Malika Bilal sometimes finds herself in the role of Muslim explainer – even to fellow Muslims who incorrectly assume that she’s a member of the Nation of Islam.
“People don’t always understand the African American experience,” Bilal says. “First thing they’ll think is ‘Okay, she’s Muslim, but she’s probably Sudanese, she’s probably Somali, she’s from East Africa.’
“When I have to explain, ‘No, actually my parents were born here, my grandparents were born here, my great-grandparents were born here,’ they don’t get it. You get a lot of ‘No, no, but where are their parents from. Where are you really from?’”
Millions of eyes worldwide are on Bilal daily as she co-hosts “The Stream,” an interactive half-hour show on Al Jazeera English. The Chicago-born Bilal is a trailblazer as one of the first American anchors to wear a hijab on a news show.
For Bilal, the hijab and the broadcast carry the weighty responsibility of being a role model to young Muslim girls and an informal educator to people she encounters on assignments in America who may have never met a Muslim.
“The questions were about Islam. Some (people) wanted to know about Saudi foreign policy, which I have no idea,” she says.