This Woman Is Determined To Challenge Your Perceptions Of Hijabis
#14 Amani al-Khatahtbeh — Muslim Girl, A Coming of Age
My 14th female creator in my challenge to discover 52 in 52 weeks is Amani al-Khatahtbeh. She is super cool. Not only do I want to be her mate, I want to be standing shoulder to shoulder with her as she goes into battle.
I read her recently released book, Muslim Girl, as part of my project to discover 52 female creators in 52 weeks.
10 things I took away from reading Amani al-Khatahtbeh’s work:
1. Amani is breaking boundaries. She set up MuslimGirl.com on a budget of just $9 in 2009. It now has over 1 million readers and 50 journalists. She was recognised in the Forbes 30 under 30 and has sat on panels alongside Gloria Steinham, Bill Clinton and Shonda Rhimes. A hugely respected champion of Islamic feminism and an advocate of women’s right to wear a hijab, Amani is determined to change societies perceptions of ‘hijabis’ — women who choose to wear hijabs.
2. We’re in the post 9/11 generation. Amani talks about Muslims who have grown up in the backlash of the terrorist attack of the Twin Towers as the ‘post 9/11 generation’. She is passionate about helping young Muslims now growing up in the Trump wave of Islamophobia. Amani describes herself as part of the millennial-muslim generation that has already been through a similar climate of prejudice and hopes that her cohort can be the foundation of support that younger people are going to need
3. US Muslims are just one hate crime from loosing their life. Amani talks in stark terms about how present the threat of violence and Islamophobia is in US, Canada and UK at the moment. With Muslims being murdered inside mosques, women having their hijabs ripped off and the number of hate groups in the US tripling in 2016, the threat is real and everyday.
4. There needs to be more than one narrative about Muslim women. Much like the danger of the ‘single story’ highlighted by Nigerian feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Amani is concerned about the ‘story’ being told of Muslim women. Submissive, oppressed, stigmatised, and undervalued. Forced to wear hijabs and other modesty clothing against their wishes. This narrative is sensationalist and simplistic. Amani is encouraging Muslim women to reclaim their own narrative and this ambition can be seen throughout the posts on MuslimGirl.com. For Amani it’s important for Muslim women are able to see representations of other women that look and act like them. It’s also why she has launched this project with Gettys to ensure that we’re moving away from just seeing images of Muslim women looking like this:
..And more like THIS!
5. Amani knows she’s become the token Muslim woman. Diversity ‘props’ on panels and programs are a thing and she is conscious not to be used as an ornament but to have a voice:
6. Microdefences are also a thing. I’d heard about microagressions — subtle, indirect and even unintentional acts of discrimination. Amani taught me about microdefences. With Muslim women becoming some of the most vulnerable targets of violence, she describes how her friends modify their behaviour so as to better ‘defend’ themselves. Not using arabic and other natives languages in public, modifying their appearances to make their hijab stand out less, not standing near train tracks in case they get pushed…
7. Leaning in doesn’t always work. One of my favourite quotes from the book. Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg uses the term ‘lean in’ to encourage women to embrace challenge and risk in the workplace. But there is only so far someone can ‘lean in’ if the workplace environment is set against them through ingrained prejudice and discrimination. It’s also why we need to make sure our feminism is intersectional. This means we need to recognise the challenges that women from different ethnicities, religion, sexualities, gender identities, disabilities, ages and classes and not subsume the experience of ‘woman’ into that of a white cis middle class woman.
8. Don’t write Trump’s rhetoric off as shock value. It isn’t just for ‘shock’ when Muslim people are being killed because of what Trump says.
9. Empathy is key to overcoming prejudice. I’m a big believer in the power of empathy to overcome problems which arise (in part) due to not understanding each other’s lives and values. It’s one of the reasons I did this project, I want to be able to better empathise with the experiences of other women around the world. Recent research by RS Literature shows that 80% of people say literature helps them understand other points of view. That’s the power of empathy.
10. Don’t be a bystander
Some extra stuff to consider:
- Draw a Muhammad campaign (in response to the Draw Muhammad contest where people are invited to draw offensive images of Muhammad, Muslimgirl.com invited people to draw an image of someone that they knew called Muhammad, given it’s one of the most popular male names in the world)
This post is part of my FemCult52 project in which I aim to discover 52 female creators in 52 weeks.
Claire McAlpine : Author of FemCult52 // Strategist, facilitator, writer // media, behaviour change, equality, diversity, communications.