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Amani Al-Khatahtbeh at Antidote Festival

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh:
Faith and other f-words

It's A Long Story

Sydney Opera House

Growing up in New Jersey Amani Al-Khatahtbeh was a pretty normal kid. And then 9/11 happened, and life changed forever. She spent her teenage years navigating growing racism and Islamophobia in America, and at the age of 17 she founded a blog called Muslim Girl. The site gave young Muslim women a platform to discuss all of the things—periods to politics. And over the years, it transformed from a part time passion project to a full time social movement, logging millions of hits every year.

That was kind of the precursor to this whole new journey of navigating my identity, who I was, and my relationship to the society around me.”

“Your people throw rocks at tanks.”

"In 2001, that was the first time that I was called a racial slur. And it was actually in my fourth grade classroom by one of my fellow fourth grade classmates. I was sitting in our classroom, and all of a sudden one of my students said to me, ‘your people throw rocks at tanks,’ and then just like all of the classmates that were around me just erupted into laughter.

"Immediately, of course, my face turned red and I felt humiliated, and I ran home after school to my father, and I was telling him, ‘dad, my friends said at school that my people throw rocks at tanks.’ That was really the moment that I became painfully aware of the fact that I belonged to a people, and that that was something that I somehow should feel ashamed about. And then my dad looked at me, and he felt sad for me, so he just smiled and he said, 'that's something you should be proud of.'

"'Your people throw rocks at tanks.' That was kind of the precursor to this whole new journey of navigating my identity, who I was, and my relationship to the society around me."

Yassmin Abdel-Magied and Amani Al-Khatahtbeh at Antidote 2017
Yassmin Abdel-Magied & Amani Al-Khatahtbeh at Antidote 2017

Moving to Jordan

"It was just noise and action everywhere, you know? Like I was just greeted by family, falafel and shawarma on the streets, the hustle and bustle of the city life, beautiful Arabic music ... it was my first impression of the Middle East, having grown up through an onslaught of media misrepresentation about Islam and the Muslim world. And what I had encountered was such hospitality, such a generous and kind people, and really was just welcomed with open arms.

"Being in Jordan and being just confronted face-to-face with the truth of what my religion really stood for, I think that was revolutionary for me, you know? It was at that point when I had visited Jordan when I finally was able to learn about what my religion stands for ... and it made it so clear to me that this was a religion and identity that Islamophobia and our society was really trying to pull me away from and cause me to really denounce for my entire life.

"And that was the point when I decided to start wearing a headscarf. For me, putting on the headscarf was my reclamation of my identity. It was saying, 'I'm proud to be a part of this people, and I will identify as these people, and this will be my public defiance in the face of Islamophobia when I head back home to America'."

“For me, putting on the headscarf was my reclamation of my identity.”

"Early on it was basically me and my friends from the mosque in my hometown. And we were just writing about experiences as American high school girls that were Muslim. And I think that like one of the first articles that we published was actually to us at that time super taboo. It was about how to worship when you get your period, like while you're menstruating. And for us at the time, it was like, ‘oh my gosh, I can't believe we're talking about this publicly’. It was something only whispered about amongst girlfriends and things like that, to the extent where one of the writers actually said, 'please don't publish my name with this'. But now those types of conversations are so normal to be had out in the open. And we go so far beyond those types of topics now. 

"The whole point was that we wanted to have those conversations that we have amongst our girlfriends in a way that really was out in the open and that's able to build a community and bring together this generation of Muslim girls that were kind of bonded by this post-9/11 experience."

The clique

"The Muslim Girl clique is what we refer to all of the women that make up our team, from collegiate chapter presidents to writers to bloggers to editors, we call ourselves the Muslim Girl clique, and the way that that came about is because we were always the girls that felt like we didn't belong, right? And really just like the word clique kind of espouses that type of feeling.

"Our clique right now is made up of seven editors and over 70 women from around the world, a writer's network of girls that are just eager to really use the written word to put their voices out there and elevate their narrative.

"One story that I heard from one of our writers really just hit the nail on the head for me ... When she joined the team, she was one of our youngest writers. She was an outgoing high school senior, and she was about to enter college, and she said that in one of her first days in her lecture class, she heard the professor talking about Islam in a way that was extremely offensive, extremely inaccurate, and she hesitated for a second, you know, she got really anxious, but she found the courage to raise her hand and correct the professor in front of her entire class of young freshman malleable minds. And she said that the moment that she raised her hand to correct him, it was because she knew that she had a Muslim Girl army behind her. And I think that's really the whole beauty behind it is that it's self-esteem building, it's reminding us that we're not alone in this".

“... it's reminding us that we're not alone in this.”

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Meet the founder of MuslimGirl

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