to Muslims in the media?
I dream of a day when Muslims in the media aren't recognized as "Muslims in the media." Most of the time, when you read or hear about someone in the news, their religious views are not mentioned, because they are irrelevant to the story. These days, it seems to me that regardless of the topic, if the subject of a piece happens to be Muslim, this piece of information will be prominently featured in the story. I hope that one day, unless the fact that someone is a Muslim is truly "part of the story," the media is able to look beyond this one-dimensional characterization of people who happen to be Muslim.


I presume you wouldn't agree then that Muslims and Muslim youth are represented fairly by any form of journalistic media?
As stated above, I feel that Muslims are too often portrayed as one-dimensional characters in the media. Thankfully, we live in a day and age where anyone can create their own media or source of information, and there are some great efforts out there to more accurately depict the diverse Muslim community (including my project! Which we'll get to soon!)


And now, onto My Best Friend Is Muslim. What lead to the creation of the blog and why that title?
The inspiration for My Best Friend Is Muslim (MBFIM) literally came from an online chat conversation I had with one of my best friends. The conversation took place on the same day that the U.S. Congress held a hearing about the so-called "radicalization" of the Muslim community; a premise that I believe to be inaccurate and pernicious.


My friend Lindsay was chatting with me about how she heard a story on the radio earlier that day about some Muslim Americans who were detained at the Canadian border simply because they were Muslim. The issue was very personal to Lindsay. We have been best friends since we were teenagers. She imagined how she might feel if it had been me or my family that was questioned at the border, and it made her want to tell the world, "Hey! My best friend is Muslim!" She asked me if we should start a website by that name which would simply be a platform for people to share photos and stories about their friends who were Muslim. I thought the idea was brilliant, so I started the website right then and there.


Who's on the blog team? I see you receive contributions, tell us how that works.
The blog team is me :) I put together the site, and have been learning as I go about how to edit HTML code to add social media buttons and read site analytics. I receive submissions through the site or via email, and I copy edit and format the contributions as they come in. I curate the submissions, and post them daily, echoing each post on Facebook and Twitter. I'm currently strategizing about broader out reach to bloggers, key Muslim organizations and allies, famous Muslims and others. Since I have a 9-to-5 job, most of the work on MBFIM happens between 7pm and 2am!

The concept is simple: a website where people can share a story or photo about their friend who is Muslim. The project seeks to shift the conversation about Muslims in America from an undifferentiated group to real individuals; to bring personal intimacies and love between Muslim and non-Muslim Americans into the public sphere as a gentle reminder that the fight for equality and civil rights belongs to all of us.



Story submission
"Jew + Muslim = Love"
"Amarra is single handedly one of the funniest human beings I have ever met. Rapping into a microphone in the middle of the Student Union one realizes how being a Muslim is part of her identity, but isn’t strictly part of who she is as a person. While she does pray the allotted times per day and never shows her hair to the opposite sex, when she opens her mouth the Muslim factor is gone!"

What 3 pieces of advice would you give to the Muslim youth who may feel underrepresented?
(1) Show the world what it means to be a Muslim through your actions. I think the best way to counter negative perceptions about Islam or Muslims is simply to break the stereotypes through example.

(2) Even though it can be annoying to answer the same old questions about Islam and Muslims, be patient with those who want to learn and try to answer their questions as best you can. Although I get tired to answering questions about why some Muslim women wear hijab (and why I don't) or why we fast during Ramadan, I always try to give an honest and informative answer. It takes a lot of courage to ask a question, and at the end of the day, I would rather a curious friend or colleague have my take rather than something they read on a bogus website.

(3) Tell your own story. If you are frustrated with the way that Islam or Muslim youth are portrayed in the media, use the many informational tools that are available to us today and do something about it. Write a blog or a note on Facebook that presents your point of view. Create a photo essay or a short film that shows what Islam means to you. Host a gathering of Muslims and non-Muslims to have a dialogue about faith and spirituality.


What do you think the global Muslims communities really need right now?
One thing that I've been learning through the "My Best Friend Is Muslim" (MBFIM) project is that I'm the only Muslim friend of many of my non-Muslim friends, and that many of my Muslim friends have friends who are mostly Muslim. I think in order for their to be a real shift in the way that Muslims are perceived, everyone -- Muslim or not -- needs to get to know their neighbors and fellow citizens on a real, human level.


Critics might not see the impact of your blog, tell us, what do you hope to achieve? 
The project seeks to shift the conversation about Muslims in America from an undifferentiated group to real individuals; to bring personal intimacies and love between Muslim and non-Muslim Americans into the public sphere as a gentle reminder that the fight for equality and civil rights belongs to all of us. I certainly understand that some people might think that the project is patronizing toward Muslims; that it is one step away from trying to convince people that "Muslims Are Human Beings." My only response to this is that the stories are real, and that the ultimate goal of the project is to create solidarity based on genuine love and authentic human connection, rather than just an abstract notion of shared citizenship.



Photo submission
"I'm In Love With A Muslim"

"He was this suave, sexy, brooding man who blew me away with his intellect, wit, and charm. Me, being brand new to the city of San francisco, was not even trying to find a love interest (part of it was a fear of something that I knew nothing about). Time went on, events drew us apart, then brought us right back together… The more I listened to his heart, the more I fell in love with his Love for people, for his family and upmost his Love for God."







What have the reactions been so far to MBFIM?
The response has been phenomenal! When I started the project, I did think that the project would have some traction, but I have been blown away by how much positive feedback I have received. Within its first week, the site was visited over 5,000 times with over 10,000 page views, and the site is currently receiving over 1,000 visits each weekday. I hope that this is just the beginning.


Do you see the blog developing into something bigger and what are your own ambitions for the future?
Inshallah! Aside from a couple snarky tweets, the response to the MBFIM has been overwhelmingly positive. As long as there is support for the project (and submissions!), I would like to keep it running. Right now, MBFIM is still a baby blog, so we will see what happens as it continues to grow!

Much to my father's dismay, I've never been the type of person to have a 10-year plan (or even a 5-year or a 1-year plan, for that matter!) That said, I can say that the work I do and the professional choices I make will always be connected to making the world a better place in some way for some group of people (cheesy, but true). Right now, it happens to be Muslim Americans, which is especially important to me since I myself identify with this group.


So, are all your friends Muslims?
Actually, not really! I do have many close Muslim friends and family members, including some of my very best friends. But on the day-to-day, most of my interactions with friends and colleagues are with non-Muslims. I live in New York City, which has a little bit of everyone. Given my upbringing, I'm pretty comfortable around all kinds of people, and I feel blessed to have such a diverse array of friends.


Which Muslim websites are you really into for Muslim advice, information or networking?
To be perfectly honest, most of the websites and blogs that I read aren't particularly "Muslim." While I'm certainly interested in the issues that Muslims, and in particular, Muslim Americans, are dealing with, I consume mainstream media just like everyone else. That said, I'm a big fan of anything Altmuslim (especially the very-important Zabihah.com!), and I've learned about some other fabulous efforts, groups and projects through MBFIM. For example, I just came across the "Young Muslim American Voices Project," and I'm looking forward to digging into the stories there. And, of course, Muslimness.com is the latest addition to my personal blogroll :)


Great stuff Ateqah, love your enthusiasm masha'Allah. On that note, how can WE be your friends?
I thought you'd never ask! After you've had a chance to explore the site itself at www.mybestfriendismuslim.com, you can follow along on Facebook {www.facebook.com/MyBestFriendIsMuslim} and Twitter {www.twitter.com/MBFIM}.

There are share buttons on the MBFIM site, as well as an RSS feed for easy following! The success of the site depends on submissions, which so far have been plentiful and touching, so spread the word and keep them coming!! Thank you so much for reaching out to me and for all your kind words about the project!

My Best Friend Is Muslim is accepting submissions and photos so if you have a story to share about a Muslim you love, HERE IS WHAT YOU CAN DO!


Visit {My Best Friend Is Muslim} online to read more.


Submit a story or photo about your friend, or ask a friend to submit something about you.
"Like" MBFIM on Facebook.
"Follow" MBFIM on Twitter.
→ Share this article to a friend using the share buttons (or better yet, many friends!).
Send Ateqah your feedback about the project/site.
→ Say a little prayer for Ateqah/MBFIM.

Images:: Copyright MBFIM 2011 ©

Jazak'allah khairan Ateqah. May Allah ta`la bless your efforts and strengthen all your relationships with pure conviction and colour.


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