Muslim Girl was launched from the bedroom of a highschool girl that was fed up with the misleading misconceptions surrounding Islam — the way the news coverage and media outlets she believed kept skewing the image of Muslims into a "nasty" one. Nextgen talked to Muslim Girl Chief of Staff Azmia Magane to learn more about this youth organization. Connect with them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
How was Muslim Girl born?
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh started Muslim Girl out of her bedroom when she was 17, in 2009. It started as a LiveJournal community, and grew from there.
Amani started Muslim Girl, because, in her own words, “It was my personal refusal from having Muslim women’s voices be collected, hijacked, and sidelined by media corporations that claim and twist our narrative. It began as a way for millennial Muslim girls to connect and communicate with each other, and evolved into a platform to defiantly carve out a space for ourselves in the midst of post-9/11 anti-Islam hatred, stereotypes, and misconceptions.”
In 2015, Muslim Girl’s growth started to really explode. Pamela Geller had her infamous “Draw Muhammad” contest, and Muslim Girl responded to her bigotry with our own video asking people to draw Muhammad, because everyone knows a Muhammad/Mohammed. Seriously, you know you know one or two! The video got national attention, and the growth continued from there with profiles in Teen Vogue and VICE’s Broadly. The same year, we also received backing from the Malala fund.
As a young Muslim media company, how does Muslim Girl try to influence change on national and global stages?
Our whole goal with Muslim Girl is to take back our narrative. Too often, we see people who aren’t us representing us, talking about us, and making decisions that affect us. The only way that’s going to change is if we’re involved in the conversation, but no one was inviting us to the table to have these conversations.
Well, we aren’t waiting for an invitation anymore. We’re telling our own stories, instead of begging the mainstream media to tell them on our behalf. And a lot of the stories that we’re telling are social justice stories, because Islam encourages us to advocate for justice and correct injustices. That’s incredibly relevant in this moment for so many marginalized groups and communities. Muslims are not a monolith – there are Black Muslims, Latinx Muslims, Muslims who identify as gay or transgender – we embrace intersectional identities, and so we’re leading and participating in a lot of groundbreaking dialogue.
Oh, and of course, there are American Muslims. This is a conversation we’re constantly having. You can be a proud American, and be Muslim. That idea seems to be foreign to a lot of people. I get trolled online a lot by all these “patriots,” who tell me to go back to my country, and I actually laugh out loud, because I was born in a U.S. naval hospital.
What kind of change are you looking to imbue? What are the challenges impeding that change, especially in this age of heightened global Islamophobia?
We want to smash patriarchy, break stereotypes, dismantle systemic and institutional racism, advocate for social justice and equality, and give Muslim women a platform to talk about and share their experiences. Of course, it goes without saying that we absolutely want to combat Islamophobia as well. We have a hate crime tracker on our site, and according to our tracker, which was just updated December 30th of 2016, there’s been 569 Islamophobic attacks in 512 days. So of course we address the obvious elephant in the room, which is yes, we’re having conversations about terrorism and extremism, and actively condemning it. Terrorism is all the media talks about when it comes to Muslims; the media would have you believe that terrorism is the most common problem in the Muslim community, when in actuality, most Muslims have never met and don’t know any terrorists or extremists, and Muslims are the primary victims of these terror attacks.
However, it’s a safe bet to say that every Muslim knows someone in our community who is racist or sexist, because the problems in our own communities that are commonplace – like anti-Blackness, or sexism in the mosque, or sectarianism – aren’t being talked about enough, or the conversation is drowned out because terrorism is front and center. We’re trying to provide a platform for productive dialogue on these things, and lots of writers have their own experiences with these situations that they’re bringing to the table, besides the typical mainstay conversations about Islamophobia, the portrayal of Muslims and Muslim women in the media, and terrorism.
In my opinion, the biggest challenge that we face is the idea that we cannot speak for or advocate for ourselves, and that we need “saving.” The idea that we need someone – who isn’t us – to tell our stories and do our work. For example, let’s look at the headscarf. There are Western feminists who are stripping down to protest Muslim women covering up, and completely ignoring the fact that some Muslim women choose to cover. There are legislators trying to ban hijabs and stop Muslim women from covering, because they think that stripping us is saving us, and that men are making us wear the scarf. Oppression doesn’t occur because of a headscarf; oppression occurs when a Muslim woman’s autonomy is removed by legislature that requires her to either wear or discard her headscarf. So now we have men telling us we can’t wear it. Can we please just stop policing what women are wearing, and policing women’s bodies?!
How do you engage with young people to be a part of your effort?
Our content is probably one of the biggest ways we engage with young people. We try to include actionable items in our articles – for example, one of our articles that’s had a pretty long lifespan is our Crisis Safety Manual for Muslim Women, which gives the reader specific actions they can take if they’re in a dangerous situation. It was written in December 2015, and over a year later, it’s still being widely shared. We want our readers to have takeaways from our content; we aren’t just producing clickbait. Our content is authentic, and culturally and socially relevant, so it’s shareable and relatable to young people, which means they engage with it.
Something else that’s unique about Muslim Girl is that our content is recognized as an academic resource – we regularly have both high school and college level students cite it as a resource, and we’ve even seen a few college syllabuses with Muslim Girl on them as required reading.
How does one become part of Muslim Girl? Do you have to be a Muslim? Do you have to be a girl? Tell us about your bloggers.
Our writers are the heart and soul of Muslim Girl! We have a solid team of regular contributors, and we also accept guest submissions. Our team of regular contributors – they’re amazing. Each and every one of those girls is a powerhouse in their own right. As chief of staff, I have the blessing of working with all of them. Some of them have fashion lines; some have written and published indie books; some are major civil rights activists. Some of them are full-time moms; some are students. We have a wide range of ages, too. Pretty much everyone works remotely; we have writers all over the United States, and even worldwide now, in Dubai, Gaza, Australia, and the United Kingdom.
Anyone who’s interested in submitting can email us their submission to email@example.com, and if they’d like to become a regular contributor, they can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re always looking for new stories and new writers. We read every single thing that comes to the inboxes.
You don’t have to be a woman or a Muslim to be published on MG. We have published things from men before -- as long as they aren’t “mansplaining” to us -- and we’ve also published submissions from non-Muslims before as well. However, since our space is dedicated to taking back the narratives of Muslim women, we obviously look for and prioritize content from Muslim women. It’s hard for a Muslim man or a non-Muslim to speak on the experience of a Muslim woman, since, simply put, they aren’t a Muslim woman. We are very aware that we actually have a large non-Muslim following as well, and we actively work on creating content those readers will find informative as well. One of our recently published articles is about how non-Muslims can help stand up to Islamophobia.
Share with us about some of Muslim Girl’s greatest milestones.
Muslim Girl had many milestones in 2016; for that we’re extremely grateful. Here are some of our major milestones:
Muslim Girl became the first Muslim company on the Forbes 30 Under 30 List.
We re-launched to MuslimGirl.com (we were muslimgirl.net before)
We were invited to the United State of Women Summit with Michelle Obama and Oprah; our founder, Amani, was a keynote speaker there as well.
Muslim Girl received a ICNYU Award.
We were commemorated by the city of New York in a City Resolution.
We received a Digital Diversity Award in partnership with NBCUniversal.
MG did our first-ever video series with a major American magazine (Teen Vogue).
We opened an office in Brooklyn.
Amani published the book, Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age, which was reviewed by the New York Times twice.
We ventured into e-commerce with a monthly subscription box for Muslim women. We launched it on Black Friday, and were sold out by Cyber Monday. We also received a great deal of press for it; it was featured in several major outlets and publications, including Elle, Teen Vogue, Mic, and Fortune.
We partnered with the Metropolitan Museum of Art for Teens Take the Met.
Personally, what makes you proud to be a Muslim girl?
I’m proud to be a Muslim girl because Islam has taught me to be a better person. It sounds cliché, but it’s so true. I’m a social worker by profession and by degree, and I became a social worker because I wanted to help people, and help right the wrongs in the world. Islam encourages me to do that; Islam encourages me to stand on the side of justice and civil liberties. That’s true Islam – it is an equalizer. Being a Muslim girl helps me to be a better wife, advocate, and friend, because I practice Islam.
Being around all these amazing Muslim women in our community, who are doing all this amazing work, makes me so proud to Muslim. When I see Muslim women who are doing great things to make the world a better place – whether it be lobbying for civil liberties, raising money for interfaith causes, or volunteering to care for children who need medical care, I’m proud to be Muslim, unapologetically so.