Islam on Main Street - A crash course for domestic american reporters

A Letter from the Course Developer

More than 30 years ago, I arrived in Beirut as CBS News Middle East correspondent. My qualifications for covering this complex region? I had been reporting on wars in Africa, so I knew how to dodge bullets. Oh, and I had taken a class on the Arab-Israeli conflict as an undergrad at Northwestern. Of Islam, the dominant religion in the region, I knew essentially nothing.

If foreign correspondents assigned to the region have such a “limited” understanding, there is no reason to expect reporters and editors based in the U.S. to be any more prepared to tackle stories involving Islam and Muslims.

But in many parts of the U.S., Islam and Muslims have become local news. So a bit of background can come in handy.

The problem is, entire sections of bookstores are devoted to Islam, terrorism and related topics these days, and much of it reflects the huge ideological rift that surrounds the topic. What to read? Who to call? And how to penetrate all that academic gobbly-gook and get to the basics when you’re on deadline?

That’s why we created this course. It is meant to be a “how-to, what is” primer by journalists for journalists. We have no axe to grind, other than a desire to see accurate, balanced reporting of this topic, which has such broad impact on American society today. Project editor Stephen Franklin is a former Chicago Tribune Middle East reporter who more recently served as a Knight International Journalism Fellow in the region. My reporting background spans the Muslim world, from the first suicide bombing in modern history in Lebanon to the revolution in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country (Along the way, I picked up a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies, so I am painfully aware of how impenetrable much academic writing can be).

We assembled a team that includes noted academic experts on specific aspects of Islam who worked with us to present their academic knowledge in a format accessible to work-a-day reporters. We also roped in a few journalists who know the subject intimately. The project was supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York through a program run by the Social Science Research Council to bring academic expertise on Islam into the public sphere.

We hope you find it useful. If you have questions, suggestions or complaints, please feel free to contact me at

Lawrence Pintak
Founding Dean
The Edward R. Murrow College of
Washington State University