Go to images.google.com and type in the words “Muslim women.” What do you see?
Our founder and Editor-in-Chief Amani Al-Khatahtbeh invited the audience at Clark University to try this simple exercise on their gadgets during her public talk on March 1 in celebration of International Women’s Day. The results were an endless list of images with colorless, veiled women.
To Amani, these photos portrayed Muslim women as helpless, voiceless individuals with no agency or power. In reality, things were completely different and that was what motivated our founder to create this online platform that allowed Muslim women to talk back.
“In January 2015, we published a thought piece about a video of non-Muslim porn star Mia Khalifa’s sexual representation of hijab. We explained how problematic and detrimental to Muslim women her video was. The blog went viral. That’s really when we started opening new doors and the world started hearing what we had to say,” Amani said.
Amani described her journey with the hijab, her Muslim identity and a visit to Jordan when she was 12 that enabled her to interact with Muslim women from different backgrounds who had colorful stories to tell. Five years later, she put together a volunteer staff of strong, dedicated Muslim women and launched our online magazine. Since then, our website has been defying misconceptions in mainstream and social media and raising the place of Muslim women in society. She exclaimed:
“The goal was to use the media and resources at our fingertips to capture our identity, portray ourselves, and reclaim the narrative. As Muslim women, having these resources and living in an open society, I felt it was our obligation to use them to the best of our ability. Our prerogative was to fight back using nothing but the internet, social media and a blog.”
Kicking off Women’s History Month at Clark University, the Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) department invited our founder to speak to students while also sparking discussions in the Intro to Feminist Theory class around feminism and Islam.
Medical anthropologist and professor of International Development and Social Change Ellen Foley said the students loved Amani and were able to relate to her because she was a millennial, she was a part of pop culture and she also offered deep intersectional analysis of complicated issues.
“The students loved her, her energy, and what she was trying to accomplish. She was a great example and offered a fresh lively look into the lives of Muslim women,” Foley said. “We have been talking in class about about how women’s experiences in the world produce feminist theory. Today, there is a shift from the “I” to the “We” — especially when you stop thinking about your own experience and start to understand the connection between your personal story and other large forces.”
Director of the WGS department Denise Bebbington believes that our fierce leader Amani, like other young women around the world, has a lot to say.
“Amani’s work is truly inspirational for women. MuslimGirl provides an important platform for young women to speak for themselves and to be heard in the public sphere without intermediation by the press or others. It is also a powerful counter force to the Islamophobia and ignorance that characterizes much of the media coverage of world events,” Bebbington said.
Ahmad Abojaradeh, board member of Muslim Community Link, said that millennials are not normally taken seriously, but to see a room full of individuals from different ages ranging from 18 to 70 in-tune to everything our editor-in-chief was saying, not only as a woman but also as a Muslim, was remarkable.
“With International Women’s Day around the corner, it’s inspirational to hear from a woman who is from a minority group taking back not only her narrative but the narrative of Muslim women everywhere. This is important at a time when people are being robbed of their voices by others who are using Muslims as scapegoats to fuel their politics and selfish needs,” Abojaradeh said.
MA candidate of International Development and Social Change at Clark, Nina Ainembabazi, thought Amani’s talk was key and timely. “As a member of the Clark Diversity Committee for Active Change, I can say that her talk was empowering for the young Muslim women at Clark who had expressed feelings of insecurity and wanting to stop wearing their hijab so as not to be identified as Muslims,” Ainembabazi said.
“Muslim women’s voices are inherently valuable and we should have been including them in the conversation from the beginning. MuslimGirl is the first media network established by and for Muslim women. Now that we have been funded and we have economic empowerment, how limitless is it going to be in how far we can go from here?” Amani asked, to which the audience responded with a loud round of applause.
Photo by Dee Wells