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Magazines Aimed at Muslim Americans Multiply

In recent years, several new magazines intended for Muslim Americans have come on the market. While they are not prominent on the shelves of newsstands and bookstores in the United States, the magazines are making an impact, according to creators, editors, and readers of the publications. From New York, Mona Ghuneim has the story.

Hanifah Abdul-Baqi, a 19-year-old Muslim girl from North Carolina, loves fashion. Like most teenage girls, she enjoys flipping through magazines and seeing the latest styles and trends. But Hanifah wears the hijab, or headscarf, and she says that while she can look through magazines like Teen People or Cosmo Girl, she cannot always relate.

Then she discovered Muslim Girl, a magazine featuring young Muslim American women who stand out in academics, the arts and sports. And, she says, the magazine gave her ideas for modest fashions she could wear.

Hanifah says the English-language magazine, launched in January of this year, also helped her peers and friends understand her better.

"They were surprised to see that there's a magazine with a girl in hijab on the cover," said Hanifah Abdul-Baqi. "They said, 'You guys have something that is your own now' and they felt comfortable with the issue even more."

Being comfortable with Islam is certainly one of the goals of Muslim Girl, says editor-in-chief Ausma Khan. She describes the monthly publication as a magazine for young Muslim women whose faith means a lot to them, but who are just like other teenage girls in America. Khan created the magazine as a way to serve what she says is a huge community that needs more positive representation in the mainstream media.

"We want to reach as many people as possible by telling the stories about American girls who are Muslim and getting other communities to see them as part of American life, as teens that they have something in common with and to clear away misunderstandings, and hope for a better dialogue," said Ausma Khan.

Khan says Muslim Girl, with a current circulation of 50,000, targets a potential 400,000 Muslim teenage girls in Canada and the United States.

Understanding demographics is key to the magazine business, says Firas Ahmad, senior editor of Islamica magazine.

Islamica began as an academic journal in the 1990s in London but then closed down. In 2003 it re-emerged in the United States as a glossy quarterly. The magazine features articles on current affairs, arts, science, business and even poetry and fiction.

The articles in Islamica are similar to those a reader would find in other magazines, says Ahmad, but from a Muslim perspective.

"We're interested in discussing the issues that come out of what it means to be a Muslim or to have the experience of being Muslim and how that relates to people who are living around you, in your communities and things like that," said Firas Ahmad.

Ahmad says 60 to 70 percent of the magazine's subscribers are in the United States and Canada. Islamica's worldwide circulation is 15,000 and its subscriber base in the United States is 6,000. Ahmad says, the magazine isn't out to win a popularity contest. Rather, he says, the goal is to be influential in certain circles.

"What we're trying to do is get the magazine out there to 'thought leaders' in America, both within and outside the Muslim community. If someone like, say for example, [journalist] Thomas Friedman is a subscriber and he reads an article in there that gives him a different perspective on reform in the Muslim world and then he cites something in his Op-Ed piece that then goes out to 3.5 million people to the New York Times, that's the kind of impact we're looking to achieve," said Ahmad.

Ahmad believes Islamica and other magazines like Muslim Girl, Islamic Horizons and Azizah all stem from the same desire: to define for themselves what it means to be Muslim.

Tayyibah Taylor is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Azizah. She says the quarterly publication premiered in 2000 as a vehicle for Muslim women in America to hold their own conversation about themselves. Taylor says she was tired of seeing the same image of Muslim women in the western media - what she describes as oppressed, depressed, usually Arab and dressed in only one way. So she decided to offer an alternative.

What ensued, Taylor says, was a women's magazine that deals with issues like autism, breast cancer, leadership, fashion, marriage, and a whole gamut of subjects reflecting the diversity of Muslim American women.

Taylor says Azizah started as a homegrown project, using personal savings and avoiding loans. Today the magazine is sustained by subscription sales and advertising, and she says, the Muslim market is growing.

"Advertisers in America are going to now realize that the Muslim consumer is one to be courted and they will start courting them with custom-made things for their demographic," said Tayyibah Taylor.

The rise in the number of Islamic publications in North America does reflect the growing Muslim market, says one reader of these magazines. But, he says, many of these publications are avoiding the hard issues.

Mohamed Zakariya converted to Islam in 1961. Since then, he says, he has read as many English-language Islamic publications as he could find. While he feels the more recent magazines have promise, he thinks they still talk about Islam from the outside and skirt around certain subjects.

"They need to be discussing the serious consequences, for instance, to put it in a way that people will all understand, the consequences of following radical ideologies and where it's going to take them," said Mohamed Zakariya.

But Zakariya says he's glad to see more of these magazines coming to the table, or in the case of many of the publications, to the Internet, public libraries and universities. And the publishers hope that one day their magazines will be available to the mass market in newsstands, bookstores and even airport shops.