“Shanzay! Wanna write for a website about Muslim girls with me?” Amani asked me 7 years ago in the public library of our hometown. We were 15 and 17 years old – both juniors in high school, busy with our AP course-load and college applications. I didn’t quite understand what she meant at first.
I thought there was already an established site that she just wanted me to join. The reason I initially rejected – then – and also the major problem with “Muslim” websites at the time was that they were focused around a very linear form of content pertaining to Islam that I was not comfortable with. It wasn’t about to be a safe space for me, and I was fearful of the judgment I’d get for not ascribing to Islam as a lot of devout followers might have online.
She sat me down anyway, Amani, and typed it into the public library computers that we only had 15 minutes to use – she’s really nothing if not persistent.
Our friendship spans a decade and yet the reason we’ve maintained it is because we’re both headstrong and loud in different ways. (Do not ask about the biology project we were forced to do together one time, a simple cell model took us more than 13 hours in the same library. That Mitochondria was tilted just fine before you moved it for no reason, Amani.)
Let me show you the preliminary blog that was about to be Muslim Girl in 2009.
Before it was an official “blog,” MG was more of a community for discussions. It was an attempt by our esteemed editor in chief to be inclusive for women from all over the globe and talk about things that just weren’t brought to light. From the start, we delved into the uncomfortable corners often overshadowed by the prettier, less muddled and glossy look at the Muslim community.
And here I was, crouched over and staring at a screen – my teenage mind ripe with the ideas flooding the more I scrolled through the page – about what this could become.
“Wait. That’s your email. Let me get this straight. You made this yourself? You, like, created this website?” I asked.
“Yeah, obviously. Why do you think I asked you to join?”
Of course she doesn’t do anything half-assed. I should’ve seen it, honestly.
We didn’t actually realize the enormity of the role we had taken on when we began this venture. How could we? We were teenagers writing from our bedrooms, unaware that we’d end up profiled years later in the New York Times, CNN, Refinery 29, Teen Vogue, speaking at White House summits and working within United Nations initiatives.
We just wanted to feel safe.
I immigrated to the United States in early 2001 – mere months before Sept. 11. If the visa had called for my family to wait even slightly longer, I would not even be sitting here writing this article in this capacity.
For Amani, the date has an equally impactful role in shaping who she has become. We’re both products of a post-9/11 plunge into how the West perceives Muslims. We were just children when it happened. As girls already bound within the patriarchal limitation of both eastern and western values, it was hard enough. And now, all of a sudden – our religious identity was also under attack.
How else were we going to make ourselves heard than to take hold of the rising medium of the Internet?
Don’t get me wrong; this wasn’t just a plea to be heard. It was a way to fight back. We are and always have been unapologetic. One of our first articles, which to this day, remains one of our most popular as well — was “Taking on Your Period During Ramadan.”
That might seem like something you’d find online now – but the concept of menstruation wasn’t exactly being widely circulated in any community out loud. And yet it’s a universal issue women face every single year.
We’re both products of a post-9/11 plunge into how the West perceives Muslims. We were just children when it happened. As girls already bound within the patriarchal limitation of both eastern and western values, it was hard enough.
We’ve always broken glass ceilings, it’s what distinguishes us. We’ve found ourselves in the face of adversity and fought through and through amid every kind of backlash. We know the struggle. We have always had the vision.
And we were recognized very early on for it. The feature image is the first profile we had in our local newspaper months after we started. It’s grown over the past 7 years into the one of the first and biggest media networks for Muslim women online.
If you wish to read the full article, look no further: (because you probably won’t find it, trust me. I tried.)
My role at Muslim Girl has evolved from contributor to various kinds of editor and I have been so thankful for one of my best friends to force me to sit down and be part of this movement.
I’ve seen firsthand the girls that have approached us and told us what this website has done for them – and I empathize, because I’m one of them.
In whatever way my identity has shifted and grown with Islam, Muslim Girl has shown me time and time again that when women come together and fight, they are a force that cannot be silenced. That when they gather, they can be soft in empathy and open in understanding – and when attacked they can form an army that refuses to back down.
For all the women that have joined us since Amani and I began this venture, thank you. Thank you for joining us, for reading, for paving the way and for showing the world that in order for the conversation to be about Muslim women — they have to come from Muslim women.