The Islamic Sciences and Research Academy Australia (ISRA) hosted its inaugural ‘Night of Sharing’ on the evening of Friday 23 April. Almost thirty guests from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) joined with both emerging and long-standing Muslim leaders to share iftar and address the evolving, and sometimes volatile, relationship between the Muslim community and the media.
The two organisations connected during the 2020 ISRA Women’s Leadership Mentoring Program. In response to Dr Derya Iner’s damning Islamophobia report, which exposed that women constitute 71% of victims of Islamophobia, postdoctoral researcher Chrisanthi Giotis sought to investigate how Muslim women felt about the role of the media in perpetuating these alarming rates, interviewing some of the mentoring program’s participants as part of her research.
In attendance at the iftar was ISRA Founding Director Mehmet Ozalp, ISRA volunteers, the mentoring program’s participants, and a myriad of young Muslim advocates. ISRA was excited to be joined by the deputy editors of the ABC Sydney, Victorian and Asia-Pacific newsrooms, as well as the ABC 5050 Equality Team member, Flip Prior, who co-hosted the iftar alongside Amar Hamed. Young journalists and producers from a diversity of backgrounds; social media, digital media, radio, politics, and local community reporting invigorated the general sense of hope and solidarity enveloping the room.
The event kicked off with each table discussing ‘you can’t ask that’ style questions, which were laced with the mutual, and arguably warranted, fear and distrust between the Muslim community and the media. It was an opportunity to debunk misconceptions and myths, but also to explain the skepticism experienced by each side towards the other.
This was followed by an insightful panel consisting of political reporter Nour Hayder, seasoned journalist Stephen Hutcheon, Mehmet Ozalp, and politics student Lina Ali. The panelists discussed the responsibility of journalists to recognise the danger of conflating fear-mongering buzzwords such as ‘jihad’ and ‘sharia law’ with the Australian Muslim identity.
On the other hand, the onus on the Muslim community to nurture media literacy and address popular and circulating conspiracy theories was discussed. Attendees and panelists expressed their take on the controversial roads of tokenism and diversity quotas. It was foremostly agreed that diversity and competence are not mutually exclusive.
The iftar was the first step of many to come, and the ABC was thrilled to have expanded their database of Muslim contacts to greater reflect the diversity of the Muslim community. At the closing of the event, the ABC reinforced their hope to be accessible bridges for the Muslim community to not only share their stories but join the world of media reporting. ISRA looks forward to seeing the fruits of the event’s conversations manifest in media and reporting policy.
I am sure that most attendees would agree that, above all, there was something warm and promising about sharing dates and syrupy Lebanese sweets with our fellow Australians.