Amani Al-Khatahtbeh On Why She Created #MuslimWomensDay and Why It Matters

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh On Why She Created #MuslimWomensDay and Why It Matters

By Paulina Cachero

Mar 27, 2019

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh says she started #MuslimWomensDay in 2017 "because it was about damn time!"

Following the 2016 election, Al-Khatahtbeh, the founder of MuslimGirl.com wanted to respond to the hate directed at the Muslim community with love. "We were in the midst of conversations about the Muslim ban and a lot of increased vitriol towards Muslims and especially Muslim women," Al-Khatahtbeh told MAKERS. "So, we created a beautiful moment where we can uplift and empower Muslim women, especially at a time when they are facing increased targeting and discrimination."

On March 27, 2017, Al-Khatahtbeh launched the day as a call to action for media and organizations to include and celebrate more Muslim women in stories. "We find that a lot of times, Muslim women's voices are the ones being drowned out of that narrative," she says Al-Khatahtbeh. Now 26, Al-Khatahtbeh has grown the blog she started in her bedroom into the biggest English-language online platform with Muslim women's voice. MuslimGirl.com intends to increase the visibility and acceptance of Muslim women and help empower them to reclaim their own narrative.

"This is our chance to talk back," says Al-Khatahtbeh— and now the whole world is listening.

Read MAKERS exclusive Q&A with Amani Al-Khatahtbeh on why #MuslimWomensDay is more important now than ever.

Why did you start #MuslimWomensDay?

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh: MuslimGirl.com launched #MuslimWomensDay on the heels of the 2016 election. We were in the midst of conversations about the Muslim ban and a lot of increased vitriol towards Muslims and especially Muslim women. We wanted to respond to the hate with love. So we created a beautiful moment where we can uplift and empower Muslim women, especially at a time when they are facing increased targeting and discrimination. #MuslimWomensDay is also an opportunity for our allies to show their support by stepping in to help elevate them, too.

Why is it important to have a day dedicated to celebrating and empowering Muslim women?

AA: I would love for there not to be a need to celebrate #MuslimWomensDay. The reason why #MuslimWomensDay has drawn so much support is because of the fact that the moment seriously called for it. The inequality and injustice that we are all witnessing right now has been occurring for generations, but it is only now really rising to the forefront of our discourse on Muslims in America. For that reason, this initiative is much needed. We're seeing all these conversations about Muslims and Muslim women, yet traditional media rarely passes the mic to Muslim women to speak on their own behalf. This is an incredibly huge problem because it obviously misrepresents and impacts the way that we perceive 1.8 billion Muslims on a day-to-day basis. But it also creates a void for our visibility in society and really contributes to our othering.

#MuslimWomensDay is also a really great access point. It creates new opportunities for Muslim women because it is a day where all of our partners flood the internet with stories centering their voices. It creates opportunities for these untold stories from our community to finally be heard. And, it creates more space for Muslim women bylines in journalism among publications where they otherwise might not have had access. #MuslimWomensDay is absolutely necessary given the fact that we have been so neglected from that representation for so long— and it's time for us to change that right now.

You launched #MuslimWomensDay in 2017. What progress have you seen since you first kicked off this day?

AA: The #MuslimWomensDay campaign is changing the culture around how we have conversations about Muslim women. I've been really grateful for the opportunity to work with so many incredible partners and organizations and platforms that are seeking to elevate these kinds of conversations and want to do so in the most authentic way possible. It's created an opportunity for us to work directly with the people that are shaping and influencing the way these stories come to life. MuslimGirl.com helps inform how that coverage can take place, brings in more voices and advises how to be more inclusive and accurate. That's definitely been reshaping the media landscape for Muslim women's voices as far as our representation is concerned.

Who are some Muslim women that you are inspired by today?

AA: I'm moved by our Congresswomen Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). I feel like they are becoming lightning rods of America's sentiment towards Muslims and minorities in general— and they're taking a lot of heat because of it.I've been inspired watching Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib rise up to the challenge with so much grace and power. But they are doing more than not just shying away from the fight. They are making their voices even bolder and even louder against all the adversity.

To be honest, I'm not sure if I ever imagined seeing a Palestinian woman in Congress growing up, or even seeing a Muslim American Congresswoman in a headscarf. To me, that's mindblowing. I'm so grateful to be alive and a part of this moment of change.

How do you hope #MuslimWomensDay will impact the next generation of young Muslim girls?

AA: It's our goal for #MuslimWomensDay to place the mic into our hands and allows us to lead the conversation in a field where we are rarely well-represented. Being able to have that conversation on our own terms is the reason why MuslimGirl.com was created— so that we could have this space where we can speak our truth without fear of being censored and remain authentic to our lived experiences and narratives. And I think that's what #MuslimWomensDay is doing.

I am so happy to see that the campaign is elevating the voices of Muslim women that we don't always get to hear from. It's shining a light on the incredible work and activism of Muslim women from our community that rarely receive the spotlight. #MuslimWomensDay is about bringing them to the forefront and allowing these shining examples to be visible to so many young women and girls around the world.

Just having that support and allyship is crucial for Muslim women and girls in today's society. I don't think you can ascribe a value to seeing a better reflection of ourselves in the world around us. The impact that it has on self-esteem, sense of belonging and feelings of acceptance and tolerance are profound.

What is this year's #MuslimWomensDay theme? What do you hope to achieve with this theme?

AA: This year's theme is "Muslim Women Talk Back to Immigrant life."

We decided on this theme in the heat of the national and global conversations taking place right now around Trump's wall, immigration, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the global refugee crisis. We really wanted to put a face to the stories and to those voices.

Every year, when we create a theme, it's never intended to restrict the conversation, but rather to add another layer for us to reflect on an important topic at that given moment. For example, last year's theme was "Muslim Women Talk Back to Violence" to focus the conversation on violence and gender discrimination in the midst of the #MeToo movement and TIME'S UP.

What is the best way to be an ally the Muslim community?

AA: I deeply believe that being an ally to the Muslim community begins within your own social circles. It starts with the microaggressions, with normalized hate speech, with the things that we let slide. Once we catch them at the root, it really helps stop the hate from growing into something bigger or more tragic— something that's a terrorist attack or a mass shooting, like we just saw at the Christchurch Mosque in New Zealand.

It's about not putting up with that racist uncle at the dinner table and just calling out—and calling in—the people around you. Being an ally to the Muslim community doesn't always have to look like calling out a harasser on the subway. Being an ally can be as simple as calling in the people you know.

On #MuslimWomensDay, one of the ways we recommend people showing their support is by retweeting and sharing narratives of Muslim women on their newsfeeds and timelines. In general, whenever a conversation is being had about a minority community and issues impacting them, the most important way to be an ally is to center the voices of the individuals that are impacted.

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