FannBoy Friday with Shahjehan Khan: Mariam Hydara of Black Muslim TV

FannBoy Friday with Shahjehan Khan: Mariam Hydara of Black Muslim TV

Mariam Hydara is a junior at Boston University majoring in journalism. She is the current social media manager of the Black Muslim TV Network (BMTV) and has been in this position since July 2022. In addition to helping the BMTV team, she also acts, dances and hosts radio shows, while holding two part time jobs during the school year. Mariam was born and raised in the Bronx in a Gambian Muslim household. She plans to become a broadcast journalist so that she can explore topics relevant to Muslims today. 

This interview was our first meeting, and my first with someone in Australia! Props to Mariam for making it happen at her 10pm on a Friday night.

(Mariam’s interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Shahjehan: Give us a little background about BMTV and your role in it.

Mariam: I am BMTV’s social media manager. BMTV is what we like to call a network or a digital platform for Black Muslims to share their voices, experiences and provide any type of representation in this sort of spiritual support system. We do this through three main pillars: arts, education and programming.

BMTV was formed in June 2020 by our amazing CEO Latifa, who was a Boston College undergraduate at that time. She had just finished conducting a research study about the experiences of African Muslim women on college campuses and realized that there wasn’t enough spaces for this specific demographic to be able to show their true, authentic and real selves, so she decided to create this platform. [It] started out being YouTube videos [interviewing] people and has branched out to many more events and services that we provide. 

I joined [last] June [after] hearing about their iftar events during last year’s Ramadan. And I was like, “Wow, there’s so many cool people. This is such a great space.” I got to talk to Latifa for a while and then literally two months after that their team member applications [went] out and they were looking for a social media manager. I never like to admit that I’m good at social media and that I know how to work it really well or  that I’m really persistent with it … I just wanted to dip my toes in and be a part of the team in any way because I knew, especially with how collaboratively we work, that I would be able to have an influence on every part of what we do, not just social media, which is really nice and adaptable.

Shahjehan: Why do you think it is so important to have these sorts of intentionally targeted and focused spaces for Black Muslims, especially in a place like Boston? I’m thinking about my own experience as a suburban, brown South Asian American Muslim, one that I didn’t even realize was exclusive until my early 20s.

Mariam: I’m from New York City, born and raised in the Bronx and currently residing in Sydney as I go to Boston University. All of our Boston schools have MSAs within them, but they tend to be very brown, very south Asian, very consolidated, which is not a problem except for it portrays itself in every event that they do, in the food that they offer, in the executive board that they choose to elect. … We created a space like this because we wanted to finally shine some type of spotlight on a very specific group of Muslims that have felt overlooked for a long time within these sort of schools and organizations. And I think it’s also cool that we are not affiliated to a certain university. We’re just this platform that has roots in Boston because that’s where we happen to be and can spread out as wide and as far as we want, which is really powerful.

It’s a strange thing to navigate because I think to myself, “Oh, I don’t want to further separate people and keep creating even more specific factions of groups.” I wish that we could all just come together and it could naturally be a diverse Muslim TV [network], but that’s not the way it works. It’s just a space to say to Black Muslims that you are identified as well and you are valuable as well because the representation for it was severely lacking. You [would] start to question if Black Muslims are a popular thing or if they’re very widespread, or if the [Muslim] majority is brown people. But [these things are not true], and then that question is a problem within itself because this is where we start to blend religion and culture. … Obviously, a Muslim can look like a thousand different things and does look like a thousand different things. So I wish that it wasn’t so exclusive and that it wasn’t so tied in to communities and traditions and cultural boundaries. 

Shahjehan: Especially because Black Muslims are the original American Muslims which is not something that people necessarily grow up learning or appreciating. And further, Boston itself is so important to Black Muslim American history.

Mariam: Yeah. When I grew up it’s not like I was surrounded by brown and South Asian Muslims. I was surrounded by fellow Black African Muslims. So to then come to Boston and then see that totally shift and for [us] to not anymore [be] the majority is very interesting to navigate because you don’t have a problem with it until it manifests itself in real and tangible ways, as I mentioned previously. I think every culture, every ethnic group naturally wants to stay within themselves and naturally wants to stay next to people that have the same foods and the same traditions as them, which is very understandable. The problem is when it gets so deeply tied into religion and expectations and lack of representation.

Shahjehan: Where do you see BMTV going? What are your hopes for the channel?

Mariam: We would love to become an official nonprofit, so applying for a 501 (c)(3) and other type of grants so we could actually be funded and not just scrambling for money. I foresee us starting and being able to lead events and meetups in different places all around the country. I really think this could be a more national thing as opposed to just stealing classrooms in random colleges and university buildings. As our team grows, I can see each team member being in different places all around the country and leading events from wherever they are with the BMTV brand on it. I see us continuing to create spaces and to provide resources and for example, start booking sheikhs for lectures that are specific to the Black Muslim experience and geared towards modern people our age and reach the experiences that we are currently going towards. 

I foresee our social media branching out to more than just Instagram. If I had a team, I’d be doing it all. Facebook. Oh, actually I hate Facebook, but Snapchat — well, Snapchat is weird. Okay. Just Twitter, honestly. Just Twitter and Instagram. That’s it. And do people use Tumblr? Maybe Tumblr?

Shahjehan: Yeah. Or TikTok, I guess? 

Mariam: Oh, of course, of course! (laughter on both sides)

Shahjehan:  Last question, who are some current Black Muslim creatives that inspire you? 

Mariam: The Digital Sisterhood” is a really good podcast. It’s led by this girl Cadar Mohamud and she has a guest every week that are simply just telling their story. But the stories are so empowering and they always have so many examples of the power of Allah in them, and they just always have a very modern twist on them that makes them very relatable and adaptable to whatever situation that me or my peers may be going towards. So I think Cadar is a current inspiration. She is slowly pushing me towards that point. Just watch guys! Soon. I’ll have my own little studio, in my dormitories.

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BMTV Network (@blackmuslimtv) • Instagram photos and videos

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