The girl who talked back: Founding Editor at Muslimgirl.net Amani Al-Khatahtbeh
While an oppressive state of affairs is the truth for many Muslim women across the globe, telling every religious Muslim woman that her life is a tale of misery even if she doesn’t necessary feel that way is a battle we picked wrongly.
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh is one stifled voice that dared to resound and “talk back.”
Founding United States’ No. 1 online magazine for Muslim women as a teenager, Muslimgirl.net, she enabled Muslim women to present their side of the story, before they’re written off as caged animals. She encouraged women to exercise their freedoms the way they deem appropriate, rather than conforming to someone else’s idea of freedom.
The platform practices a brand of feminism that respects a person’s gender and their religion. It ecstatically celebrates the hijab and fiercely condemns women not being allowed to drive in the same breath. It is a brand of feminism with a woman’s “consent” as its prime religion. It persuades a woman to be happy on her own terms, not someone else’s. It realises, that empowerment isn’t a standard check-list, but a state of mind that may be different for different people.
Why does the world need a Muslimgirl.net? And why did a teenage girl decide to lead the charge?
Amani Alkhatahtbeh, a Muslim girl living in America, was only a teenager in school when she was frustrated with the way Muslim women were being misrepresented in the media, and eager to do something to help reclaim the narrative, when she launched MuslimGirl.net from her bedroom.
“It’s no doubt that Muslim women are facing a lot of adversity and oppression around the world. The thing is that Western media only amplifies narratives that serve a specific depiction of Muslim women to the public at large: docile, oppressed, and uneducated.”
We need MuslimGirl.net because it serves as our collective platform and public resource for Muslim women’s voices on contemporary issues. And that voice is bold, fearless, and unapologetic about who we are. Through the collective experience of our millennial generation, we want to make it impossible for the media to have conversations about Muslim women without including Muslim women. Sounds pretty obvious, right?
Short-sighted literature available on Islam
Besides, even most Muslim websites themselves were focused on Islamic jurisprudence or catered to an older audience. “Muslim girls hovered in a void between conservatives discussing haram vs. halal and Islamophobes waiting to school us on our own religion.”
MuslimGirl.net came at a pivotal moment to fill the void and was immediately met with excitement and interest among a younger demographic.
“Our audience rapidly grew, and soon, at 17 years old, I found myself managing a staff of Muslim women writers from almost every continent.”
Tryst with the average misogynist, and then the religious fundamentalists
Misogynists and religious fundamentalists were always working to silence them. “Funny how the two parties are often bonded over their attitude towards women, huh? You don’t need to look beyond the comments on our articles to get an idea of the ideological roadblocks we’re up against every single day. They exist both inside and outside of the Muslim community, and we will continue to unapologetically push back against them everyday wherever they exist.”
Stories of change, stories of revolution:
So, in real terms, has Muslimgirl.net successfully dispelled some stereotypes, or changed perceptions? “We’re always receiving messages from readers telling us how our content — our presence — has impacted the way they view things. They are a testament not just to our growing visibility and power to move people, but also the interest of the public in hearing what we have to say. MuslimGirl.net at its core is a mentorship, so I personally feel the most pride and joy when we’re able to help uplift our young women to actualize their passions.”
Just this week alone, one of our writers snagged a coveted internship at a major website, and one of our interns was selected for a highly competitive grant from her university. These are the stories that I get up for every morning.
Writing on what are considered to be male bastions
Read the editor’s articles and you’ll see how she has made political writing and satire her turf –both
considered male strongholds. Has she ever sensed scepticism towards her work then, or outright received criticism and hate-speech?“Everyday!” she interjects. “The majority of criticism we receive comes from non-Muslim men and women alike who think that their Facebook-fuelled opinions of Islam are more legitimate than our lived experiences as Muslim women. But that’s why we do the work that we do, and that’s why we’re taking up this space. There’s always going to be pushback when you challenge the beliefs that people have been fed all their lives about an entire group of people.”
“It’s an uphill battle. We’re constantly proving to the industry why our voices are important and why they matter. We get told that our voices are “not a good fit” from religious conservative forums. But I think that a lot of these spaces are waking up and recognizing that times are changing and they’ll quickly become outdated and irrelevant if they continue to neglect minority voices.”
Media: the Protector or the Offender?
We like to think of the media as an equalizer of talents, being blind to gender and religion. Does that tally with the real picture, though?
“Definitely not. Women — especially women of colour — are underrepresented, underpaid, and undervalued in the media industry. When they do appear in the media, they’re often typecast, tokenized, or sexualized for viewer ratings, like we see with the way FOX flaunts around Megyn Kelly.”
Why the digital Revolution is far from liberating women
The digital space in particular is a microcosm of society at large. Women bloggers and female Internet personalities are regularly targeted, subjected to sexual harassment, and even threatened with physical violence when they hit on gender issues.
“I think one of the biggest examples of that has been Gamergate, the harassment campaign that targeted Anita Sarkeesian for her incredible work exposing misogyny in the video game industry. Social media allows everyone to have a platform at their fingertips, but it doesn’t protect women from the latent sexism they must endure in all other facets of society,” she says.
Keeping her Faith
Amani Alkhatahtbeh is an entrepreneur, a sought after journalist, an opinion leader and a role model.
“I’m empowered by my religion to amplify my voice and the voices of other Muslim women in order to serve a prominent role in our society.”
“One of my favourite verses from the Qur’an roughly translates to, ‘They plan, and God, too, plans, and God is the best of planners.’ With all the ups and downs of our underdog story, I never allow myself to doubt for a second that everything happens for a reason. There’s a purpose for this. I know that what we’re witnessing right now with MuslimGirl.net is a legendary story starting to unfold.”