At MYM, we believe today’s writers should write to craft a better tomorrow. In line with our mission, we sat down for our first major radio interview in a segment called, “Tomorrow’s Writers Making an Impression Today.”
The segment was part of WCEV’s Radio Islam, a Chicago-based talk show that covers news, environment, health and many other topic. Radio Islam broadcasts in America’s third largest market of 7.8 million listeners.
Read an abridged transcript prepared by Zara Tariq or listen to the live interview. Meet our editor-in-chief, Fatimah Waseem, learn about what happens behinds the screen and challenge yourself to think about the future of Islamic literature.
Host: When did you find your passion for story telling? When did it happen and how did it happen?
Fatimah: For me it happened late. I think I’m the opposite of the guest speaker you’ve already had on the show, like you mentioned. It started for me in freshman year of college when I took internship at a local newspaper, a Muslim newspaper. And I did it really just so I could have something to do over the summer and I realized that I really liked reporting, I really liked talking to people, putting together stories, and I think that’s really where my love for writing and reporting really started. Before that, not really.
Host: Okay so you had your eyes set on medical school, you get to college, college kind of undid that. What did your parents say, and how would you advise parents when kids go to college and say, “You know what, I just don’t want to be a doctor.”
Fatimah: You know, my parents never told me that I needed to be a certain thing. They never told me “Go into law, go into medschool, go into engineering.” They were like “Do whatever you want to do.” and they’d always been telling me that but for some reason I felt like I had to do something that was maybe legit, that was secure, that would kind of be really predictive, and I would be able to get what I wanted to out of it. But then I realized that you can’t really make a career out of something you don’t love. Yes you can have stability, yes you can have the money, but that really doesn’t really last that long. It has to be something that you’re good at. So if you’re a parent out there, I would advise you to let your kids do what they love and to allow them to do what they want to the best of their ability. Because in the end, that’s really what we want: hard work, and work that’s done right.
Host: And work that you enjoy, because if you enjoy it, you’re going to do it right.
Host: Let me ask you this, Fatimah: How did you know that this was your passion, this lit the fire in your belly as opposed to maybe something that you just kind of enjoyed a lot? So how did you know it was less of a hobby and more of a career path for you?
Fatimah: That’s a really good question, it’s something I still think about. Like where did that actually begin? I think for me, it really came when I realized how I looked at the active writing and the active reporting and I think what differentiated that for me was that I really started to see things not like as a list of to-do things that I had to just get done and that was it. It was more of about the quality of the experience, about enjoying it, about really getting into it and it not just being a list of things I needed to get done.
Host: What are your thoughts about the direction of being published in the traditional sense, and someone posting something online? Is online posting kind of like watered down publication, publishing, that kind of stuff?
Fatimah: That’s a really good question, and being in the journalism industry, we’re always complaining about how the internet is taking over the newspaper and the print is dying. But I think the main point here is that things are evolving and an interface like the internet is so so great because you get to reach out to such a wide audience. For example, at Muslim Youth Musings, or MYM. We originally thought it would be something sort of local, based in the Washington DC area, and yet most of our traffic comes from outside of the United States of America. We get applications that are from you know, South Africa, from Australia, and I think one thing to realize is that you go in expecting that you’ll have a specific product and it’ll be targeted towards a specific group of people, but with the internet you have a complete open door. You have the ability to create a community unlike no other. And I think that’s the real power of the web and I really look forward to different ways to harness that power, to take the traditional aspects and kind of mold them to the new tools that we have today.
Host: Who submits their work for you and also your criteria for accepting stuff?
Fatimah: Right. So we have a team of over forty-five writers around the world and we have a quarterly application process, and it’s becoming increasingly competitive, I’m really glad of that. We ask writers to submit a short biography of themselves, why they want to write and why they’re considering MYM and then a 700 word piece which we use to kind of decide whether we want that person to be on our team or not. It’s becoming more and more competitive every quarter and it really gladdens me to see the talents of our youth and to see them improve over the years.
We have staff literally from all over the world. Most of our folks are based in Washington, DC, Maryland, Virginia, and that area but we do have people that are dispersed throughout.
Host: And when it comes down to material that’s given, that might be getting close to that line of being raunchy, Islamically inappropriate perhaps for some but maybe not for others who might say “Oh this is art, it’s okay,” where do you guys draw the line and how do you draw that line?
Fatimah: That has always been a very tough issue and when it comes to written expression it’s very difficult to objectively kind of figure out where you draw that line. When we do have issues like that, we try to reach out to community members, community advisors who can maybe give a stronger justification for why a piece should not be published, or why it should be published. So far we haven’t encountered that problem yet and I think it’s because there are so many other topics that need to be written about, so many other things, that we just haven’t come across that issue as much.
Host: Why did you target Muslim youth for this project?
Fatimah: Well I think we’re far from the days of Andalus and Spain and Baghdad and the powerhouses of knowledge that we used to have. There’s certainly a lack of quality Islamic literature and that’s why MYM is there. In terms of specifically targeting youth, we talk about this all the time, we’re facing issues of assimilation, identity, self consciousness, gender issues, I mean we’re living in this post-9/11 world, things are moving constantly really really fast and some might say that writing allows youth to come up with an answer to all of these problems and these challenges. I like to think of it more as it helps you write the narrative that you’ve always been wanting to say. It’s not so much about being reactive to all of these issues and challenges that we face. It’s about putting together a proactive narrative. And if you look at history, any time a group of people is in control of their own narrative, that’s when they have power, that’s when they have identity, and that’s when they know who they are and essentially, where they’re going. So that was our target in specifically looking at Muslim American youth.
Host: And yet you’ve reached out beyond Muslim American youth. And what kind of surprises did that bring to you, I mean getting a lot of submissions from Africa?
Fatimah: Right. For me it’s more that you come in thinking that you’re going to have XYZ done, and this is going to be our mission statement, this is our vision, and then once you step back you realize it’s a greater need, and that’s muslims in general, muslim youth in general. We’ve had writers, authors, applicants, readers from across the world and it’s really gratifying for me to know that we have the opportunity to reach out to such a broad sphere, and I really look forward to it.
Host: In terms of the work that’s coming to you and who it’s coming from, can you share with us how you feel the kind of effect this has on the person from the middle of nowhere, you know middle of nowhere Africa, middle of nowhere Asia, or wherever it might be, having their voice augmented through your website?
Fatimah: It’s very powerful. I know people, some of our writers, who have come out with jobs because of MYM, because they had a talking point with a recruiter to talk about how their piece was published. I know people who have discovered their passions through writing on MYM. One of our writers went onto film studies and creative writing because of learning writing with us. I’ve had one of my friends contact me at an emotional low point in her life and she discovered MYM one night and just kept reading and reading and clicking on the pieces realizing that she wasn’t alone in her struggle. And I think that’s what happens when you invest in expression. That’s what happens when you invest in something like MYM and an expression in writing, in really taking on the voice that you deserve.
This interview from January 2014 has been edited for clarity and quality.