When John Canalis, editor of Los Angeles Times Community News in Orange County, told me that a column about my life as a Muslim American would make a good read and help people dispel misconceptions about Muslims and Islam, I thought, "Me? No way."
When I was 9 years old and still living in Cairo, I decided I wanted to be a reporter. My decision was influenced by my mother, Shadia, who didn't finish high school but read the newspaper daily. It was also influenced by my Uncle Beautiful, who would watch nothing but news on television and sit in our living room every Friday with my mom and other uncles, talking about the issues of the day.
That, along with my innate sense of curiosity, and the belief that journalism is an honorable cause of which the Prophet Muhammad would approve, convinced me that I should live my life informing people, holding politicians and powerful people accountable (some of them know exactly what I mean), and giving a voice to those who can't be heard.
It wasn't easy becoming a reporter, especially when I moved to the United States with no English skills 14 years ago, but becoming one has been my pride and joy.
So when John suggested the column, I thought, "I'm an objective, straightforward reporter at heart."
Besides, I always felt that columnists had to spend most of their lives working hard as reporters before stepping into the world of column-writing.
Maybe I would do that someday, but now wasn't the time, I thought.
Almost a year after John's initial mention of the column, I went to his office asking for a challenge. He brought up the column idea again and told me to think about it.
It was a Friday when we talked, and when Monday had arrived, I knew I had to write "Unveiled."
What was I thinking, brushing off the opportunity to show Americans that we Muslims are Americans too, and that we are just like everyone else? We have families, jobs and challenges. We struggle, dream, succeed and fail. And, oh, if you're Christian or Jewish, then we worship the same God, too.
It'll be a year in December since I started writing Unveiled, and I would be a liar if I said that it hasn't been the most wonderful time of my life.
I wasn't sure I could pull it off at first, but I have grown with it and have become more versed in — and much more connected to — my religion through writing about it.
John is a visionary. He saw this and believed in me even before I believed it myself. And that's the definition of a great editor. (I'm not kissing up. I don't do that.)
But being a reporter has been my first and foremost priority, and I still have a long reporting career ahead of me. If I work really hard at it, I know I will reach my goals.
And so when the Orange County Register offered me a reporting job in South County, I was thrilled, but torn.
What would become of the column, which I love and truly believe in? Besides, there's still so much to tell you. I haven't even had the chance to tell you about my adventures at South Coast Plaza, which is the true happiest place on Earth, or why I changed my last name to my mom's first name, or that according to the Koran, it wasn't really Eve's fault that we're on Earth.
I decided I can still do both. I can work hard as a reporter, and, by the time you read this, I'll be working at the Register. I can write my column too, maybe not as often, for my blog, which you can find and bookmark at http://www.unveiledmuslimgirl.blogspot.com.
But if you choose not to follow my columns or my blog, I hope that my writing for the last year has helped you learn a little bit about the world of Muslims and Islam, and I hope it has spread tolerance and built bridges of common understanding and interfaith.
And I ask that when you hear the words "Muslim" or "Islam," you not let the first thing that comes to your mind be war, terrorism, anger, hate or oppressed women. But I ask that you remember me.
Remember that I'm your fellow American, that I do my best to lead an honest and straightforward life, that I struggle and have struggled in life, that I work hard, that I dream, love, laugh and cry, and that I, too, believe in God.
And remember that I'm not alone in this. Each and every Muslim I know is very much like me.
MONA SHADIA is a reporter for Times Community News. An Egyptian American, she was born and raised in Cairo and now lives in Orange County. Her column includes various questions and issues facing Muslims in America. Follow her on Twitter @MonaShadia.