by Marcia Lynx Qualey, 3/21/08, Engage Minnesota • It was 1998 when Basimah Hasan left her hometown of Chicago for Minneapolis.
In the Twin Cities, she attended nursing school and began her career at North Memorial Hospital. She says that there is a “big difference” between the Minneapolis and Chicago Muslim communities.
Minnesota Muslims are finding themselves voiceless, discussed, defined, categorized, psychoanalyzed, talked at and talked about without a serious attempt at inclusion. Muslims, and friends of Muslims, would like to change this climate. Engage Minnesota is a blog that begins that effort.
“[There are] more Muslims in Chicago, and they’re more active. Here, everyone seems to be in their own ethnic groups. You don’t see a lot of activities going on, versus in Chicago.”
But, if there’s not enough activity, Hasan is not one to sit back and wait for someone else to start it up. The nurse, talk-show host, screenwriter, community activist, and producer is stirring up all sorts of action.
Through her nonprofit HP Dawah Center, Hasan launched the “Islamic View.” The talk show aims not just to reach the Muslim community, but, more importantly, to reach non-Muslims with positive stories about Islam.
“It’s images,” she says. “This is where we get our information from.”
‘Islamic View’ Gets Its Start
islamic_view.jpgThe story of “Islamic View” begins when Basimah Hasan was thirteen years old.
“My family wasn’t Muslim,” says Hasan. “That was a decision I made after reading about all the different religions.” Thirteen-year-old Hasan read about Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism.
“And when I got to Islam, I just knew that that was the religion for me.”
Hasan launched the nonprofit HP Dawah Center in 2003, but the spark for “Islamic View” came in 2001.
“I really believe the spark was from seeing all the negative things on television, especially after September 11. That’s when people really started looking at Muslims differently, hating them, without even knowing them.”
“I wanted people to know: No, we’re not like that. This is what we practice, this is what we believe.”
The project has been slowly growing, she says. In the summer of last year, she began to rent a studio. Most recently, Hasan has begun to incorporate Islamic-themed poetry into the show.
The first poem is set to air this Friday, March 21, after an interview with Imam Neelain Muhammad. In the pre-recorded show, Muhammad and Hasan talk about dawah, or the propagation of Islam. In the second half of the show, Muhammad—who is also a martial arts instructor—gives tips for Muslim and non-Muslim women who want to learn self-defense.
“And then there’s the poem at the end,” Hasan said.
It was just recently that Hasan put out a call to local Muslim poets.
“She [Nandi] called and said a poem over the phone. And I said, ‘Wow.’”
Hasan notes that if you miss the show on Friday, or don’t have access to Channel 16, you can still watch the reading of Nandi’s “The Black Woman is Dead” on YouTube. (Watch it now.)
Through poetry, interviews, and talk-show chat, Hasan tries to combat a few key stereotypes about the Muslim community: “that Muslim women are oppressed, that we’re practicing a hateful religion, and that we’re terrorists.”
Others who’ve appeared on the show include local politicians and civic leaders, such as Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, community leaders, and people around the community.
There’s no script, Hasan says. “We just talk, just like we sitting at a table, having a conversation.”
Next: A Muslim-Themed Soap Opera?
Another media project Hasan has on the boil moves outside the talk-show format.
“I plan on putting together a drama series that would be Muslim-based, that would show people the everyday situations and circumstances we go through,” Hasan says. “It would be almost soap-opera like, but from a Muslim perspective.”
“So [non-Muslims] can see the human side of us.”
Currently, Hasan is at work on scripting. “I have characters; I have names for them; I have some situations.” She plans to send out a casting call soon.
If Not Muslims, Then Who?
Hasan doesn’t know the exact number of people who watch “Islamic View,” or whether they’re Muslims or non-Muslims. She does get a number of phone calls. “They will call and say, ‘I liked the show,’ or they might ask about the person who was on the show. And then you get the calls that are negative.”
“I know Muslims are watching,” Hasan says, “but I know non-Muslims are watching, too.”
And that’s important, she says, because the show is “mainly for non-Muslims, because they are the ones who need to be educated. As Muslims, we have to help them understand” that the images they see on TV give a distorted picture of Islam.
“The people who have negative views [have them] because of the images that were projected to them,” she says. “We have to change that distortion. As Muslims, that’s an obligation on us.”
“Because if we don’t do it, who else will?”
Want to Know More About ‘Islamic View’?
* Watch the show: It airs on Time Warner’s local cable station in Minnesota on channel 16 every Friday at 4 p.m.
* Want to participate in the show? Have a poem to submit? Email Hasan at email@example.com.
* Want to help? Says Hasan: “They could support by giving donations, they could support by volunteering to help, or by spreading information about the show.” If you’re interested, visit the website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Learn more about HP Dawah’s other activities, such as providing Islamic literature to inmates and participating in the Twin Cities’ Juneteenth celebration, at their website.
Marcia Lynx Qualey is a mother, a writer, and is affiliated with the University of Minnesota in various ways. She is also an editor at EngageMN.com.