Social media is just like storytelling, and other lessons learned by a white Catholic girl who spent time tweeting as a Pakistani-American imam
I have a confession to make: I'm not who I say I am.
You may think that I'm a white girl from outside the Pasta Triangle. But like the Gay Girl in Damascus, I have been masquerading as another ... well, actually, as a few other people.
As a journalism student trying to make a buck during the so-called death of print journalism, I decided to intern in public relations. It started as innocent ghost blogging for Rachel Ray. I would write about beach bags and dog friendly recipes for Mom Blogs (aka fine online parenting establishments).
Then in the spring of 2009, I stumbled on an opportunity that would change my life. I interviewed for a public relations position at the Islamic Center at NYU (ICNYU). I bargained for the job since the imam said I was overqualified for the work. I knew very little about Islam but I promised to build up the center's social networking presence and create media platforms that would allow them to more closely connect with the huge community of Muslim college students. I didn't really understand the importance of social media until I worked at the center.
I spent a year at the ICNYU ghost tweeting, writing press releases and doing odd jobs. A few months after I left, I found myself chatting with a Muslim student at an orientation event. It was in the middle of Ramadan, the annual month of fasting, and we were at lunch. I asked her if she was fasting and she confirmed but told me not to worry. She said she had found NYU's Islamic Center on Facebook and was planning to go to iftar, the center's break fast event, that evening. I didn't tell her that I was responsible for the Facebook page. I was proud that I had touched just one person.
Social media allows us to take the most important qualities of community and replicate them online. The ICNYU's Facebook page serves as a resource for Muslim students and allows them to stay connected with their community. Thanks to the Internet, they can learn about upcoming events, sign up for classes or catch up on the imam's podcast khutbahs.
We made for an odd pair: a Catholic Italian white girl and a Pakistani-American imam. But I think we learned a lot from each other. I taught him about Twitter and tried to encourage him to revive his blog. He showed me the day-to-day challenges facing Muslim New Yorkers. Imam Khalid Latif is one of the most interesting people I have ever met. Not only does he serve as the executive director and chaplain of the ICNYU but he also is the Muslim chaplain for the NYPD. He works around the clock and is a celebrity in his own right. He recently maxed out on friends on Facebook.