Photo above: Ruth Nasrullah, right, and Mustafa Carroll of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Texas joined KPFT 90.1 “Open Journal” in 2015. Twitter photo
By Natalie Beckerink and Valerie Wells
Houston-based journalist Ruth Nasrullah has faced hate for her work.
Readers often responded to her Houston Chronicle blog, “The Straight Path,” with cruel posts about Islam, the subject of Nasrullah’s commentaries. A reader posted that Nasrullah needed to wear a veil because she looked like a dog. Another time, she went to the police to report a vague threat in the comments section just in case something more serious developed, she said.
Other readers responded during the run of Nasrullah’s commentary from 2006 to 2015.
One reader decided to make a personal visit, Nasrullah said. At the time, she owned a bookstore in Webster, Texas, a Houston suburb. The reader told her he had traveled 50 miles just to meet her face-to-face.
“He said, ‘You’re not going to like what I say,’ and I said that I knew, I mean I hadn’t liked a lot of his comments,” Nasrullah said.
“He said, ‘I hate Islam,’ and I was like, ‘Okay, I wish you didn’t, but it’s a free country,’ and I think he was taken aback. I think he thought I was going to be argumentative.”Ruth Nasrullah, Houston-based journalist
“He said, ‘I hate Islam,’ and I was like, ‘Okay, I wish you didn’t, but it’s a free country,’ and I think he was taken aback. I think he thought I was going to be argumentative.”
They talked for a long time and then he left less agitated, she said.
“I may not have changed his mind, but at least he’s met one Muslim that he can say is normal, so that was something that was really gratifying,” Nasrullah said.
The room where he confronted her didn’t have an outside exit, she said.
Nasrullah has written about the space mosques make for women in Azizah Magazine, domestic-violence prevention for Islamic Horizons Magazine, and immigrant detention for the online magazine MuslimMatters. She reported for Religious News Service and her work has been picked up by The Washington Post and other publications and news websites. “How a proposed Muslim cemetery became a battleground for American’s soul” was one such piece.
Since she became a journalist in 2003, Nasrullah has written much more about other subjects for many other publications, but covering the Muslim experience has become her specialty, her niche reporting and her passion.
“American Muslims aren’t considered accessible. I have an ability to be able to share the authentic experience of being an American Muslim.”Ruth Nasrullah
Besides the hate, Nasrullah has gotten a lot of support, too, she said.
Nasrullah is a past-president of the Houston Pro Chapter of Society of Professional Journalists. She was also a vice-president of the chapter and was co-chair of the planning committee for the 2014 SPJ Region 8 conference in Houston. She got involved with SPJ in 2010 for networking, learning and colleagues, she said.
Like many if not most journalists, Nasrullah took other jobs over the years that now help her in her reporting and writing. She was the communications coordinator for the Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations from 2013 to 2017.
Nasrullah is passionate about her work, said Arsalan Saifullah, a civil rights attorney with the council.
“At that time, we were having a pretty decisive election with Trump, so she would always follow up on the news,” Saifullah said.
Sobia Siddiqui was an intern at the Council on American-Islamic Relations in 2017 and learned a lot about writing, reporting and journalism from Nasrullah, she said.
“If I ever had a question, she was on my speed dial.”Sobia Siddiqui, Houston Chapter Operations Coordinator, Council on American-Islamic Relations
Nasrullah recently joined Investigative Reporters and Editors and is researching several angles for future articles.
“My husband who’s not a journalist always says that I’m so nosy, but I’m not nosy, I’m curious,” Nasrullah said.
“If you’re not curious you can’t work as a journalist. It’s important to be true to yourself and always be learning. Never get into a rut. Don’t get bored.”Ruth Nasrullah
One topic that makes her curious is the treatment of Muslims in prison. Nasrullah cited examples of prisons that didn’t offer early breakfasts during Ramadan, a holy month during which Muslims fast from sunup to sundown. In another example, a prison was serving only pork, a meat that Muslims don’t eat in accordance with their religious beliefs.
Some prisons don’t offer Muslim religious services, or what they do offer is an offshoot that has developed so far from traditional Islam that most Muslims don’t see as part of their religion, Nasrullah said. Yet if a prisoner does not participate in these programs, the prisoner can lose his classification as an Muslim. He would have to go to the service, she said.
“Without journalism, how many things would we not know?” Nasrullah said.
Natalie Beckerink is the 2019 SPJ Region 3 summer intern and reporter for SizingUpTheSouth.com. She is a junior at Auburn University studying political science and journalism. Beckerink is on the staff of the Auburn University Plainsman student newspaper. firstname.lastname@example.org
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