By the Way

A Muslim’s request to a journalist: Truth

Arslan Arshad of Gulfport talks to Sun Herald photojournalist John Fitzhugh after Friday prayers at the Islamic Center of Gulfport on Feb. 10, 2017.
Arslan Arshad of Gulfport talks to Sun Herald photojournalist John Fitzhugh after Friday prayers at the Islamic Center of Gulfport on Feb. 10, 2017. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

I have a deep commitment to the truth. When I am portraying a segment of society that I have limited knowledge of, I am very cautious that I do it well.

That challenge arose again Feb. 10 when Sun Herald reporter Regina Zilbermints and I went to the Islamic Center of Gulfport to talk to Muslims there. President Donald Trump had issued a temporary ban on immigrants from seven mostly Muslim nations. There was swift worldwide reaction to the ban, and we felt we should hear from the local Muslim community.

We were invited to attend the center’s Friday prayers — the Muslim equivalent to Christians’ Sunday services.

There, as is my custom, I observed, shot video, asked questions and took notes. I am always careful when I am at a religious service to ensure I don’t do anything stupid — don’t be distracting, don’t stand in the wrong place or say the wrong thing.

It was clear some members of the congregation were uncomfortable with my presence, but I was greeted warmly and treated with great respect.

After the service, I spoke to several members of the congregation, including Arslan Arshad, a 22-year-old student from Gulfport.

His words were eloquent as he spoke about the impact of the Muslim ban and how his religion is portrayed and perceived.

At the end of the interview, I asked if he had anything to add.

He looked me square in the eye and moved me with his words.

“The media has a lot of control” of how Islam is portrayed, he said. “A lot of journalists do a really good job, and a lot of them don’t. At the end of the day, it’s in the hands of people like you” to tell the story properly. “As a journalist, personally, from me to you, I have a request.

“It’s going to be up to you to decide how you want to portray the story, and what story you want to show to the world, and a lot of times the truth is going to be — and I do believe truth at this day and age is probably the most precious commodity that we have — and it’s going to be in your hands to secure that and to portray that.

“So I hope and I pray that you remain firm and steadfast in your commitment to that and you are guided to that and you are able to portray that as best as you can.”

I hope I have met that standard on this story, and every story I am a part of.

John Fitzhugh: 228-896-2193, @JFitzhughPhoto

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