Last week I looked at the clock at 3 p.m. The day was coming to an end and I was planning my schedule for my evening. I was looking forward to a quiet session of solitude, until my phone began to buzz.
It was the last days of Ramadan, the holiest days of the month where Muslims spend longer hours at the mosque, donate a little more of their money to charity and strive harder to take advantage of the peace and virtue that the month offers. Balancing Ramadan in the newsroom isn’t always easy. Trying to disconnect in a space where you’re forced to always be connected is almost impossible. But nonetheless there are moments of calm, perhaps during a lunch break or the early morning hours.
Every year I look forward to the cleansing effect of Ramadan. A month so special to millions of people around the world gives us the time to reflect, to take a closer look in the mirror and ask ourselves: What can we be doing better?
Ramadan also provides a tranquility that is absent from our daily lives. Through exercising discipline over our mental, emotional and physical desires, we are able to conquer our vices and express our gratitude for the simplest of things. To me Ramadan is about love, family and growth. In Ramadan, there is always hope. But journalism can be a lot more somber.
In the newsroom my device broke out in flashing notifications: Explosions in Turkey. Images of spilled blood and terrified families and friends suddenly filled my social media. Turkey, a Muslim-majority country, was struck by an ISIS bombing. The reports swiftly came in and the death toll quickly began to rise. The newsroom buzzed as we all promptly began to do our jobs and the only thing we could at that moment: report the news.
A few days later, my phone frantically lit up again, this time with news from Bangladesh. My heart sank as the details revealed a horrific attack by ISIS in another Muslim-majority country.
I took a deep breath, said a prayer and reminded myself: In Ramadan, there’s always hope.
After a hectic week, it’s was time to go home. It was Friday and I decided to spend the night at the mosque, a common ritual during the last 10 nights of Ramadan where Muslims across the world are hoping it’s the holy night of Laytul Qadr, or the night when no prayer goes unanswered.
I grabbed a corner and started to pray, trying -- with every fiber of my being -- to ignore my phone. I had needed this. I began to pour my heart out.
But it’s hard to catch a break. One of the worst attacks to take place in Iraq occurred the next morning and killed over 200 people who were about to bid farewell to Ramadan and start celebrating the Eid holidays. Just days after Turkey. Just days after Bangladesh, yet another Muslim country fell victim to ISIS’ ruthless suicide bombings.
But it didn't end there. Not even a day later, a suicide bombing occurred outside Prophet Mohammad’s Mosque in the Saudi city of Medina, the second holiest city in Islam.
As a world news journalist, I encounter instances like these an unfortunate amount of times. Look at any part of the world and it’s easy to succumb to a dark hole of negativity and hopelessness. That's why journalists are often encouraged to disconnect from the world every so often. In an era where the entire globe is in the palm of our hands, this can be quite difficult.
For many Muslim-Americans, however, this task can be even more difficult. More often than not we are not only covering the news, but consistently finding ourselves becoming the news. We try to keep our personal identities and our careers separate since mixing the two can be a dangerous and unhealthy combination.
But something about this time was different. These attacks were not just your average everyday breaking news cycle. As a journalist, they tell you, you learn to develop thick skin. I tried to do that this week. I took a deep breath and started going down my routine check list. I made sure the people I knew in those countries were okay and then went back to reporting the news.
But it was then I realized I do not have thick skin.
I am exhausted by the irony of my existence. As I scramble to report the news, I can’t hide my pain at the deafening silence of the world over the senseless murders in not one, but four Muslim countries over the course of the week.
I simply can’t deny the reality that there were no Facebook check-ins to be found. There were no vigils. No monuments lit up across the world. There were no prayers. Just Muslims dying on one side of the world and Muslims being shot on the way to do their prayers, being assaulted, and publicly strip-searched on the other end. We live in a world where people still associate the brutality and cowardice of ISIS with the same people who die at the militant group's hands.
Although I am in mourning, I am not defeated. Not having thick skin in this industry allows me to hold onto my humanity. It allows me to see past the numbers and to connect with the personal stories. To fight the world that desperately wants to categorize me into the same cult that killed hundreds of Muslims like myself.
So as a Muslim-American journalist, I will continue to report the names of those who were killed and whose families will be persecuted for being Muslim. I have faith in the power of words to decrease the empathy gap between Muslim deaths and non-Muslim deaths.
I am hurt but I have faith. Ramadan has not only allowed me to push through these tough times, but it has given me the solitude I needed to see that hope. It gave me the strength, even for just a moment, to continue to push past the hateful comments from bigots on my feed, the heartbreaking news globally and in the U.S. and the deafening silence that comes with it all. Being a Muslim-American journalist isn’t easy, but when it presents me with the options of defeat and hope, which it often does, I choose hope.
Tonight we bid Ramadan farewell, and celebrate Eid with hope.