Nihal Al-Qawasmi is a 21-year-old Palestinian-Muslim, writer, full-time editor, and the co-founder of a game-changing online magazine called MissMuslim.nyc. She is one year away from earning her Bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts, Journalism and Political Science.
Off-Kilter: What made you pursue journalism as a career?
Nihal Al-Qawasmi: I started my first blog in 8th grade, so online journalism was always something I knew I wanted to do — even at such a young and indecisive age. I fell in love with the idea of storytelling as the years went on, especially because of where I come from. Being a Palestinian and a Muslim is challenging enough — add being a woman into that mix and you get one pretty complex (and ultra politicized) identity. So writing, sharing my story and starting all those uncomfortable conversations about who I am to the world, is a way for me to kind of “take back” my narrative. And quite frankly, I’d also like to revolutionize the journalism industry.
OK: You are one of the co-founders of MissMuslim.nyc, could you tell us a little bit more about what it is and its purpose?
NQ: MissMuslim is where the patriarchy goes to die and conversations about everything society tries to cover up come to life. We’re the first Muslim-women founded publication to unapologetically open up the floor for discussions on love, sex, health and spiritually. That’s in addition to our fashion, beauty, mommy, and food columns. Although founded by Muslim women, it is home to many diverse writers, some of which aren’t even Muslim. That’s because the MM space believes sisterhood extends to all women.
OK: How did the idea to create an outlet for Muslim women to amplify their voices come about?
NQ: It was an idea between like-minded friends. After writing for other Muslim women’s websites – we felt that no matter how controversial the conversations about politics and business seemed to be – we were still quite restricted in terms of what we could discuss. There was no platform for women to openly discuss their ideas on sex and relationships in 2016. There was no platform that discussed the importance of female health and visiting “the lady Doctor.” There was no platform for us to discuss the scares or struggles or beauties of becoming a mother and raising children to love two completely different cultures (American and where we originate from). So we decided to make one — for both Muslim and non-Muslim women alike.
OK: How do you find balance between your personal life, college and running an online publication?
NQ:Prioritization and a virtual calendar! I have a lot on my plate, and I’m so thankful for that. But despite how passionate I am about everything I do, it can still get pretty exhausting sometimes. So I make sure that self-care is also at the top of my to-do list. Something as small as putting my phone and all electronics away for a tiny bit of time can do the trick for me on most days. But it really takes a lot for me to be overwhelmed with my work and life in general, because I enjoy it so much – Alhamdulillah (thank God).
OK: Let’s talk about the ayah (verse) you picked for the project “…But perhaps you dislike a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah (God) knows while you know not” Qur’an Chapter 2 / Verse 216
OK: What kind of significance does it have for you?
NQ:Ah. It’s really special to me because it gives me a sense of reassurance. We always forget that there’s a hikma – or reasoning – behind everything we experience on this earth. So many times I thought I wanted something and even prayed to God for it, only to find out that my prayers weren’t answered because God had something much bigger in store me. We think we know ourselves best, but no one knows us the way our creator does. It’s a reminder to always have tawakkul – or trust in God, because God is the best of planners.
OK: Given the climate of Islamophobia around the country, as a journalist, what do you think the responsibility of the media is?
NQ:I blame the media for all the ignorance and hate that is spread via tactics such as fear mongering. There needs to be way more representation on those TV screens and bylines. And that’s a big reason as to why I decided to go into the field. Journalists have one job: to tell the story. If the media focused more on original and open-minded reporting and a little less on trying to find sound bites that fit a certain stereotype – then maybe people wouldn’t have to ask this question to begin with. This doesn’t mean they need to throw American Muslims a pity party in the news — it means the media needs to stop legitimizing hateful rhetoric.
OK: What are your short and long term goals for the future?
NQ:To smash the patriarchy and free Palestine…. and adopt a cat.
“Muslims of America ” is a photo series I started last year as a way to capturing the diverse Muslim community in the United States and bringing to light the beauty and truthfulness of Islam while countering Islamophobia. Mainstream media has and continues to spread a culture of fear and intolerance towards Muslims all around the country. This project was born to change that and more, to give Muslims a voice and reclaim our narrative. One of the goals of this project is to show that we, Muslims have been an integral part of American society since the beginning with African slaves being some of the first Muslims to reach this land. We are your neighbors, coworkers and classmates. We come in all shapes and colors. We are teachers, artists, bus drivers, athletes, doctors, street vendors, librarians, and every other profession you can think of. But more importantly we are human beings; we have dreams and aspirations, we are as much “American” (for lack of a better word) as every other person living here. I would like to thank Off-Kilter magazine for giving us the opportunity to share our stories.
You can see the project as it unfolds by following me on Instagram: carloskhalilguzman