Indian journalist Syed Nazakat has received the Christiane Amanpour Award for Religion Reporting for his story in The Week magazine about how Saudi Arabian officials and clerics are using the Koran and other religious texts to rehabilitate Al Qaeda fighters. The International Center for Journalists gives the award in honor of Amanpour, the 2011 winner of its Founders Award for Excellence in Journalism and a model for enlightening coverage of divisive religion issues.
For the story “Reborn in Riyadh,” Nazakat traveled to four Saudi cities. He gained rare access to the camps where religious scholars work with thousands of former fighters to instill the message that terrorism is counter to the Prophet Mohammad’s teachings. He interviewed Saudi officials, clerics and former Al Qaeda recruits.
“I am delighted that Syez Nazakat has won this award for 'Reborn in Riyadh,’ “ said Amanpour, chief international correspondent for CNN, host of CNN Intenational’s interview program “Amanpour” and global affairs anchor of ABC News. “Today and ever since 9/11, religion and the way it is twisted to justify all manner of evil, is under the microscope more than at any other time. This is an area of our global culture and politics that must be thoroughly investigated, in the hope that by shedding light we can seek conflict resolution and ultimately find pragmatic and peaceful solutions.”
Nazakat’s story was chosen by a distinguished panel of judges from more than 50 entries from around the world.
“Making use of unusual access in a closed society, this account sheds light on a little known program to turn terrorists away from violence,“ said judge Lou Boccardi, former president and CEO of the Associated Press. “This insightful story traces the blending of culture, religion, and real-world issues of terrorism in an effort to bring jihadists into peaceful society. Theology and politics meet in this rehabilitation program, which the Saudi government says has rehabilitated more than 3,500 al Qaeda operatives.”
Other judges were Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, a novelist and journalist; Susan Hogan, editorial writer for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune; Kristine Pommert, freelance journalist and broadcast trainer for the BBC and others; and Barney Zwartz, writer of The Religion Write blog for The Age in Australia.
Based in New Delhi, Nazakat is special correspondent at The Week. He started his career in journalism in 2001 from his home town in Indian-administered Kashmir in 2001. Since then he has reported from 17 countries and has covered diverse issues from armed conflicts to politics to security and development. He has written major stories on the Asia Pacific region including the Muslim insurgency in Kashmir, the India-Pakistan border tension, political unrest in Nepal, development issues in Laos and Cambodia and the war in Afghanistan. He has also reported on the plight of religious minorities in India and issues related to the Muslim world.
Nazakat will receive a $1,500 award at a July conference on religion reporting at ICFJ’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. That conference, sponsored by the Henry Luce Foundation, will pair journalists, (including Nazakat) from the United States and abroad to work jointly on cross-border religion stories.