Junaid Muhammad, an award-winning international journalist in Pakistan, is equally passionate about running and supporting South Asian populations both here and abroad. He is weaving both of these activities together by running in the Boston Marathon on April 17 to support the South Asian Circle of Hopkinton.
In a Zoom interview from Karachi, Pakistan, Muhammad spoke about his journalism career, his human rights advocacy and his quest to connect South Asian communities throughout the globe by running on their behalf.
A seasoned television reporter and anchor for two decades, Muhammad has covered some of the most important events in recent history both in Pakistan and internationally for Geo Television Network Pakistan.
“It’s a Pakistani news channel, but it has a big reach and recognition in the South Asian communities of the United States, the UK and Europe,” he explained. “A lot of Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi people watch news in their own language.”
South Asia is comprised of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Afghanistan.
From national disasters and political upheavals in Pakistan to reporting on the 2016 U.S. presidential election in several American cities and the general election in the United Kingdom in 2017, his coverage has spanned politics, education, current events and sports.
Among his accolades, in 2014, he won the Best Presenter award at the Pakistan Media Awards. He also has been a passionate supporter of women’s rights and education in Pakistan. In addition, he assisted UNESCO with a project illustrating the devastating impacts the 2005 earthquake in northern Pakistan had on children’s education.
“I have covered almost every aspect of life in the past 10 years, and it’s been quite an exciting journey so far,” he said. “I’ve been to several events on the spots of crisis. I have also worked with a lot of people from the United States.”
Muhammad said he was an athlete in school, playing cricket and badminton.
“Cricket is one of the craziest things in India and Pakistan,” he said. “I was surprised to hear of the cricket thing being popular in Massachusetts as well.”
When he began his career, he began to walk and run with friends as a hobby. After a few years, running and going to the gym became a part of his lifestyle.
“The quest and the passion for running began with this idea to take time out and dedicating time for exercising,” he explained. “My very serious running began about five years ago in Karachi, and that was through some of my friends at the gym.”
Muhammad ran and finished his first marathon in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2021. In the last couple of years, Junaid has run over 50 half-marathons in Pakistan, Albania, the United Kingdom and the United States as well as three full marathons. He currently trains with the Seaview Runners Club in Karachi.
“In the news industry here, there are not many people who are passionate about marathons,” he said. “I’ve made it a goal to run all six [Abbott World Marathon Majors]. You don’t see many South Asian people represented in marathons, or in sports in general.”
He decided to run the Boston Marathon after speaking with Donald Blome, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan.
Said Muhammad: “He called it the grandmother of the marathons.”
He began reaching out to members of the Pakistani community in Massachusetts, which eventually led him to the fundraiser for SACH (gofund.me/904d4837).
“I thought it made perfect sense that a South Asian community in the heart of Massachusetts at the start of the Boston Marathon would have a runner from one of the South Asian countries to run for them and do something good for the community,” Muhammad said.
He described the idea of him running in the Boston Marathon as “like a fairy tale in Pakistan.”
Said Muhammad: “This is probably the greatest running event in the history of mankind.”
But Muhammad’s marathon run has a more concrete goal, he stressed.
“I think the broader message of this collaboration with SACH is it is possible to make something like this more accessible to South Asians,” Muhammad added. “I hope this will open the gates for more people from the South Asian region that they should be coming to these events and bringing their talent, bringing their passion.”
A barrier for South Asian athletes is going through the arduous process of obtaining visas, making travel plans, qualifying for a marathon and then connecting with a charity to support.
“It’s about communities coming together,” he said. “My participation shows that it is so possible to achieve everything that seems impossible.”
Running the Boston Marathon is just one step in Muhammad’s mission to connect South Asian communities around the world through sports. He intends to run all six Abbott World Marathon Majors and support South Asian nonprofit groups like SACH in the host cities: Boston, New York, Chicago, London, Berlin and Tokyo.
Training is uniquely challenging for Muhammad because it takes place during Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month. It is a month of fasting, prayer, charity and reflection. He had observed Ramadan outside Pakistan once before in 2017, when he was covering the general election in the U.K. He said that the time difference and the fact that it was summer there made his fasting periods as long as 19 hours a day.
“It will be challenging, but I aim to do the fasting and continuing my training,” he said.
Muhammad will travel more than 7,600 miles to visit Boston, a city he enjoyed in 2021.
“I love being in Boston,” he said. “I love the food. I love the people.”
On April 13, SACH will host a meet and greet to welcome Muhammad to Hopkinton at the Hopkinton Public Library beginning at 6 p.m.
“It’s a very small, beautiful town with so many amazing people,” Muhammad said of Hopkinton. “Honestly, I can’t wait to travel there and experience everything myself.”
Muhammad thanked the Hopkinton Select Board, particularly members Shahidul Mannan and Irfan Nasrullah, “and this amazing community in Massachusetts” for their support. He also expressed appreciation to SACH and its president, Ruta Upalekar.
“Their energy is very positive, and their thought process is very inclusive,” he said.
“I might be the one running,” Muhammad continued, “but it would not be possible without all the support I’ve received from people in Pakistan, Hopkinton and Boston.”
A future goal, Muhammad said, would be to bring a team of runners from South Asia to run in the Boston Marathon with members of SACH.
Right now, he only has one fear about the upcoming marathon.
“I am hoping that Heartbreak Hill won’t actually break my heart,” he said with a laugh.
“I would encourage all South Asian Americans — and everyone — to gather on both sides of Heartbreak Hill to support me and support SACH,” he added. “Nothing would be more amazing than that.”