After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Shahed Amanullah, grew frustrated with not just the hasty generalizations made about Muslims, but also the dismissive tone of Muslim leaders. He saw Muslims being discussed in the news, but no Muslim voices were balancing the views expressed. Since no one else was doing anything about it, Shahed seized the opportunity and created altmuslim.com, a nonprofit online news magazine that covers Muslim life, culture, and politics from a Western Muslim perspective. The publication promotes critical analysis, discussion, and debate within the Muslim community in the West while also showcasing commentary for non-Muslims who want a sense of the dialogue going on among Western Muslims. Today, as Editor-in-Chief, Shahed, 39, heads up a publication whose content is in the national media on a weekly basis, and he once even got to debate former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara on ABC’s “Nightline.” To learn more about Shahed and altmuslim.com, check out this week’s Nonprofit Spotlight.
University of California, Berkeley
B.S. in Civil Engineering
Development Project Manager
The World Bank
Marketing Project Manager
ATI Architects & Engineers
Telecom Project Manager
Yack Media Services
Director of Production
City and County of San Francisco
Indian-American (specifically: both parents from Madras/Chennai)
About the non-profit
Altmuslim.com is a non-profit online news magazine providing coverage of Islamic life, culture, and politics – especially from a Western Muslim perspective – since 2001. With five associate editors based in Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia, as well as a dozen noted columnists from various backgrounds, we are looking to stimulate discussion and debate within the Muslim community in the West and showcase analysis and opinions for non-Muslim readers who want a finger on the pulse of the Western Muslim community.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
I spend my altmuslim.com-dedicated time combing through submissions from our contributors for timely commentary on issues affecting Muslims in the West, researching and writing my own editorial pieces, and providing analysis to various national and international media.
Rather than repeat news items found in the mainstream media, I look for something unique to contribute to the discourse – no whitewashing or aggressive denigration, but constructive critique meant to provide a vision for the American Muslim community in the face of multiple challenges from inside and out.
Most notable milestones
When I started the site, I never thought it would get to a point where nearly 8,000 unique readers per day would find something useful to them. I also never envisioned a time when the commentary we featured on our site would make its way to the national media on a weekly basis, having been considered an authoritative and insightful source.
One of the things I’m most proud of is that our editors have often been sought for advice from various media outlets, organizations (Muslim and otherwise), and government agencies. We believe strongly in a vision of a well-adjusted, proud, and contributing Muslim community, and we’re happy that our words are apparently having an impact.
What’s the niche?
Even though there are millions of Muslims in the West, there are few independent media outlets outside of local community publications. I believe that the unique challenges we face – religious misunderstanding, political instability and extremism, a morphing Muslim-American identity, and others – requires a vigorous and inquisitive press that is well-rooted in our community, yet is strong enough to ask the tough questions. There are only a few such outlets today, and altmuslim.com is one of them.
Additionally, our reach enables us to cover North American, Europe, and Australia, and in the process compare trends across these areas and cross-pollinate the best ideas and insights. It’s a unique position to be in, and we take this responsibility very seriously.
What’s the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge we face is maintaining (and increasing) the level of quality we have as our readership and stature increases. It is especially important now that we are noticing the impact we are starting to have on the way Islam is covered in the national media. More often these days, our opinions and editorials are taken up by mainstream journalists who then expand on them, which means we have an extra responsibility to think through the vision that we are presenting to the world.
One of the things that has always surprised me is our ability to find new and interesting things to cover. I was worried when we started the news magazine that we would somehow run out of new and interesting things to say. But five years later, the material that comes across my virtual desk always seems to be fresh, surprisingly enough.
What’s in store for the future?
While our online news magazine is moving along smoothly, we are looking to expand our media presence into other areas. We’ve hosted a fairly popular podcast over the last two years, and are looking into publishing a series of books authored by various altmuslim.com columnists. One of the items we are mulling over is a weekly print version of altmuslim.com. Keeping all of the altmuslim publications in a nonprofit framework is key, since we want to maintain our independence as much as possible.
Best way to keep a competitive edge
Be open minded. You never know where your next insight will come from. No one organization or person has all the answers – it’s best to cobble together the best tidbits from a wide range of people in order to come up with the most interesting and effective material.
Guiding principle in life
Make your life worth something. We are only here for a short time, and in that time, we have an opportunity to leave a mark, to improve the lives of others in some way.
Yardstick of success
Success is being able to maximize the improvement in other people’s lives while at the same time being able to maximize your happiness. The rare people who are able to do both at the same time are truly blessed.
Goal yet to be achieved
Making just enough money to not have to worry about money (and spend more time with my non-profit work).
Best practical advice
If you want to contribute to non-profit ventures in the best possible way, find a way to do it by using your most talented skill. This way, you bring the most to the table in the shortest possible time. For some, this means serving on boards. For others, it means taking your most valuable skill (say, medicine) and putting it to work where it is most useful (say, a free clinic). For a doctor to volunteer his/her time stuffing envelopes is not the best use of that person’s time.
What motivated you to get started?
After 9/11, I was tired of seeing both broad-brushed attacks on the Muslim community as well as dismissive platitudes from Muslim leaders. I was tired of seeing Muslims being talked about in the news, but no Muslim voices balancing out the commentary. As with so many of the projects I’ve started, I saw nobody else doing it, so I stepped up to the plate.
Like best about what you do?
I like being independent and not beholden to any organization, stakeholder, institution, or group of people. The only thing that I am loyal to is my value system. That enables me to be truly free in how I contribute to my project.
Like least about what you do?
The time it takes away from spending time with friends and family. I’d much rather be discussing issues with friends over coffee than slaving over a computer writing about them.
At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Interestingly enough, I wanted to be in real estate development. I didn’t know what it was called at the time, but I had just finished building a treehouse and I knew I wanted to build things. Today, I work in real estate development and feel like a kid in that treehouse again.
What was your first job?
Paper boy for the Fullerton (California) Daily News Tribune.
Biggest pastime outside of work
Web programming using PHP/MySQL. There’s something very zen about programming a piece of code and having it work just right. (If I were to actually do this for a living instead of a hobby, it would lose its appeal for me rather quickly.)
Three interesting facts about yourself
- I put myself through college by working as a disc jockey.
- I once debated former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara on ABC’s “Nightline.”
- I appeared in a movie with Ashley Judd (go ahead and look it up on IMDB).
Three characteristics that describe you
- High energy, although I appear laid back.
- Extremely optimistic.
- I commit to far more than I could possibly do.
Three greatest passions
- Late night conversations in the neighborhood cafe.
- Throwing my two sons in the air (at the same time).
- Getting lost in a city that I’ve never been in before.
Who would you like to be contacted by?
We are always looking for insightful commentary by contributors, whether they are Muslim or not, that covers some aspect of what it means to be Muslim in the West. Even if you consider yourself a beginner, please share your thoughts. Most of our regular columnists started out that way.