Community

At Rock Island TV station, a Muslim-American reporter makes history

For Tahera Rahman, wearing a hijab has been part of her identity and, really, an extension of herself, since middle school, about the same time she began filling up notebooks with stories about her day and thought, “Maybe, I’ll be a journalist.”

It didn’t occur to Rahman, a native of Bridgeview, Ill., that she ever would give up her hijab to be a TV news reporter. It didn’t occur to her, until after she graduated from Loyola University Chicago in 2013 with a journalism degree, that anyone would ever ask her to.

Rahman’s journalism professors at Loyola and her mentors told her, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, that landing a reporting job would be hard for her, she said. During an internship with “CBS Evening News” in Chicago, a producer asked, “If you got your dream job at your dream network, but they wanted you to take off your headscarf, would you do it?”

She quickly told him, “No.” And he replied, “Well, get ready to hear a lot of ‘nos.’”

Rahman remembers that conversation being “a tough pill to swallow.”

For three years while working for a Chicago radio station and freelancing, she applied and was rejected for entry-level reporting jobs across the country.

“If it’s one piece of cloth that is separating you from your dreams, that’s tempting,” Rahman said, noting many Muslim women choose not to wear hijabs. “It would be a lot easier if I took it off. I wouldn’t get as much hate.

“People would still think my name sounds weird, but, you know, it’s definitely not as weird as seeing someone who looks like me on TV.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Rahman kept waiting and working toward the moment she could find her big break. It happened on Wednesday, when Rahman reported her first story while wearing a green hijab, for WHBF, the Rock Island-based CBS affiliate where she had worked as a producer since May 2016.

“I think it was 50 percent happiness and 50 percent relief,” she said of getting hired.

Two days later, Tiffany Lundberg, an evening anchor, shared Rahman’s story with the world. The four-minute segment, which introduced Rahman as the first full-time reporter who is a Muslim woman to wear a hijab on mainstream TV news in the United States, since has gone viral.

Lundberg’s Facebook post about Rahman has been shared more than 7,000 times and the accompanying video now has nearly half a million views.

“I had never seen (a reporter wearing a hijab) before and I was actually surprised about that,” Lundberg said. “But if someone was going to break this barrier, I knew it would be her.”

In reporting the story, Lundberg realized Rahman would be making history.

They consulted a Muslim American Women in Media Facebook group as well as Mariam Sobh, a journalist based in Chicago who is one of Rahman’s mentors. Sobh said she has been trying to get a TV reporting job for 15 years and has been “tracking this issue” for just as long.

“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 yet,” Sobh wrote in a post about Rahman on the hijab fashion blog she founded.

“People have told me, ‘Well, no one’s ready for this,’” Sobh said in a phone interview this week. “Well, who is taking the poll that no one is ready for a Muslim-American reporter?”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!

You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.

“I hope this opens doors for other Muslim Americans or other people who don’t fit the mold,” Rahman said. “I think people have been waiting for this for a long time.”

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

CONTINUE READING

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.