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Snapping back 
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh

The fierce, young American letting Muslim girls talk back.

Sophie Mackenzie
Sydney Opera House

Each week, we'll be deconstructing the people and the movements that made them as part of Antidote, the Opera House's newest festival of ideas, art & action.
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“When all the public eye sees are headscarves instead of individual stories, our community is collectively tokenized,” the 24-year-old American author Amani Al-Khatahtbeh wrote. While growing up in New Jersey, Amani toyed with whether to wear a headscarf – in 2005 her family relocated to Jordan during the rise of post-9/11 Islamophobia.

American at heart, her family returned – but in 2007, still feeling a deep sense of isolation, Amani founded the online magazine MuslimGirl. It created an online community that allowed Muslim girls to feel recognised. Following its success, in 2016 she published her memoir Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age Story.

Amani on Islamic feminism:
“I started to see the bigger picture of things: Islam was not relegated to the tiny, sometimes frustrating and seemingly arbitrary details of practice, but rather entered the larger picture of spirituality and worship that contextualized my womanhood. In order to be able to derive these logical conclusions about my religion, I had to go back to the basics and understand the very fundamental principles upon which it was founded: justice, social equality, racial equality, financial equality and, possibly most important of all, gender equality. Thus began my lifelong love affair with Islamic feminism.”

On headscarves:
“In all cases, any decision to intervene in how a woman dresses, whether to take it off or put it on, is just the same assertion of public control over a woman’s body.”

On Islamophobia:
“Enough is enough. The cycle needs to stop. In this case, it’s less of a cycle and more of an uphill battle in which we toil. We’re climbing toward the light with exceptional weight on our backs"

On Trump:
“Trump discovered that milking anti-Muslim sentiment, with complete disregard to the dangers it poses to our very lives, keeps him in the spotlight and gets him more airline…. ‘Our lives are under threat right now’ – ironically not from ISIS extremism or the brown men that our society is raising pitch forks against, but from our own Western society itself.”

On social media:
“Unfortunately there are no trigger warnings for ‘vilifying you for your religion,’ ‘subjugation and dehumanization,’ or ‘delegitimizing your existence.’”

On feminism:
“In a society that has been increasingly telling us to shut up, we choose to stand together and talk back even louder.”

On empathy:
"People understand through empathy that hateful rhetoric targeting Muslims or other minorities -- that that rhetoric doesn't happen in a vacuum. It has real life-and-death consequences in our daily lives, and I think that people can only really understand it if they do access that empathy. That's what brings me make to the stories. .. It's those human experiences that we all share that really bring us together."

On the future:
“The first hijabi ‘whatever’ won't eliminate Islamophobia just as the first black president hasn't eliminated racism, though both are signifiers of some type of progress — symbols of ascending beyond adversity.”

Hear Amani on Sunday 3 September at Antidote, the Opera House's new festival of ideas, art & action.

“Our lives are under threat right now' ... ironically not from ISIS extremism, but from our own Western society itself.”

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