Amani Al-Khatahtbeh is a force to be reckoned with. Editor-in-chief of the renowned website MuslimGirl, published author, beauty icon and in-demand speaker, she is destroying stereotypes about Muslim women left, right and centre - as well as creating spaces for them to be free.
Al-Khatahtbeh annihilated the glass ceiling last year when she became the first veiled Muslim woman on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, pushing the boundaries of what was deemed accessible to Muslim women in the United States. But Al-Khatahtbeh wasn’t always the fierce entrepreneur she is now. Her path to success started as one of defiance and fear that came with being young, Muslim and female in the United States of America.
Ashamed Of Being Muslim in Post-9/11 America
Al-Khatahtbeh, who is of Jordanian and Egyptian descent, is part the ‘forgotten 9/11 generation’, a generation of Muslim youth who grew up in the shadows of the ‘war on terror’ and experienced bigotry and intolerance before they were old enough to understand why.
"I was so scared about everyone's judgements, and I was so alienated by everything I was hearing on the news," she told Bustle. "[It was] almost pushing me away from my own identity, my own background and heritage."
By the age of 13, Al-Khatahtbeh was lying about being Muslim in order to detract attention from herself and her heritage. After her parents faced a series of Islamophobic attacks (her mother's tires were slashed and her father’s business was threatened with eviction), her family moved to Jordan - an experience that opened Al-Khatahtbeh’s eyes to the beauty of her culture.
"That was the first time that I heard the stories of Arab and Muslim people in their own voices," she said. "It was game-changing, because it made me fall in love with my religion, it made me fall in love with my background and my culture."
Al-Khatahtbe reconciliation with her culture and faith culminated in her decision to wear the hijab. Choosing to have a physical marker of her religion was also a way for her to show her defiance against the Islamophobia that had pressured her to lie about her religion years earlier.
“Over the past decade or so we’ve seen the resurgence of the hijab globally,” she told TimeOut. “I think it came as a result of this widespread attack on our identity. For a lot of us, we turned to something we knew was symbolic of our identity.”
Finding Her Voice through MuslimGirl
Al-Khatahtbeh’s family moved back to the US when she was 17 - and old enough to understand the importance of representation in the media.
“It’s easy to marginalize an entire group of people when they’re not given a platform. People like to conveniently cloak their anti-Islam sentiment through sweeping generalizations and misguided headlines,” she told Teen Vogue. “In that way, most people watch the news and come to have a distorted conflation of Islam and terrorism. It’s almost like manufacturing hate.”
Al-Khatahtbeh started the blog MuslimGirl.net out of her bedroom in order to create a space to celebrate and discuss the diverse accomplishments and lifestyles of Muslim women. Rather than accept mainstream narratives about Islam, Al-Khatahtbeh recruited female writers that challenged the status-quo and represented the feminist ideals of the modern Muslim woman.
Seven years later, MuslimGirl has one million unique readers and 50 writers and editors on its roster. With the tagline ‘Muslim Women Talk Back’, the website produces boundary pushing content on the topics of sexuality, politics and feminism that was impossible to find beforehand and that would never be published in the mainstream media.
“MuslimGirl has taken on a life of its own that far surpassed any possible expectation I could have had for it,” Al-Khatahtbeh told the Guardian. “This was just a hobby for me. It’s turned into a social movement, one that young women ... are cultivating into something unique to themselves individually.”
Using Her Voice to Support Muslim Women Worldwide
Not only is MuslimGirl now the main source of news catering to young Muslim women in the US, it has also become a social entrepreneurship venture that pushes for improved representation of Muslim women in society as a whole.
MuslimGirl launched multiple campaigns last year to support the voices of Muslim women in the press as well as founding the first Muslim Women’s Day and creating a scholarship fund for Muslim women called the MuslimGirl Foundation.
Al-Khatahtbeh is aware of the responsibility that now lays on her shoulders and is determined to use her voice to increase opportunities for other Muslim women.
“I’m grateful to be able to use the privileges I have to offer a new image and narrative for Muslim women in the media,” she said. “And it’s my personal goal to make such privileges accessible to as many Muslim women as possible. We need to uplift as many voices onto these platforms as we can.”