Start the Presses

A Muslim newspaper that began after 9/11 now thrives.

By Daisy Hernandez Sep 11, 2006

Six months after September 11, Sarwat Husain realized she could not be the sole spokesperson for her Muslim community in San Antonio, Texas. So she began a newspaper. Almost five years later, she freely distributes the paper throughout Texas—with paid subscribers in 25 cities across the country. The newspaper, called AL-ITTIHAAD, which means unity, is a compilation of articles relating to Islam and the local Muslim community.

Something else has increased in the last five years: the hate mail. Husain says it mostly comes through e-mail, and she’s not bothered by it. "They’re just trying to harass me so I’ll stop doing my work," she says, adding that her husband and children are actually more afraid for her than she is.

Husain, who was profiled in the book The Face Behind the Veil (Citadel Press, 2006), has learned software so that she can design the newspaper herself. She says she doesn’t print anything explicitly against the United States or the Bush administration but that her newspaper is becoming an alternative source of news. She has a reporter covering local Muslim issues in Texas, which is home to a large number of Muslims.

A recent online issue of the newspaper covered Malaysia’s take on Islamic finances, as well as the news that a tomb in India had been discovered belonging to a descendant of Prophet Muhammad. The online version of the newspaper includes a prayer schedule and cultural articles like one on the Arabic art of calligraphy.

One of the newspaper’s most popular sections is the Q&A column with Islamic scholar and imam Dr. Yusuf Z. Kavakci. Husain relates she’s been flooded with questions, mostly from younger Muslims. One question posted online came from a student wanting to know if it was okay to take a student loan. The answer?

“Any loan which is to be paid back as same amount later is ok,” wrote Dr. Kavakci. “But if the amount will be more, which falls in the category of interest, riba, is not to be considered ok. This is what Muslim scholars say. Of course this whole subject is a part of interest prohibition in Islam.”

Husain receives regular requests for the newspaper from universities, and she also distributes it at churches and mosques. Recently, the paper began circulating in San Antonio’s city hall. Husain herself has become a community resource, recently advising a Pakistani woman in South Texas who wanted to start her own community paper.

It hasn’t been easy, admits Husain, who is president of the San Antonio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. While she runs advertising in the paper, she refuses to run offensive ads, like those selling cars by including semi-nude women. That’s hurt the paper’s ad revenue, and so the paper is a labor of love and a significant financial commitment for Husain.

The challenges are small and large. She recently lost her webmaster and hasn’t been able to afford to pay a new one.
Five years after 9/11, Husain herself has shifted political parties. Where she once voted for Republican candidates, she is this year a delegate to the Democratic convention. And she’s thinking more than ever about where her community is today. It’s a mixed bag.

On one hand, Husain says, more people are aware of Muslims in the United States. On the other hand, in Texas many are still fearful. "People will not go to picnics. They will not go to certain stores," she says.

But Husain says she won’t be silenced by the dismal political climate. "The worse it gets, the better you get," she says.