Aqsa School Students critique media portrayals of Islam

On May 30, thirty high school sophomores and juniors visited CAIR-Chicago in an effort to become more acquainted with work that lies at the heart of organization’s mission. The group was comprised of students from the Aqsa School in Bridgeview, IL, a school dedicated to integrating Islamic principles with a formal primary and secondary school education. Aqsa School serves female students exclusively from sixth to twelfth grade. As a part of the school’s Community Service Days program, the young women met with CAIR-Chicago staff to learn about their roles and efforts, viewed two documentaries that highlighted CAIR-Chicago’s fight against discrimination and intolerance toward Muslims, and assessed portrayals of Muslims and Islam in the media.

Aymen Abdel Halim, CAIR-Chicago’s Communications Coordinator, led the group in a media monitoring training, a staple of the Communications Department’s work. “It’s not only important that students analyze and critique media portrayals of Muslims and Islam, but also that they understand the importance of being active participants in the media,” he says. “Writing letters to news editors or TV producers, spreading awareness via social media, and producing your own media – like blogs, films, or podcasts – are all great ways of combating harmful stereotypes and initiating the change in media that we want to see.”

The students scanned The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, and The Daily Herald for coverage on Islam and Muslims. Several participants chose to present their findings after having assessed and critiqued ways in which Muslims are portrayed by Chicagoland’s foremost newspapers. Some articles were flagged as inflammatory, while other reporting was praised for having highlighted ways in which Muslims contribute positively to American society.

Regardless of their findings, all were assured of the power that comes with responding to the media. Gerald Hankerson, CAIR-Chicago’s Outreach Coordinator, insists on the importance of meeting with youth and collaborating on volunteer days similar to these: “It’s incumbent upon every community member to be a part of the solution, but we’d be remiss if we do not challenge our youth to be a part of this effort as well.” While many are quick to label youth as naive and far-removed from contributing to society’s needs, Hankerson challenges this view and recalls not only the historical involvement of youth in various civil rights movements but their everlasting ability to dream, create, and act proactively to promote a more socially just society.

CAIR-Chicago aims to not only educate youth but empower and instill an activist component that lies at the foundation of all civil rights work. For more information about internships and externships, visit our Intern Center and for more information about volunteering, visit our Volunteer Center.