Muslim-American magazines explore identity

New publications seek to dispel stereotypes and encourage integration of the Muslim community into US society.

courtesy of wahid media ventures
Self-definition: Elan probes controversial topics, urging readers to 'rethink Muslim.'

They are not headlines one sees at the grocery store checkout. "A Jihad for Love" or "There's Something About Rumi." Flipping through the May edition of the glossy magazine, one also finds features about a graffiti artist; Nobel Prize winners; calligraphy in the Digital Age; and the usual magazine fare of recipes, travel tips, and fashion ideas. There's just one twist: The articles are all aimed at Muslim Americans.

Welcome to Elan, one of the latest in a growing field of US-based magazines for Muslims. Publications such as Elan, Azizah, and Islamica cater to a dizzying array of demographic groups within the community, yet all share a common motivation: to define themselves at a time when many believe they have surrendered that responsibility to Western media that often get them wrong.

"We wanted to provide a place where positive stories about real Muslim girls who are making a contribution could be told, and in such a way that girls would see it as coming from the inside, so the stories would be honest and accurate and reflect their own values," says Ausma Khan, editor in chief of Muslim Girl.

These magazines chiefly attract Muslim subscribers. But Muslim Girl, Elan, and Islamica – a quarterly whose style its editors liken to the Atlantic Monthly – are also sold in major book stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders. Many American embassies in Muslim-majority countries also subscribe, as do many universities and public libraries in the United States.

"That translates into non-Muslims getting a glimpse of our lives," says Kari Ansari, a convert to Islam who, with her husband in 2003, founded America's Muslim Family magazine, which she compares to Good Housekeeping. "Our main mission is to encourage integration of the Muslim community into society."

Despite their goal of helping Muslims define themselves, the magazines have not satisfied everyone's definition of what a Muslim should be. Muslim Girl has been criticized for being too liberal. Azizah, on the other hand, gets criticized for always featuring cover models with head scarves.

"We want our magazine to be easily recognizable as a Muslim women's magazine. And even though a Muslim woman might not cover her head in public, when she stands to pray, she covers," says Tayyibah Taylor, founder and editor of Azizah. "And if not on the cover of Azizah, then where? You're not going to find it on the cover of Cosmo or Woman's Day."

Like other magazines, these have struggled financially. While they have succeeded in finding Muslim advertisers, the publications have garnered few big-name advertisers even though their readership is relatively affluent.

Some inroads have been made – IKEA has advertised in Azizah, and FOX Television and the Girl Scouts have advertised in Muslim Girl. But the dearth of advertising means an uncertain future.

Ms. Khan believes some advertisers worry about affiliating themselves with a Muslim publication.

Despite financial risks and competition from Internet news sources like blogs and webzines, many Muslim Americans still prefer magazines.

"The Internet has definitely provided new venues, but magazines have, I don't know, pizazz," says Joy Karugu, editor and cofounder of Misbah, a quarterly launched by Princeton University students. "It's definitely a way of identifying with a group or an idea or a way of looking at the world. It's something that can catch the eye of someone else and be a conversation starter. That's very exciting."

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