Making News

May 2018 View more

A young journalist whose dream is to tell other people’s stories is creating news herself: Twenty-seven-year-old Tahera Rahman’s story went viral when she became the first American TV reporter to appear on screen wearing a hijab, the head covering Muslim women traditionally wear.

Rahman, who grew up in Naperville, now lives in Rock Island, Illinois, where she works for WHBF-TV Local 4. She’d previously worked as a producer for two years but hit the headlines when she moved in front of the camera in February. Since then she’s appeared on “Megyn Kelly TODAY,” been interviewed by news organizations around the world and received messages of support from as far away as Hong Kong.

“It’s crazy, I love it,” Rahman says. “I knew it was a landmark but I didn’t think it would get so big so quickly. I honestly didn’t imagine it being such a big story. A reporter said to me, ‘You are telling someone else’s story during the day and working on your own story at night.’ In the evening I read all the messages and tweets. I make sure I take a few minutes a day to appreciate it for what it means. I need to feel the humility of the moment.”

Rahman, who has four younger brothers, attended private Muslim schools growing up, then transferred to Naperville Central her sophomore year. She went on to study journalism at Loyola University, where she became editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, the Loyola Phoenix.

“My parents were good about exposing me to many kinds of people,” she says. “In Naperville, so many of my friends at Central were not Muslim.”

Rahman is very close to her family, crediting her mother Durdana for much of her success. “She has been the most instrumental in making my dream happen. I wasn’t sure I was good enough.”

Durdana, who works as a special needs teacher for Indian Prairie School District 204, is not surprised her daughter has done so well.

“I will never forget her third-grade teacher handing her an award for best writer,” she says. “She was the best writer [the teacher] had ever had and knew [Tahera] would be one when she grew up.”

Rahman believes the strength she has gained from her religious beliefs can only help her in career.

“I’ve always believed you can’t just pray for something to happen, and you can’t put in the work without asking for God’s help,” she says. “In the face of negativity, Muslims are taught to stay positive. Even if someone tries to hurt you, you must take the higher road.”

Rahman admits to receiving some negative comments, such as the television viewer who wrote to the station after her first appearance saying they had just lost a viewer. Her public social media accounts are also scrutinized, but she intentially leaves negative comments because she wants people to know about the prejudices Muslims can face in this country.

“It can be hard to dream big. It’s scary, especially if your goal is something that has never been done before, but that doesn’t mean you are not worthy,” Rahman says. “You might think you are not strong enough, but you are if you work hard and keep an open mind on how to get there. You can do it, nothing is stopping you.”

Achieving her dream of becoming the first TV reporter in the country to wear a hijab on screen means Rahman is now thinking about what’s next.

“Anything is possible, the whole world is open,” she says. “I’m not exactly sure what my next goal will be—I’m going to see what opportunities present themselves to me.”