Tamara Abueish is a UAE-based Journalist. She works at Al-Arabiya News Channel as a reporter, writer, and journalist in their English department. When Tamara Abueish was a junior in college, she was the president of the Women Empowerment Club at the American University of Sharjah. She grew up in Kuwait but had to move to the UAE to pursue her education. Tamara pursued a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Journalism, Media, and Communication with a minor in women’s studies. Now, she resides in the UAE permanently. I had the opportunity to speak with Tamara about the underrepresentation of Muslim journalists, Muslim women in media and how we can use media as a powerful tool to tackle sensitive issues such as domestic abuse, sexual abuse and bullying.
This International Women’s Day 2021, I’d like to feature our conversation and a short note at the end of the interview. Some issues need to be brought forth into the media, and some topics need to be spoken about. The whole purpose of this article is to diminish the misconceptions that people have regarding Muslim women and Muslim journalists in general.
In this interview, Tamara and I spoke about her childhood and how it influenced her to do the amazing things she is doing now. We also spoke about how media can be used as a powerful tool in creating social change and tackling various sensitive issues.
At what age did you start writing, and how did it turn into your love for journalism and media? Can you tell us how your childhood was, and how did it impact you to do the amazing and inspiring things you’re doing now?
Tamara: I have been writing since I was very young. I was lucky to be supported by my parents. They had realized early on that writing is something that I not only like, but is also something that I am good at. They pushed me and motivated me to pursue a career in writing even when everyone around them told them that journalism is not a career that will help her make a lot of money nor will it help her succeed in the long-run. I have always been interested in reading about women from all over the world, women who belonged to different cultures. I love reading non-fiction stories about women who had done amazing things in their communities and had positively contributed towards making this world a better place. My love for writing made me attend a 2-week writing workshop at Boston University when I was in eleventh grade. All of the things that I’ve accomplished so far had not been possible without the help and support of my parents.
Being a Muslim journalist and a woman of color, do you believe that the media often portrays a false image of women like us? If yes, then what do you think we, as a community, should do to change that?
Tamara: Of course, the media plays a huge part in portraying a false image of women like us. There are a lot of stereotypes attached to Saudi Women. My roots are from Saudi Arabia and there are many stereotypes attached to women like us. People have certain double standards for women like us. I won’t deny that there are people who face hardships. One of the ways through which we can change that is through telling the world and showing them the side of ourselves that is real and authentic. I think that will help change their perceptions and double standards of us.
Often, women of color are underrepresented in the world of media. They are not given equal job opportunities, and their ideas are often ignored, what’s your opinion on that?
Tamara: In my workplace, there are many female journalists. However, if we look at the bigger picture, we come to the realization that there are women in this world, especially in the west who are not given equal job opportunities. But people must realize that her gender does not make her any different from others.
Is there something or someone who is an inspiration behind the words you write? Is there someone you look up to? If yes, then who is it?
Tamara: There is not one person who inspires me. There are many people who inspire me to do well in life. My greatest inspiration is my parents. Also, I am lucky to be surrounded by such a wonderful group of friends who are doing amazing things in life. I get a lot of inspiration from my successful group of friends.
At present, do you believe we have fewer journalists who speak on real-world issues and shed light upon the rarely-spoken issues?
Tamara: We do have journalists that speak on rarely spoken issues but sometimes, it becomes hard for them to speak on sensitive topics. Because in some countries, it is dangerous.
What steps can we take, as a community, to ensure that the voices of the voiceless are heard?
Tamara: We must let their stories be heard. Being a journalist, it is our duty to bring forth their stories to the world. One of the best ways in which we can be a voice to the voiceless is by providing them with a platform.
What topics would you like to discuss and explore further in your writings?
Tamara: I would want to write about women because it is something that I am very passionate about.
Do you plan on publishing a book of your own one day? If so, what topics would you like to highlight or cover in your upcoming book?
Tamara: *Laughs* My mother always tells me that I should, but honestly? I don’t know yet. If I ever write a book one day, it will be about women or something of this sort.
Many people living in the West have this perception that Arab women are oppressed, or we are not given the chance to study, or that we often face abuse daily, which is entirely not true because personally, I have met many amazing Arab women like you and many more who are highly educated and are doing incredible things to serve their communities in many different ways whether it is through medicine, writing or teaching. What message would you like to give to all those people who have the wrong perception of Muslim women globally?
Tamara: As I said before, there are many wrong perceptions and double standards that people have regarding Muslim women generally. So the only way we can change that is through utilizing media in such a way that it can change the stereotypes attached to Muslim women.
If you could meet your younger self right now, what would you tell her?
Tamara: I would tell her to keep going, keep doing whatever it is you’re doing. Now that I see myself becoming a woman I always dreamt of being, I would encourage her to keep doing what it is that she’s doing.
Any advice for young girls globally looking to pursue a career in journalism?
Tamara: Just go for it. Journalism is a career that is not easy. It definitely requires a lot of hard work. But at the end of the day, it is worth it.
Describe your experience working as a journalist in one word.
Tamara: Exciting. Every day is a new adventure. And every day I get a chance to do something new and different. Every day I have the exciting opportunity to do new things, and I think that is what I love the most about being a journalist.
Muslim journalists, women and media
Tammara Abueish and many more female Muslim journalists like her working in the field of journalism, writing, and media have paved the way for younger Muslim journalists. There is no denying the fact that Muslim women have faced discrimination in almost all aspects of their careers, especially in the West. Despite how talented they might be, they’re not given as many opportunities to work in the mainstream media and the entertainment industry.
However, in recent years, many female Muslim journalists are breaking the stereotypes and are courageously pursuing their dreams. One such exceptional example is Nour Tagouri who is a Libyan-American journalist, motivational speaker, activist, and producer of the documentary series “The Trouble They’ve Seen: The Forest Haven Story,” about the mistreatment of people with mental disabilities. She also produced a podcast-series “Sold in America” on sex trafficking in the U.S.
Another example of a Muslim journalist breaking stereotypes is Fatima Manji, who is an English television Muslim journalist and newsreader, working for Channel 4 News. In March 2016, Manji became the first hijab-wearing TV newsreader.
The progress might be slow, but Muslim women globally are making their way in the journalism industry and are now pursuing their goals, dreams, and aspirations with courage and dignity.
Isn’t it about time we stop judging women by the way they dress, the language they speak, or the culture they belong to and start appreciating them for the kind of people they are, how they treat others, and the impact they aspire to have in the world? Isn’t it about time people realized that a woman is so much more than the way she dresses and the way she looks? Before she is a woman, she is a person with ideas and a person who aspires to positively impact the world in as many ways as she can. Before she is a woman, she is a human being who deserves to be treated with respect and humility, irrespective of her religion or nationality.