The hot studio lights beat down on Noor Tagouri as she sat in the ABC News anchor chair. She wasn’t broadcasting the news that day — it was just another day at her internship — but as Jummy Olabanji, a news anchor for ABC 7 aimed an iPhone at the young woman, Tagouri smiled from deep inside her soul. In front of all those intimidating cameras, lights, and technical equipment, she knew in her heart that it was only a matter of time and hard work before her dreams would come true.
In a world controlled by social media, soon after uploading that photo on Facebook, the 20-year-old aspiring journalist from Southern Maryland became a worldwide inspiration to thousands of people.
The reason was simple: From a young age, Tagouri dreamed of becoming a hijab-wearing Muslim anchor woman, but she also noticed an absence of women on television who looked like her. She wasn’t alone in this desire to see more Muslim representation in Western media. Since posting that photo online Tagouri’s following has grown, with more than 5,000 YouTube subscribers, 9,000 Twitter followers, and over 88,000 followers on her official Facebook page from all around the world.
Tagouri explained to Knoworthy that she wants to tell great stories, combat sex trafficking, and empower and motivate people. As she says from her home, “The first thing you are is a human before you’re a journalist. And that’s what your job is as a journalist — it’s to better humanity, and that’s what I want to do.”
But this journey won’t come without some controversy. Tagouri’s goal is to simply become a broadcast journalist and to tell stories without the controversy of her hijab, an Islamic head covering, on American television. Hijab is a symbol of Islam that portrays modesty and protects the woman’s beauty from wandering eyes as well as pushing people to see the beauty within a woman rather than just her physical attributions.
“Hijab to me is not just about wearing a scarf on my head, it is about striving for the best character,” Tagouri said in an Haute Hijab article. “It really gives me a sense of identity, protection and a closeness to my Creator.”
As a result of her newfound platform, Tagouri has launched a social media campaign called “LetNoorShine,” with the word “Noor” meaning “light” in Arabic.
“It’s about not being afraid to go after what you’re passionate about and what your dreams are,” she said. “It’s to inspire people to let their inner ‘noor’ (light) shine.”
This dream has brought to light an important issue when it comes to breaking the barriers and stereotypes that Muslim women have in the Western world today. Media representations of Muslim women portray them as generally timid, submissive creatures whose decisions were decided by their fathers, brothers, or husbands, and who needed to be rescued by white men.
In their book, Muslim Women in America: The Challenge of Islamic Identity Today, professors Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, Jane I. Smith and Kathleen M. Moore explain how Western associations of Islam with the violent oppression of women has been used by more than one US administration to engender popular support for military interventions in the Middle East. These distortions have produced misunderstanding and prejudice of Muslim and Arab woman, sometimes making life more difficult — not easier — for Muslim women living in the US and Canada.
“That’s a complete misconception of Islam. If you look at the woman’s role in Islam and how women are supposed to be treated, I would say that Islam puts women on the highest pedestal possible,” said Tagouri.
Though her journey has just begun, she has already shadowed local and national news reporters and has spent time with Lisa Ling and Anderson Cooper, who were both supportive of her goal. They’re not alone. Muslims and non-Muslim followers have also been supportive, reaching out to Tagouri and sharing their thoughts on her ambitions.
“The power of positive thinking is a key factor and she certainly has got it in place,” Abulkasim Zwary wrote as a comment under an article about her. “Keep going Noor. You are a model for so many women and in particular those of the same culture.”
“I wish America could see past your hijab, and note the confidence, passion, and enthusiasm that emanates from you,” Harlori Tokie wrote on YouTube. “This kind of character will take you far. You go girl!”
Tagouri says that the best thing to come out of her campaign is when people message her about how they’ve been inspired by her journey and have decided to pursue what they actually love.
“I think everybody is so scared to share their beliefs and nobody says it out loud. As soon as one person does it, you start to get more comfortable,” she said. “You realize the person speaking beside you, though a different race, though a different religion, is not so different than you.”
That said, there have also been detractors, Muslim and non-Muslim, who don’t believe she can change the perceptions of Muslim women in the U.S. “She posts a picture, gets a few likes and suddenly she’s taking charge of representing the change in anti-Islamic attitude towards Muslim women, all because she has a dream to be on TV?” An anonymous person said under an article about her. “Reality check, networks will not be crawling over themselves to put her on TV and this country is not emotionally ready because we have all failed to educate them.”
There was commenter Cesar Ali, who wrote in a comment under an article about her, “Noor has done a perfect job in using religion and the current perception of a Muslim community in the US for her personal cheap fame. I’m a Muslim myself and people like you are the so-called reps of Islam in America with hypocrisy seeping through your pores.”
Although Islamophobia is an ongoing issue, Tagouri has refused to let it stop her from pursuing her dreams.
“I see that but it doesn’t scare me, because I know that at the end of the day I’m going to make it happen,” she says, the confidence and tenacity evident. “If it’s going to be a challenge, bring it on, because I can take it.”More Like This: Career & Work, Wealth