She's been dubbed a "media titan", her first book has been selected as an Editor's Pick by the New York Times and she's become one of the most prominent voices standing up for Muslim women in the U.S.
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh founded MuslimGirl.com with friends from her mosque when she was just 17 years old back in 2009. Now, just a few years later, that $7 investment in a domain name has propelled her onto the national stage as a powerful voice against Islamophobia and the xenophobic policies of the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.
We talked with Amani about her activism, how Jordanian youth inspire her and why she has hope that the U.S. is finally waking up to the struggles of Muslims and other minorities.
On the success of Muslim Girl and becoming a "media titan"
I don’t think we ever thought about Muslim Girl’s future in terms of the attention it would receive, but the impact it would have. When I asked one of my friends from high school who was there from Muslim Girl’s early beginning, she said she always imagined it leading to Muslim women like us being the talking heads on the news, instead of having people who looked nothing like us speaking for us.
And here we are. Some moments feel like a movie, but mostly it feels like only the start of a very long fight ahead.
On being an Arab Muslim woman in the U.S. under Trump
I insist on feeling hopeful. September 11 happened when I was a child, and since then I haven’t seen this much support for Muslim Americans in my entire life.
I think this moment is prompting people to learn, act, and empathize. I hope that it’s not short-lived or a passing trend and actually evolves into a seismic shift for us as a society.
How are things now vs. after Sept. 11?
Today’s climate definitely feels reminiscent of the hostile one in which I grew up, which is sad because as a society we want to always be moving forward and progressing. I watched Muslim American organizations and coalitions for the greater part of the last two decades pour their already scarce resources into trying to convince the American public that we’re people, too.
It’s really disheartening to watch a single chaotic election throw out all of that hard work and sacrifice. However, unlike the times I grew up in, my generation has been actively responding by building institutions and resources like MuslimGirl.com so it can be a little easier this time around.
On misconceptions of Muslims in the West
Islam gets blamed for social issues that take form in many societies around the world, including in the West. When Muslims are guilty of sexism or homophobia, the media connects it to our religion rather than the individuals.
It’s a double standard that only applies to us these days. We only talk about religion if the perpetrator is Muslim, and we only talk about Muslims when it’s in a negative light. That’s enough to skew anyone’s perception of a people and dehumanize them into a monolith.
How can others make an impact?
Just start! I always tell people that I launched Muslim Girl from my bedroom with a $7 domain name registration and our team had no resources but the keyboards at their fingertips.
In today’s world of democratized technology, we have so many opportunities available to us to build connections, reach people, and empower a positive message amid all the noise. It’s not just an opportunity, but our responsibility to use the privileges available to us to their fullest extent for the greater good.
Who is Amani outside of the spotlight?
A short while ago, somebody asked me what my hobbies were, and I realized I didn’t have any because Muslim Girl has become my entire life! So, I decided to find a creative outlet, and started shooting and editing videos for fun.
I have a YouTube channel called Amani, where I upload stories or videos with my friends and vlog about my life while traveling and running MuslimGirl.com out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I was just selected as a YouTube Creators for Change fellow in partnership with VICE for my channel’s anti-hate message.
On her experience in the Middle East
I’ve been lucky to visit a number of societies in the Arab world, but of course my experience in the region can’t compare to that of living in the United States. However, my relationship with the Middle East has had a catalytic impact on shaping and opening my world views.
My first trip to Jordan when I was 13 years old opened my eyes to the power of media in creating a completely distorted view of reality overseas, that prompted my idea to start Muslim Girl.
I also learned so much during my time in college when I conducted independent research in Jordan about the youth movement during the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring started when I began my freshman year at Rutgers University, and it definitely inspired me about the future of my revolutionary generation.
Why is Muslim Girl important?
If there’s one thing our movement proves, it’s that nobody is ever voiceless – just silenced.
Muslim Girl shows the magic of what can happen when underrepresented narratives are passed the mic and young people have the courage to be authentically who they are in the face of adversity. It’s the stories that remind us of our shared humanity and we should look for every opportunity to elevate those different from our own.