Obituary: Azizah Magazine Publisher Tayyibah Taylor
By Ray Hanania
Tayyibah Taylor was a different kind of Muslim. She was a woman who shattered the stereotypes against women in the media and broke the restrictions oftentimes imposed on Muslim women.
Although she was not Arab, she was an influential role model for Arabs and non-Arabs alike.
I met Tayyibah in 2002 when she joined the National American Arab Journalism Association. I and other Arab journalists launched NAAJA in 1999 with the first-ever journalism conference held in Chicago to build a network on the principle that the mainstream American News Media was biased and needed more diversity, not just to include more Arabs and Muslims in their newsrooms, but also to push for justice on issues related to Arabs and Muslims. At that time, the conference attracted coverage from a local Chicago TV station, CLTV and Arab journalist and reporter Mike Mansour. Weeks later, Mansour was fired for insisting on covering the first-ever Arab Journalism gathering and we rallied to fight for his rights and his professional career.
NAAJA struggled to fight for the rights of American Arabs and Muslims in society and in the news media profession. Tayyibah was one of those warriors for journalism justice.
At the 2002 conference, NAAJA honored Azizah Magazine and Tayyibah Taylor at the opening of the three-day conference at the Chicago Radisson O’Hare Hotel with a special reception and recognition on Friday night. (Read the story from the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.)
There were fewer than 150 American Arabs working in the media, with the majority working at 100 newspapers and magazines serving Arabs and Muslims. Tayyibah was one of the more successful ones, an American Muslim woman of color (she was born in Trinidad) with a powerful message fighting for justice and demanding fairness for everyone.
Tayyibah and I often spoke about the challenges facing Arabs. She often said that the Muslim community was stronger because it was larger and included not only Arabs but many non-Arabs, too, making it far more effective in helping to challenge the unfair stereotypes that are imposed by American society against Americans of Arab heritage.
Sadly, most Americans don’t even understand the fundamental differences between Muslims and Arabs, or that there are even Christian Arabs, like myself, something Tayyibah said was “a blessing from Allah” in our world.
She said that she recognized the difficult road Arabs face in America, and we discussed how divided Arabs are in this country often fighting with each other over Middle East political issues that are oftentimes impossible to change from our diaspora lives more than 9,000 miles away. And she believed that Arabs, and Muslims, who live in America need to fight for their rights here in America “as Americans.”
Tayyibah Taylor did just that for women, and for Muslims, and even on behalf of Arabs who oftentimes have been unable to fight for themselves. She was a true champion of justice, someone who placed principle above politics, partisanship and even anger or emotion.
While many Muslim organizations refused to support NAAJA because I was Christian Arab and it was considered a “secular” organization, Tayyibah brought her staff to the conference and was proud to be a part of NAAJA, which folded in 2012 after 14 years of battling inside and outside the community.
She was a great inspiration to me and to the ideal that Muslims and Arabs, Christian and Muslim, could work together for the same goals and as equals.
Tayyibah Taylor died on Sept. 4, 2014 of cancer. She was born in 1954 and was only 60 years old.
She achieved much in her life and was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims int he World by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center, a Think Tank based in Jordan.
Here is her bio from Azizah Magazine:
As the founding editor-in-chief and publisher of Azizah Magazine, Tayyibah Taylor has realized her vision to provide a vehicle for the voice of Muslim American women. She guides the editorial tenor of the magazine and was thrilled when Azizah won a 2010 Folio Eddie Award and a 2009 New America Media Award.
Ms. Taylor travels worldwide representing Azizah and presenting lectures on Islam and Muslim women at national and international conferences. She has worked on several interfaith initiatives and in Fall 2011, she travelled to Malta, Tajikistan and Afghanistan to speak about women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship.
Born on the island of Trinidad, Ms. Taylor grew up in Toronto, Canada and lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for several years. Ms. Taylor has been named as one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World by the Middle Eastern think tank The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies.