Amani al-Khatahtbeh and the Muslim-American Experience
While feminism represents a withstanding effort to achieve equality between the sexes, the term differs across cultural contexts. Although feminism is a concept applicable to women around the globe, it’s often mistaken as a Western construct. Western feminists idealize their own form of feminism — one that lacks consideration for women from cultural backgrounds outside of their own.
Because Islamic women are often disregarded in this close-minded Western feminism, some Muslim feminists have discovered their own methods to promote gender equality within societal norms.
Following the Islamophobia that pervaded mainstream culture after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Muslims were seen differently in American society. The rights of Muslims diminished tremendously and innocent people were abused and manipulated in a multitude of ways.
In the first chapter of his book, Introducing Islam, William Shepard, an associate professor of Religious Studies at the University of Canterbury, addresses the shift in dynamic between Americans after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. He explains that a great deal of post-9/11 Islamophobia was spawned from negative media coverage of Islamic peoples in America, not strictly Muslims.
This generated a stigma which linked Muslims to violence and other acts of terror. Shepard continues to discuss how Christians specifically ignore parts of their religion which are violent in order to project negative tropes onto Muslim minorities. He writes, “Christian apologists may contrast Christ’s teachings of love … with violence of Muslim conquest. … downplaying violent Christian history.” Shepard indicates that the violence within The Bible often goes unaddressed, while violence in The Qur’an are spotlighted in American society to follow this narrative.
This Islamophobia persisted beyond the terrorist attacks. In 2010, Pastor Terry Jones vowed to burn a copy of The Qur’an on the anniversary of 9/11. The same year, anti-Sharia movements were established across the United States. Hate crimes directed toward Muslim-Americans increased.
In this unsettling time for most Muslims, one Muslim-American feminist emerged a heroine: Amani al-Khatahtbeh.
In 2007, seventeen-year-old al-Khatahtbeh was searching for an outlet for the Islamophobia she experienced firsthand. She soon created a blog, MuslimGirl.com, to form connections with other Muslims women. In time, MuslimGirl.com developed into an online magazine for Muslim women in America which publishes content daily.
In a 2016 interview with The Guardian, Al-Khatahtbeh said her commitment to MuslimGirl began as a hobby and shifted to a movement. She said, “It’s turned into a social movement, one that young women – many of whom are the same age I was when I started it and some of whom don’t even identify as Muslim – are cultivating into something unique to themselves individually.” MuslimGirl is now the most-read platform for Muslim women’s voices in the country. It has over one million unique readers and a staff of over 50.
However, Islamophobia in America has not diminished. In fact, the New York Times released an article in late 2016 explaining that Islamophobic hate crimes in America increased 78 percent in 2015. Some scholars argue that this is a response to President Donald Trump’s aggressive and derogatory attacks against Muslim-Americans.
While al-Khatahtbeh’s creation of Muslim Girl is not resolving Islamophobia directly, it’s integrating a Muslim’s narrative into Western media. Muslim Girl stands alongside other female-oriented magazines in America, such as Teen Vogue, Seventeen and Cosmopolitan. It is emerging at the forefront of Muslim women’s issues in mainstream coverage. Al-Khatahtbeh is redefining feminism by spreading the Muslim-American experience. By acknowledging her role as a Muslim-American in the Trump era, she’s explaining the difficulties of Muslim-Americans that some Americans don’t consider. The magazine has spotlighted a minority group that often goes unaccounted for.
Al-Khatahtbeh’s was granted the Digital Diversity Network Award in partnership with NBCUniversal and the New York City Council Resolution by shifting the media representation of Muslims in America.
Al-Khatahtbeh’s efforts to fight hatred go far beyond her website. In 2016, she released Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age, an in-depth look at her experiences as a Muslim-American after the success of the website. It was chosen as the Editor’s Pick on the New York Times Bestsellers’ List. She has also worked with MTV for the series “Uncovered,” and often appears on American media outlets such as CNN, BBC, and more.
While no one can defeat the hatred tied to our Islamophobic America, al-Khatahtbeh is working toward equality and taking steps toward feminism in a way that benefits her and people around the globe. Al-Khatahtbeh is interconnecting women of every background — redefining feminism.
Kate Nalepinski is a fourth-year journalism major who rips on six-grade hegemonic feminism for free. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.