America’s first hijabi TV reporter

It almost seemed like it would never happen, but the day has finally come!

Many of you may know my own personal story of navigating the TV news industry, and while it continues to be a tough battle to get the door to open, I’m very proud and happy that someone I know personally, was able to break through and pave the way!

She didn’t have a hashtag campaign, there was no pomp and circumstance. She worked hard as a journalist and producer and all that paid off when she was recently promoted to an on camera reporter. 

What many people may not realize, because there have been lots of girls who “aspire” or “claim” the title of being “first” hijabi this or that, there hasn’t been anyone on a U.S. news channel yet.

As a journalist myself, I’ve been tracking this for a very long time. And finally, a mainstream American network has opened the door.

We’ve seen it done in England and Canada, and now finally in the United States. 

Today I bring you the first exclusive interview that Tahera Rahman has given on her journey and making history last night!

First, tell us a bit about your background and how you got into journalism.

As with most Americans, 9/11 was a turning point in my life. I remember watching the news coverage and having so many mixed emotions; shock, confusion, sadness. That only deepened as I saw people who looked like me and who shared my beliefs
become more and more vilified.

It was starting to become an “us” and “them” America and I felt young, powerless and hopeless. It seems silly to have to say
this now, but my second-grade self wanted to say “Hey, I’m just like you. I’m sad about this, too. I want justice, too.” I made it a mission to somehow stunt the growing misconceptions forming around Muslims.

So, in elementary, for some reason that to me meant either being a lawyer or the person on TV telling the stories. Between debate and journalism in high school, I found my passion and went with it.

Did you face any obstacles on your journey as a Muslim woman wearing hijab?
Oh, absolutely. Every step of the way, really. Most of the obstacles didn’t necessarily come from a place of malice, though.

There were dozens of people who told me, in many different ways, that making it in front of the camera wasn’t going to be likely.

But all you need is one yes. And I knew if I continued putting in the effort and keeping faith that someone would decide to give me the opportunity I worked so hard for, despite what concerns or reservations they might have about the way I look.

Many people may not realize it, but you’re the first woman in hijab to  work as an on-air reporter for American television. Did that scare you to take on such a big role?

Yes and no. It’s definitely a milestone on many macro levels; what it means for Muslims in America, TV standards, etc., and realizing that God has opened that door for me is humbling and scary at the same time.

Personally, as a journalist, I feel more than ready to make the leap into what I had been building towards day after day, year after year. And I can’t wait to continue growing as a journalist. There’s a lot yet to learn.

Did you ever think you’d make it in TV as a hijabi reporter, was there a point where you were ready to give up?

I always held out hope that I would, but there were definitely times when I felt ready to give up. I had been working in radio for two years when I started applying for TV reporting gigs again. After months, I made it pretty far in the interview process at a station in Minot, North Dakota (yes, I was willing to move to Minot, North Dakota, to do what I wanted to do).

In the end, they told me that although they discussed me at length and I was one of the top two candidates, they “decided to go a different direction.” That’s how I actually ended up taking on a producing job at CBS4 in the Quad Cities. I had half-given up but still thought, “Okay, maybe I need to try a different approach. Maybe I can still make this work.” I took on extra roles, came in on weekends to help shoot, write and edit and started working on yet another reel (my third, at that point).

I got rejected again a year later. That one hurt the most. It was at a difficult time in my life and I had put in so much work and I just felt like I wasn’t going to be able to handle getting back up. I remember talking to my mom on the phone on my way home from work that night and unexpectedly just breaking down. I had to pull over. I told her I didn’t think I was going to try anymore. And God bless her, that woman did not miss a heartbeat. She said, “Of course you are. This has been your life, of course you are going to get right back up.” And I did. About six months after that meltdown, my General Manager told me I had the job.

What made you persist with your dream?
I couldn’t really imagine myself doing anything else.

I always thought that if I could concentrate on getting better every day— improving my writing, coming up with solid story ideas, making extra calls, learning new skills, someone would eventually give me that chance based on my merit, even if it would be a “risky” move in today’s political climate.

How was your first day on the air as a reporter, what was the response like?

Incredible. Everyone in the building was so supportive; from our sales department to our newsroom. And of course, my family. They drove down from Naperville to the Quad Cities to watch my first story live. At first, that made me even more nervous; I think what has scared me the most is disappointing people I know.

But the interviews I set up went well, and as I was putting my first story together it just felt right. It felt like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. Of course, the butterflies settled in again as I was getting ready to go on air that night.

I had a tug of war with my hijab trying to put my earpiece in and I was shaking as I was on standby in the studio. And afterward, everything just seemed surreal. It still does! What keeps snapping me back to reality is realizing I still need to make sure I line up my interviews and get working for the next day!

For other hijabi women who want to make a living on television, what’s  your advice to them?
Go. For. It. If you want to do it because you love creating and telling stories, then you can find a way.

Keep your eyes on the big picture and in the meantime don’t be afraid to take every opportunity and put in every ounce of work you can.

It’s not enough to say you have a big dream; you’ve got to take real steps to get there, even if it’s not always fun or easy or glamorous.

*****

Watch the background story that Tahera’s station produced about her journey here.

You can watch Tahera on WHBF Local 4 News in the Quad Cities. Or follow her on instagram here.

 

This article has 23 comments

  1. Maria

    Love this! Tahera seems like a wonderful person who will be a great role model for young hijabi girls. Also, I didn’t realize until this post that some of the big name hijabis haven’t been on a local news station full time…wasn’t that the claim to fame of several people?

  2. Aziza Shaikh

    I am feeling proud…!

  3. Naila

    Mabrooks!!! Very proud!! You are echoing my life when I was the ONLY Muslim studying Radio-TV-Film in my school. I was also told “ur a minority, ur a Muslim, u won’t make it!” I was sooo PASSIONATE about what I was doing I didn’t let any of those comment phase me (or I was too naive and on a natural high because I LOVED what I was doing…not even worrying About what will be at the end of that road! And Alhamdulillah!!! Out of 2500 candidates, I was the FIRST of the five people a MAJOR studio in Hollywood hired!!! By the Grace of God! And that recruiter echoed what I felt. He said “we can see the passion you have working on so many films while going to school full time!”. And I went to the OSCARS the year Titanic was the biggest hit! So NEVER take no for an answer! Stay focused…definitely ur dues (and ur Duas) pay off! May this be the beginning of MANY MORE sisters and brothers in mainstream media! insha’Allah!!!

  4. Mekamu

    Role model instead

  5. Dave

    Great news!

    I’m an Arab Christian and so am very sensitive to the stereotypes about both Arabs and Muslims. So, it’s wonderful to see that a qualified professional like Ms. Rahman has gotten the gig for which she’s worked so hard. We will all benefit from her visibility and expertise.

    Best wishes!

  6. Mekamu

    Go girl you are row model and Ambassador for this great religion thank you.

  7. Mariam

    Thank you Nadia for taking the time to write and respond. I’m humbled by your kind words and appreciate your support.

  8. Mariam

    LeRoy, thank you so much for your kind words. It’s people like you that help make this world a better place.

  9. LeRoy Joseph Cooper

    I’m a 73 year old, white male who just wants to say, “It is about time!” Muslim’s are people just like all other humans and should not be discriminated against because of their religious beliefs. I will follow Tahera Rahman on Channel 4 and will be eager to see her work her way up the so called ladder. Congratulations Tahera, keep up the faith and persistence! You look beautiful in your hijabi. May you inspire others to follow in your foot steps. I think most Americans understand the situation. It’s the government that divides people and inspires hatred against other cultures/religions. Perhaps some of our news media help that along but thank God that Channel 4 is taking a leadership role in countering that bias!
    LeRoy Cooper, Bettendorf, IA

  10. N

    I appreciate this article so much because Mariam, a mentor in this arena, is graciously supporting and lifting up a (not much) younger generation of Muslim women journalists. The first couple paragraphs describe her own climb up this mountain and the difficulty in finding a career as a journalist at a local station that would put a woman in hijab on screen. Mariam’s article is critical in its ability to highlight Tahera’s hardwork within journalism and her dedication to journalism. I spent years listening to Mariam report the news over the radio and eventually listening to Tahera do the same. The approach Tahera has taken has been one of quiet determination it was critical for Mariam to note that, because not everyone has a big network or the means to create one. This article can resonate with young girls who want to see themselves on the local news and many other stages – the article shows that all they may need is a dream that they won’t let go of, determination, and the support of mentors.

  11. Aine Ahmed

    Very proud of u

  12. Mariam

    @K @JohnMasters thank you for taking the time to stop by and comment, I appreciate it. What strikes me is that a lot of people assume I didn’t do my due diligence in researching this topic. If you can provide me evidence I may have missed, I’m more than happy to include it. As far as I know, there has never been a woman in hijab hired as a full time TV reporter for a mainstream American channel. It has been a huge obstacle. All the woman being mentioned have worked as interns or on their college television stations, perhaps even on cable access or international channels. I myself was a tv anchor and reporter for UI7 news in 2003 and prior to that an intern/reporter with the local CBS station. I also worked a few years ago on air for a digital startup that was on tv and online and have not staked a claim at being “first”. This is not to take away from all of our accomplishments as women in hijab pushing into the broadcast industry. But, it has been near impossible to actually be hired with a hijab for an on air position, versus being “allowed” on the air because you’re part of a college program, etc. Many of us dreamt of working on TV and thought it was possible because we were given opportunities to be on air, and when we went to apply for a real job, were shocked that despite the support we received while in school, no one really wanted to put someone with hijab on American TV. So in that way, this is a huge first step and should be celebrated.

  13. K

    I love this role model for my girls to grow up seeing. But please make the correction of stating she is the “first.” There was another hijabi sister who anchored news in Minnesota in 2009. I am not intending to take away from the accomplishments of Tahera; she is doing remarkable things. However it is the job of the author of the article to perform all necessary due diligence when reporting newsworthy stories.

  14. Saj

    Well done Tahera!

  15. John Masters

    Congratulations. However Mnar Muhawesh anchored for St. Cloud tv years ago.

  16. Naheed Mushtaq

    Way to go Tahera! Proud of your achievement and wishing you success all the way.
    Best wishes!

  17. Myra

    Congratulations! Normally, not one for shade but I’m okay with it in this instance because you won’t see the other journalist openly supporting accomplishments of other Muslim women in her field.

  18. Sarah

    Congratulations Tahera on your job! Please do not forget who you are and what you aspire to be. If you aspire to be a role model to fellow young and impressionable Muslim women, please don in a way that is pleasing to Him , please remember that Allah swt can pull that rug out fast from under your feet . We are seeing a new age, the millenia where everyone is striving to be the ‘first’ this, the ‘first’ that, but are having to shed their Muslim-ness and identity along the way.

  19. Mariam

    Thanks @Nida for your kind words!
    @Azmia, not sure where the shade is coming from? Sorry you feel that way.

  20. Azmia

    there’s so much shade in the first few paragraphs, and I’m not with it. so unnecessary.

  21. Nida Rahman

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this well written article! Tahera’s interview was honest, socially conscious, elegant and intelligent! I’m so proud to see Muslim women supporting one another and having platforms and opportunities to express themselves and achieve their dreams! Great day for America!

  22. Mariam

    Adam, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. There was no passive aggressive mention of anyone, and I’m a little confused about who you’re talking about. The piece is alluding to the throngs of young millennials who’ve been trying to market themselves in all kinds of careers as first “hijabi” this or that, when they’ve not accomplished anything yet. As a journalist myself, I’m merely reporting the facts.

  23. Adam

    Congrats to Tahera for the new job. My comment is for the author of the article.
    Why the need to passive aggressively take a jab at a fellow Muslim journalist within the first 2 paragraphs?? Live and let live.

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