Muslim Media Activism, Circa 1998

Javaid Malik & Irfan Rydhan with Jam-Productions
Javaid Malik & Irfan Rydhan with Jam-Productions, Circa 1998

In 1998, I had been out of college (UC Berkeley) for 1 year and was living in Oakland, CA.  After a year of working, I decided to join my friend Javaid, who recently got his degree in Radio & TV Broadcasting from SFSU to start a Video Production Company to serve the needs of the American Muslim Community (we wanted to make a feature film, but ended up making wedding videos instead).  As there were always negative stereotypes of Muslims in the media (even before Sept. 11th, 2001), we also wanted to try to educate the community about the importance of Muslims being involved in the TV and Film Industries.  Javaid, who was the only Pakistani, as well as the only Muslim student in his class of 800 at San Francisco State’s Broadcast Dept. back in the late 90’s, later found out in the different newsrooms he worked in the Bay Area – there were no Muslim voices to be heard at all.  So we formed “Jam-Productions: A TV/Film Company” in 1998.

Let me backtrack a little first.  Although my education was in Architecture (Building Design, not Computers), I had always been a big consumer of media.  I loved watching TV & Movies (and still do, when I can today), and always enjoyed escaping into the stories I watched on screen.  As I grew older, my father (who knew the importance and power of Media, well before the majority of his peers did) had given me a book called “Reel Bad Arabs” by Jack Shaheen (Highly recommended, and It’s been updated a few times since I last read it) which basically broke down all the stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims in the Hollywood Industry for the past 50+ years.  I was surprised to read how some of my favorite shows as a kid (The 6 Million Dollar Man, The A-Team, etc.) had many episodes which had stereotypical Arabs and Muslims as the bad guys (usually a slimy Oil Rich Sheikh).  Of course, nowadays it’s even more blatant and a lot worse in some ways, since instead of Rich Sheikhs, the Muslims are portrayed as Dirt Poor Terrorists (who are pure evil with no reason for their anger of course).  Anyways, this helped to push me to want to make my own TV or Movie about Muslims and as mentioned earlier, Javaid and I actually wrote a screenplay for a 2 hour movie about Pakistani-American youth growing up, in the Bay Area (of course)!  Unfortunately, we never were able to get it made, but I have the script ready to go in case anyone wants to fund the movie!  Perhaps I should start a GoFundMe campagin?

Anyways, back to reality: Around 1999, Javaid and I were able to make a presentation at a local mosque in San Jose about the TV and Film Industry and why Muslims should be more involved in these important (at least we thought they were) industries.  The majority of the audience were immigrants or children of immigrants (like we were) who had relatively comfortable lives in the Bay Area without any reason to “rock the boat,” so of course we got a lot of comments like “Why do we need to make movies?” or “It’s Haram (forbidden) for Muslims to get into these Industries” (i.e. Acting in “Hollywood” etc.).  Of course if you think about it from their point of view, it kinda makes sense.  They (Immigrant Parents) don’t usually watch “American TV” except maybe the regular broadcast TV news (Cable News was still relatively new in the late 90’s) and for fun they maybe watched “Family Feud” or “60 Minutes” on Sunday evening.  Those were different days, weren’t they?  Anyways, I digress.  The point is we pretty much got laughed off the stage and we went back to making our Desi (Indo-Pakistani) wedding videos, so we can raise some money to buy some good Video Production equipment for our Film Project (Javaid use to borrow his company’s equipment on the weekends so we can shoot the weddings – Shhh, don’t tell ZDTV!) and the Uncles and Aunties at the masjid went back to drinking chai and complaining about whoever was in charge of Pakistan at the time.

In response to the typical “it’s Haram” or Why should we go into these type of job? questions we got, Javaid and I explained that we have to get into these industries to let our voices be heard.  And for those who don’t want to appear on camera (or think it is Haram for whatever reason), there are more jobs behind the camera, than in front of it!  “Look at the credits after a TV show or movie,” Javaid always use to tell people.  “Those are all jobs you can do!”  I guess he forgot that people outside of the industry don’t read or stay for the credits.  They just leave – unless it’s a Marvel movie and they show an extra scene after the credits, of course!

OK, fast forward to 2001.  Javaid and I are working on our first documentary, about a Pro-Palestinian rally organized by the Muslim students at UC Berkeley in 1996 which made headlines.  As we were editing the documentary and getting close to being finished, Sept. 11th happens.  For those of you younger than 16 years old, this was one of the worst days in recent American history, not just for Muslims, but for everyone.  The largest foreign (terrorist) attack against the US, since the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese.  Unfortunately for us American Muslims, we got hit twice, since the perpetrators claimed to be “Muslims” (a rag-tag group called “Al Qaida” which was run by a guy named Osama bin Laden, who supposedly lived in a cave, but in reality was kicking it in a large mansion in Abbottabad, Pakistan – You can google it for more details).  Anyways, as like everyone else in the community, we were bombarded by negative images in the media from every which angle possible.  Our local mosque was even getting TV crews coming out to visit them to try to interview mosque leaders (assuming they somehow knew who Al Qaida was and what they wanted to do next?).  Javaid and I then decided to make a new documentary about Sept 11th, but from a point of view of people who were not getting their voices heard in the mainstream: American Muslims.  We started shooting in October of 2001.  We didn’t finish (mainly because it was only 2 of us doing the work of about 10 people) until 14 months later.  The completed documentary (now available on YouTube) was called “The Aftermath: American-Muslims After Sept. 11th.”

In November of 2001, around the same time as we were working on the documentary, I was recruited by my local mosque in San Jose (the same one, we gave the media presentation at in 1999), to help them start a “Media Outreach Committee.”  Of course, I wanted to help out in whatever way I could, and since Javaid had recently started a new job at ABC 7 News in San Francisco, I thought we can probably get some positive stories about Islam and Muslims in the (local) media at least.  All the voices who were saying Muslims involved with Media is “Haram” suddenly disappeared.  As they should.  Now we have no choice.  We have to speak up for ourselves.

NEXT CHAPTER COMING SOON: The Media Committee is Formed like Voltron….

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