Deena Khalil: IslamOnline was more than a job

Deena Khalil: IslamOnline was more than a job

I’ve only been working here for 4 months, but I’ve grown so attached to this place. I’m trying to fathom what it means to work somewhere for 5, 7, and some even 10 years only to find out that over the course of 24 hours that in a couple of weeks it will be gone. This is the state of so many of those working at IslamOnline, the most well-known Islamic website in English.

This week started off just like any other; on Sunday we came to work, we had meetings, we decided on the events we would be covering that week – Al-Aqsa, of course, was at the top of the list. Little did we know that by Monday we would all be out of jobs, and the project we were all so passionate about would be hijacked by people whose agendas we do not know.

We had been hearing rumors for over a month about new management that had recently joined the Al-Balagh organization in Qatar, the entity through which IslamOnline receives its funding, and were planning on making some “changes.”

Over the course of the past several weeks rumors abounded. We heard that for financial reasons the company would be restructured and that would result in mass layoffs. We heard that the new management was unhappy that the website was delving into issues like health, homosexuality, art and youth, and wanted the content to revolve totally around Islam. The woman that cleans the bathroom on my floor went to ask for a loan and was told she might not even get paid that month. They started cutting back on “luxury expenses” like milk and toilet paper. We heard they were Wahabis and were developing a new editorial policy that would go against IslamOnline’s current editorial policies. The current editorial policy can be summarized in the following statement:

Islam is a way of life and seeps into every aspect of a Muslim’s life, and thus, the site’s content should reflect that

We, the editors of and all its subsidiary websites, hold strong to the Qur’anic verse that says “Thus we have created you a community of the middle way” (Al-Baqarah 2:143). We are passionate about Islam, and we are passionate about the Islamic principle of moderation in all things. We are not here just because this is our job, we are here because we believe in this message, and we love this message, and we want to contribute to its being heard.

I can safely say that the overwhelming majority of IoL workers, from managers to editors to journalists to everyone else, has lived every minute in this company based on this statement. IoL is not a normal company. This place has so much heart, it really did feel like one big family.

After we began protesting on Monday, the first demand on the list was that none of us will leave until every single person gets there financial rights, and those whose salaries are less than 1000 EGP must get the equivalent of an entire year’s salary. There are workers that come and clean the building at night after we leave, people we’ve never seen, but we’ve been told they have no formal documents in the company. We are trying to ensure that these people also get compensation for being let go.

There were people that had been working here since the website started over 10 years ago. There are couples that met, got married, and had children while both worked here; and their children would spend the day in the daycare room. I can only imagine what those couples are going through now, after finding out that they are both about to lose their jobs.

We sent letter after letter to Qatar, asking them for more information, telling them what we’ve been hearing and asking them to show us the respect we deserve by informing us what’s going on. We sent a letter to Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi that contained over 250 signatures from IoL workers, asking for the facts.

To make a long story short, a series of events followed that led us to Monday morning. It started off as a normal day, it’s time to pray the dhuhr prayer so we go to pray, and when we come back, we see that some workers have gathered in the entrance of the building to strike in protest against something we are not yet aware of. Word spread and we found out that Qatar had sent a committee currently on the top floor conducting some kind of business, the nature of this business differed depending on who you asked. The more information we gained about the committee, the more we realized how important it was for us to continue the strike. The committee made mishap after mishap, insulting major figures in the company, attempting to fire one of the strike instigators, and generally coming off as liars with no integrity. Towards the end of the workday, we finally learned what Qatar had known for months but refused to tell us: The contract between Al-Balagh organization and the other organization that own the building we were working in ends March 31st, and would not be renewed. Instead, all IoL operations would be transferred to Qatar, and all current employees would be let go.

During the sit-in, one girl stood up and told everyone that a gross violation is happening now in Al-Aqsa, and while IslamOnline would usually be a top source for Muslims to get coverage of this event, instead we’re busy with this committee from Qatar and we’re not even allowed access to the site. We should not forget that.

We are currently protesting for several reasons:

1. We want the financial rights of every single person in the company

2. We want the world to know that these editors and journalists and workers you see striking are the true voice of moderation. Without them, who knows what IslamOnline will be like, we are all praying that the voice of moderation is preserved. But if it is not, we want everyone to know that these are not the same people that have been running IoL for the past 10 years.

3. We are protesting against 10 years of effort and talent and experience that might quite possibly all go to waste in the near future.

4. We are protesting for the fact that they blocked our access to the server and have rendered us unable to cover what’s going on in Al-Aqsa.

We need the prayers and support of everyone that we can stand up again on our feet, without the help of Al-Balagh, and continue to voice the Islam of moderation we are so passionate about.

**Deena Khalil is a Bikya Masr blogumnist and work(ed) at Islam Online.