Every time Kashif-ul-Huda comes across news about Muslims in media around the world, it makes him sad and uncomfortable.
The stories not only present the community in a negative light, he says, but also make ‘Muslims’ seem like one monolithic category.
But instead of remaining an unhappy observer, the Boston-based pharmaceutical scientist decided to counter the stereotypes imposed by mainstream media by creating his own news website on Indian Muslims.
Launched in 2006, www.twocircles.net offers news reports and feature stories on a range of Muslim communities across the country, from Kerala to Assam and Manipur. The writers are correspondents and free-lancers coming from within these diverse backgrounds, who co-ordinate through email with Huda in Boston and two other editors in Patna.
“We are used to thinking of Indian Muslims as coming from the Urdu-speaking belt. I wanted to break that myth and bring out the voices and views of so many more,” said Huda, 36, who is in Mumbai to promote the website and launch two annual awards for the Indian Muslim community – the ‘TwoCircles Person of the Year’ and ‘Organisation of the Year’ awards (see box, The Awards).
Huda grew up in Jamshedpur and feels rooted to India even after 15 years of living abroad. He chose to launch TwoCircles as a website instead of a newspaper or channel not just because of its lower cost and wider outreach, but also because it was the best way to present Muslim news across sects and opinions without imposing an editorial stance.
“My target audience is English-speaking students and professionals who may be getting cut off from or ashamed of their religion,” said Huda, who estimates that nearly 30% of the website’s readers in India are non-Muslims.
It is not, an ‘Islamic’ news site, he said. Reporters are told to avoid religious jargon, and Huda has recently introduced sections on arts, literature, Dalit issues, women and even science and health.
Feature articles are varied, from ‘Why are Muslims not succeeding?’ and ‘Making sense of Deoband’s medievalism’ to the more secular ‘Mahatma, Obama and India’.
On Bakri Id, the lead story came from Assam’s Anjuman Ara Begum, who wrote about how most Muslim women spend the festival toiling in the kitchen while the men celebrate without lending them a hand.
“We want to give mainstream publications a better idea on how to write Muslim stories without offending the community,” said Huda.