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Amani Al-Khatahtbeh

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In a post-9/11 world, growing up as Muslim girl can feel everything from disempowering to dangerous. Amani Al-Khatahtbeh wants to offer support. At 17, she founded MuslimGirl as a space to voice an experience she wasn’t seeing in the media; her own. Today, the blog has become a full media source, serving as a platform for female Muslim voices from a range of viewpoints and experiences. Its success has made Al-Khatahtbeh a respected community leader, frequently called upon to offer her perspective on issues related to Muslim women in a range of high-profile media.

Al-Khatahtbeh wasn’t always so confident about her Islamic identity, however. Growing up after the September 11 attacks, being open about being Muslim frequently felt difficult for the young Al-Khatahtbeh. Her perspective began to change when she was thirteen, when her family took a trip to visit her father’s native Jordan. What she experienced there was an Islam that stood in start contrast to the alienating headlines that barraged Muslim-Americans living in the time of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Inspired, Al-Khatahtbeh returned home and, for the first time, donned a hijab, choosing to outwardly identify as Muslim despite the anxieties of the cultural climate.

Even so, confidence and pride does not eliminate feelings of marginalization. While the media was full of news about Muslim women, it very rarely featured their voices, and overwhelmingly depicted them as either violent or oppressed. Al-Khatahtbeh began blogging on MuslimGirl.net as a means of carving out a space where she could voice her experience as a young American Muslim woman, reclaiming her identity in the public sphere and pushing back against the narrative of the docile, voiceless young Muslim woman. In 2010, a year after launching MuslimGirl, she enrolled at Rutgers, where she studied Political Science, Middle Eastern Studies, International Relations, and Women’s and Gender Studies.

Building MuslimGirl into more than a blog wasn’t always the goal. Throughout her undergraduate years, Al-Khatahtbeh held internships with a variety of social, political, and media organizations, including the Ministry of Political Development, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, and VICE Media. She also honed her journalistic skills, spending three years at The Daily Targum, first as a columnist and then as opinion editor. When she graduated from Rutgers in 2014, she spent a year as Media Relations Specialist at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

In May 2015, Al-Khatahtbeh moved from Washington, D.C. to New York City to start a new, high-profile position. The job fell through, leaving Al-Khatahtbeh suddenly broke in the city. Over the years, MuslimGirl had grown in popularity, and maintaining it while managing a career had become an exhausting juggling act. The sudden change of plans left Al-Khatahtbeh with a chance to choose her passion project, diving into building MuslimGirl into the powerhouse platform it is today.

The platform was able to crowdsource over $25,000 towards its growth by August. By December, they had grown from a seven-person writing team to over forty Muslim women writers around the world. From spring to winter, the blog transformed into a notable media startup, growing ten-fold. Investors started to take note, and by early 2016 MuslimGirl had received a significant investment to foster its continued growth.

As the platform’s popularity grows, so does Al-Khatahtbeh’s influence as a community leader. Since devoting herself to MuslimGirl’s growth, she’s served as a Digital Media Consultant for The Malala Fund, become a regular contributor to Forbes and The Huffington Post, launched her own MTV webshow, and spoken at events like the Global Islamic Economy Summit. In 2016, she was named to Forbes’s annual 30 Under 30 list, the first veiled woman to be honored in the media category.


(Sources used in writing this profile include a Feb 2016 Guardian piece, an April 2016 technical.ly article, a March 2016 To Write Love On Her Arms interview, a Dec. 2015 NYT Live piece, a 2015 Teen Vogue article, the entrepreneur’s Huffington Post profile, and the entrepreneur’s LinkedIn account)�

Companies and Investments

MuslimGirl (Founder, Editor-in-Chief), MTV (Host), Forbes (Columnist), The Huffington Post (Blogger), The Malala Fund (Digital Media Consultant), American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (Media Relations Specialist), Atlantic Council (Middle East Analyst), VICE Media (Intern), Institute of Women's Leadership (Women's Leadership Scholar), The Daily Targum (Opinions Editor, Columnist), Center for Women's Global Leadership (Intern), Ministry of Political Development (Intern)

Lessons Learned

We’re invested in our team and the women we work with to cultivate their growth. We function like a mentorship since we work with girls and women of different ages and experiences. That’s why we make sure to provide a lot of opportunities to get involved with the site. We also host writing and media workshops, not only to emphasize the importance of us engaging in journalism, but also to equip Muslim women with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate the field. We’re a MuslimGirl clique! (Al-Khatahtbeh on the importance of investing in your team and taking an interest in fostering their continued growth, in a TeenVogue interview)

Do you know the movie The Dark Knight Rises? It’s one of my favourites. I basically talked about the metaphor of “the pit” in that movie. [For the unfamiliar: about halfway through the film Batman gets thrown into a pit by the bad guy, Bane, who had once been thrown into this same pit himself. The struggle to get out was what turned Bane bad. Batman only came out of it a better goodie.] I compared it to our experience of Muslim-Americans with 9/11. Many of us, we had our entire lives turned upside down by that, by this new era of hatred. Some of us were born into it. Racism … Hate crimes … Islamophobia every single day. In my sermon I asked whether we were going to let ourselves be moulded by the darkness. Or if we were going to be like Batman and resolutely try to get to the top of the pit and defy perceptions. (Al-Khatahtbeh on choosing whether to react to darkness with darkness or with strength, in an interview with The Guardian)

To be honest, MuslimGirl has taken on a life of its own that far surpassed any possible expectation I could have had for it. This was just a hobby for me. 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. My job now is to establish this into a sustainable source of empowerment for women for the long term. This is the new goal to which I hold myself: making history by becoming the first mainstream media network by and for Muslim women. (Al-Khatahtbeh on stewarding and fostering momentum rather than controlling it, in an interview with The Guardian)

Inspiring Quotes

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh's Quotes

For me, the end-game has always been cultivating a voice for Muslim women, creating presence for Muslim women, becoming a force to be reckoned with as Muslim women. I guess I’m an entrepreneur now.

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh

We’re putting a lot on the line, so I’m determined to see it through. For me, there’s no other option.

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh

We need to uplift our visibility. Visibility is crucial.

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh

It’s all new to us, too, and that’s part of the reason why our audience appreciates us so much and always has our back.

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh

Influential Books

Mentors

Rita Stephan

References


Technical

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