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Muslim Monthly Al-Ittihaad Spreads Through Texas

Free English-language newspaper began after 9/11 attacks

NAM Profile, News Feature, Christina Nguyen Posted: Aug 14, 2007

Editor's Note: After Sept. 11, 2001, Sarwat Husain began advocating for Muslims from her home in San Antonio. She and her husband started Al-Ittihaad, a free monthly English-language newspaper for Muslim youth and American Muslims.

For 11 years, Sarwat Husain owned and operated a child development center with her husband, Zakir Husain, in San Antonio, Texas. Sarwat was a clinical nutritionist, but she was also an activist who often became involved in efforts to resolve injustices being done to African Americans and Latinos. She did not initially get involved in Muslim civil rights because there were no civil rights issues, she said. But now there is.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, a friend in South Africa phoned Husain and asked her what she was doing. Husain was preparing breakfast.

America is burning and you're making breakfast? her friend said.

sarwat HusainHusain turned on her television and saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center.

As I was watching the flames in the building, I knew it would change things completely, she said. I was wondering what would happen to Muslims of America this is our home. We have a dual responsibility as Muslims and Americans. What do we have to do to help our country?

Amid the hate crimes and anti-Muslim sentiment in San Antonio, Husain, 52, transformed into a Muslim civil rights activist and donned a hijab, a traditional headscarf something she rarely did after her arrival from Pakistan to the United States in 1970. She penned columns in the San Antonio Express-News, gave sensitivity training for law enforcement and companies, and established the San Antonio Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) chapter in 2003, where she is the president. She also learned everything about publication.

The Muslim backlash compelled Husain and her husband to launch Al-Ittihaad, a free monthly English-language newspaper for Muslim youth and American Muslims, in February 2002.

The whole country was divided by Muslims and non-Muslims. We then realized that we were needed in politics and media, Husain said. The youth have no interest in the countries their parents are from. They want it from the point of view of Americans. [Al-Ittihaad] is the ultimate source of news, because they need to hear the other side.

As the editor in chief and publisher, Husain decided against publishing Al-Ittihaad, which means unity in Arabic, under an English title because she felt that an Arabic name gets attention.

The media exported [from the United States] gives a bad impression of Muslims and Islam, she said. Anywhere in the world, theyll pick [Al-Ittihaad] up and know its an American Muslim paper.

Al-Ittihaad is funded by the Husains and advertising revenue. Al-ittihaad initially began as a tabloid newspaper with a staff of 10 to 15 volunteers and 1,000 copies for distribution in San Antonio. Al-Ittihaad was distributed in San Antonio for two months before requests for the paper came in from Dallas, Houston, and other cities.

Today, Al-Ittihaad has 30 to 45 volunteers. The 12-page broadsheet has a print circulation that sometimes reaches as high as 90,000, but is usually circulated at 60,000, Husain said. Al-Ittihaad is distributed to more than 1,000 mosques and stores in cities, big and small, across Texas. The paper also has 500 subscribers who pay $15 for mailing costs. Husain notifies Al-Ittihaad readers via email and directs them where to go to pick up the latest issue.

The Al-Ittihaad Web site gets 1,000 hits a day from all over the world, and Al-Ittihaad articles are often republished elsewhere in places such as Kuwait, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Husain said.

There were people republishing articles without our permission, but I dont mind because its a message Im trying to give out, Husain said.

However, the message does not come without animosity from others. Husain is still a victim of hate crimes. She was followed home one night after she started the CAIR chapter in 2003. When she exited her vehicle, unknown assailants started shooting paintball pellets at her home. Most recently, in the spring, Husain and other CAIR chapters received a threatening letter in the mail. Her car was later vandalized with many dents and her windshield and windows were shattered.

"There were some of my friends that were saying that [publishing Al-Ittihaad] is all you need to do to get attacked, Husain said. My kids are very concerned. They want me to watch out, but I also have a big support from them and they appreciate what I'm doing.
sarwat Husain on NAM panelHusain speaks at NAM's Immigration Summit
in Atlanta on July 12, 2007
Al-Ittihaad features news from the Middle East, international matters that affect American Muslims and American politics, and political issues in our present government. The military presence and the war in Iran is also a top story, as well as the Israel-Palestine debate. News about John Hagee, a fundamentalist Christian pastor in San Antonio, is covered occasionally as well.

Not one (Hagee) sermon goes without hatred for Muslims, Husain said. He established Christians United for Israel. We have a hate-monger right in San Antonio.

Al-Ittihaad also has a page devoted to Muslims who are making strides, but who are not commonly acknowledged in mainstream news.

There are people out there that dont want to hear good news about Muslims, Husain said. But the majority of Muslims are serving humanity as well, and you dont hear that news.

While Al-Ittihaad welcomes and receives many letters, they have declined to print the letters and have not published an editorial page since 2005. There is not enough space to accommodate the response, but Husain hopes to bring the page back soon.

To be fair, I need to post both voices, Husain said. Sometimes they are so extreme, it would cause division. These are the things we are going against, and were trying to educate the people. Its nothing different than what they read anywhere else, and Islam doesnt teach us what these people claim and blame us for.

The next move for Al-Ittihaad is to expand further, Husain said. She invites anyone that is interested in publishing Al-Ittihaad in their community to contact her. Volunteers would have to find their own distributors.

With all the challenges that I face, the biggest challenge is funding, Husain said. I want the paper to be nationally owned, and the only way is to give (distributors) ownership in their own community. When you get this large, the distribution is difficult.

Despite funding woes, Husain is ready to move forward.

Even as small as it is, its making a difference. I know it has to get better. It is giving us pride.

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