Photo by Athena Rayburn for Ladybeard

Amani x Ladybeard: Why Amani Wears the Headscarf

Our Editor in Chief and founder, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, was recently interviewed by Kitty Drake for Ladybeard magazine’s “Mind” issue.
Check out an excerpt featuring Amani’s testimony below:
When you put on the headscarf, or niqab, or burqa, you become a symbol. In the context of rising Islamophobia across Europe and America, visible Muslim women are reduced to a canvas onto which we project a set of conflicting, insidious stories. Every day, unspoken hostility slips over into outright aggression. In the week following the 2015 Paris attacks, there was a 300 per cent rise in the number of hate crimes perpetrated against Muslims in the UK – the overwhelming majority of the victims were women and girls dressed in traditional Islamic dress. This is a pattern repeated across Europe and the USA after every major terrorist attack, and every bogus poll purporting to reveal ‘What Muslims Really Think’. What does it feel like to bear this burden of representation? And what motivates women to wear the veil today? For Ladybeard’s Mind Issue, we spoke to three Muslim women to find out. Here, we share Amani’s testimony.  
“Growing up in New Jersey post 9/11, I was terrified of people knowing I was a Muslim. I felt so alienated by everything on the news that I hid my religion at school. Then, when I was 13 I travelled to the Middle East for the first time. I started learning about Islam from Muslims themselves, and that was absolutely transformative for me. For the first time, I felt proud of my culture, and I decided to start wearing the headscarf as a way of reclaiming my identity. When I got back to America I wanted the first thing people to know about me to be that I was a Muslim. It was my way of defying Islamophobia. For me, the headscarf is a socio-political symbol.
We’re told that the headscarf is oppressive to women, but I find wearing it liberating. This is my rejection of the male gaze. It’s me saying, ‘No. I have control over my body, I get to decide how much of it I want to show people’. What people don’t realise is that Islam is founded on the principles of gender equality. Women started wearing the headscarf to elevate themselves in a society where they were so objectified they were essentially treated like furniture. By wearing it, they insisted on being valued for their minds rather than for their bodies.
The irony is that in New York, where I live now, the abuse I get for wearing it is usually misogynistic. There’s this weird sexual fascination with the headscarf and finding out what’s underneath. I was on the train home one night and this guy came up to me and put his hands on my scarf and said, “Are you going to let me take this off for you later?” That kind of thing happens all the time. Because you’re a woman of another race, men look at you as something they want to possess; at the same time, they see you as inferior to them and want to reject you because of that. 
With everything that’s going on in the United States right now, it’s quite literally life and death for us. After Trump made a public statement about shooting Muslims with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood, three young, black men – two of whom were Muslim – were shot execution style in Indiana.  But I’m trying to stay optimistic because there is a reaction. A lot of Muslim women of my generation are rising up and claiming our religion. We are taking it upon ourselves to be proud of who we are, and to interpret things in our own way.”
To read the full feature, pre-order Ladybeard’s Mind Issue here or at