When Amani Al-Khatahtbeh set out to create MuslimGirl.com, an online platform dedicated to amplifying the stories and experiences of young Muslim women, she did not imagine it achieving the level of influence it has amassed today.
Launched in 2009, Muslim Girl’s original mission was to be a stepping stone for young Muslim women. After 11 years, Al-Khatahtbeh reminisces with Marcom Weekly about how the platform was a stepping stone for her as well.
Among many achievements, Al-Khatahtbeh, this past June, completed her first congressional run in New Jersey, becoming the first Muslim woman in the state to run for federal office. Despite losing the primary, her story is one of inspiration and empowerment to create your own path regardless of the adversity one may face.
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh was born and raised in New Jersey after her family emigrated from Jordan. When the 9/11 terrorist attacks took place, she was 9-years-old. Living right outside of New York at the time, she was placed on the receiving end of the first major wave of American Islamaphobia in recent history.
Four years after the 9/11 attacks, her father decided to move their family back to Jordan to escape the growing anti-Muslim hate. “This became my first trip to the Middle East,” she says. “By the time I was 13, I was feeling so alienated and was made to feel like an outsider even though [America] was the only home I had ever known. This pushed me away from my identity and made me feel like my background was bad.”
Contrasting what she was made to believe, Al-Khatahtbeh arrived in Jordan and was welcomed with open arms and provided the opportunity to learn about her religion, outside of the veil of propagandized misinformation she experienced in America.
Spending a little under a year in Jordan, she returned to New Jersey with a newfound appreciation for her identity and decided to proudly wear a hijab. “Wearing it was a reclamation of my identity [and a proclamation] that I want to start wearing this marker of my faith despite the extreme Islamaphobia that was pushing me away from it. I wanted to defy that and show that I can be an American and be Muslim too.”
Al-Khatahtbeh was a high school student when she started Muslim Girl. Since the website’s inception, she ensured it would remain a space that young Muslim women could depend on to share stories that would center the lived experiences of Muslim women.
The importance of this became clear when Muslim Girl had the opportunity to interview Representative Ilhan Omar before she was elected. The outlet asked her a crucial question about her position on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement against Israeli human rights violations. That interview became the first time that any American politician publicly stated their support for the BDS movement and it was made possible because of Omar’s comfort of being able to share her views with a likeminded platform that would not try to misrepresent her statements.
As Al-Khatahtbeh looked toward her own political aspirations, she saw 2020 as the right year for her to make her congressional bid. “A huge reason why I was so motivated to do so was that, for the first time, I had these incredible examples that I could look up to and it proved to me that it was possible and that I didn’t have to wait to make that happen,” she says. “Especially in a year like 2020 that is so historic – being amid a global pandemic, the civil rights movement of our generation and a Trump era – it just felt like a moral obligation for me to run now.”
Even though Al-Khatahtbeh did not win the primary, the impact she made has motivated her to keep going. She states, “Because I know that I am the first Muslim woman to get on the ballot in New Jersey, I know that we’re not going to rest until we make sure that I’m the first of many. This is a long-term marathon and it doesn’t just come down to one congressional race.”
When asked about the legacy she hopes other young women will take from her experience, she wants the message to resonate that “every single one of us has a voice and that voice has power. It doesn’t matter what background you come from, you are a human being that’s just as worthy and just as deserving as anyone else. No matter how disempowered we may feel by society, any single one of us can use our voice to speak up and be the change that we hope to see in the world around us.”
Today, MuslimGirl.com and Al-Khatahtbeh combined have more than half a million followers on social media, and, according to a recent Associated Press story, “Last year, the domain that she bought for $7 had more than 2 million hits.”
Carla is a correspondent covering people and news features and digital content.