Hijabi of the Month May - Amani Al-Khatahtbeh
Posted on May 19, 2013
Our May Hijabi of the Month is 21 year-old Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, the editor-in-chief of Muslimgirl.net. She's starting her senior year at Rutgers University in New Jersey and double majoring in political science and Middle Eastern Studies in addition to minoring in Women's and Gender studies. Amani says, "Hi, I'm Amani. My name will be in your child's history textbook one day. And so will yours. The work we do together now will get us both there soon." You can follow her on facebook and twitter!
1) When did you start wearing hijab?
I started wearing hijab when I was in junior high. After 9/11, I was bullied a lot throughout elementary and middle school, often because of my race or religion. I felt so alienated and different that it even reached a point where I was too scared to tell people I was a Muslim.
When I was 13, I moved to the Middle East for a year with my family, and that was my first time really being exposed to Islam and the Arab culture. I started learning more about the hijab and what it stood for, and while I was falling in love with the concept of it I still didn’t think I’d start wearing it anytime soon. It wasn’t until I started learning about Islamic history in school that I became so overwhelmed with pride that I wanted to wear the hijab to publicly identify myself as being a part of that history.
At the time that I made my decision, my parents were in a totally different country. Seeing as how I’m pretty hardheaded and was on a pretty rebellious streak at that age (I might not have grown out of it… oops) it made me love my decision even more because I felt like it was totally my own. I knew that I wasn’t being compelled by anyone else to do it. My mother didn’t wear the hijab at that time either, so in a way by choosing the hijab I was also asserting my independence.
We came back to the States at the end of that year and it was almost like my “coming out” as a Muslim. That’s when I really started forming my identity, in the murky waters of teenagehood, racism and all.
Amani in London at the Ecuador embassy, where Julian Assange was hiding out
2) What inspired you to start Muslimgirl.net and how has it evolved?
I guess part of the whole “forming my identity” part of my life was realizing that so many other Muslim girls my age shared the same struggle. MuslimGirl.net was born out of my frustration of all the negative and flagrant misconceptions I kept hearing about Islam on the news, on television programs, and even from my peers. I was sick of it, and I wanted to showcase that Islam was not some backwards religion of the past, but a modern, constantly evolving religion of today.
I wanted a forum for us to apply Islamic standards to our lifestyles in today’s society and keep Islam relevant and fresh for people our age. I wanted a place where girls could just be girls and talk about things that were “too embarrassing for mom” and just be as real as it gets. And, just as important, I wanted a space for women of all religions and backgrounds to connect, learn more about each other, and eliminate stereotypes through the spirit of sisterhood.
MuslimGirl.net developed with a team of passionate bloggers from all over the world that shared the same vision and objective as me. They’ve touched upon topics that relate to them and the average modern Muslim girl. I think MuslimGirl.net has evolved with me, because as I got to college and started getting exposed to different lifestyles and learning more about feminism and the world around me, MuslimGirl.net started expanding to reflect those new dimensions as well.
Amani celebrating her 21st birthday earlier this month
The mission of the site was doing so well that we wanted to extend it to our community. In 2011, we founded the first collegiate chapter of MuslimGirl at Rutgers University, with the aim of creating a presence for Muslim women on campus and hosting events that raised awareness about issues that concerned us. We are now founding more collegiate chapters of MuslimGirl at different universities across the country in the hopes of eliminating stereotypes and raising the place of Muslim women in our society.
In January 2013, MuslimGirl.net started its internship program, offering several different types of online internship opportunities for young women. So far it’s been a great success, (alhamdulilah) and we hope to only go forward from here, God willing.
3) Tell us what it was like to speak at a TED conference!
It was so exhilarating! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, but I was able to push through it knowing that it was my chance to tell my story — a story that many of us experience as Muslims living in the harsh racism and misconceptions of today’s society. Embracing my past and sharing how it fueled my present was liberating, and the fact that it also inspired others to do the same was truly a blessing.
Amani performing spoken word - see a video of another spoken word performance here.
4) What do you think is the biggest problem facing our Muslim youth today and how can we start to address it?
We’re treated like a PROBLEM. Because of all the propaganda, Muslim youth face the difficult feeling of being alienated not only from society, but also from our own religion as well. It’s really easy to get discouraged from connecting with who you are when the media is constantly trying to brainwash you with lies about your own identity. We’ve all heard the hadith that holding onto your religion will one day be like gripping a piece of hot coal, and that is true today not just with the temptations we face but also with the ostracization we must endure.
However, it is so important that we recognize this as an opportunity to open people’s minds. We should all do ourselves the favor of remembering that we are not outsiders — we’re active and positive members of our society. We should all immerse ourselves in our local communities and branch out to connect with different people. We are Muslim youth, but we are all individuals, not one collective group of people. It’s important for us to study and understand Islam better than anyone, especially the parts that may seem more confusing, so that we can increase our confidence in who we are and so that we know how to respond to people that may raise questions or spread inaccuracies about it.
We should all really take advantage of our unique position and realize that we can all be ambassadors to Islam for people that don’t understand it, or, worse, have a completely wrong perception of it.
5) What is the best piece of advice anyone's ever given you?
DO YOU! You don’t let anyone tell you who you are, you tell them who you are. Know yourself inside and out, be proud of who you are, and don’t put yourself down for anyone. This is a constant struggle for many of us, but it’s only when we can truly embrace our own identities and totally own it that we have any chance of bringing positive change to the world. Changing yourself to satisfy the people around you, or making yourself smaller so that you don’t get in the way of others, never got anyone into a history book.
6) If you could give one piece of advice to someone struggling with hijab, what would it be?
Make the decision come from you. Your attitude towards the hijab will be defined by how you make that decision. When I decided I wanted to start wearing the hijab, I didn’t wait for anyone to tell me to or give me permission to. Follow your heart, go with your gut, keep it between you and God. And remember that a scarf is just one part of it — hijab comes from inside and defines how you carry yourself. Covering your hair is not the final step but it’s definitely not the only step. Don’t allow yourself or anyone else to equate your faith with a scarf.
Is there someone you'd like to nominate for HOTM? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.