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[Audio] Muslim Girl Founder Emphasizes Safety and Allies Ahead of Murray State Talk

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Matt Markgraf, WKMS
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Amani Al-Khatahtbeh is the founder and editor-in-chief of MuslimGirl.com, a non-profit and popular blog with articles geared towards the modern Muslim woman around the globe. She's also the author of a new book, Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age. She speaks Monday at Murray State University about growing up in a post 9/11 world and navigating a path forward for Muslim American women post-election. On Sounds Good, Matt Markgraf speaks with Amani about her work and her role as a leader for young Muslims.

Amani has provided commentary on social and political issues on numerous media outlets including CNN, Al Jazeera, the BBC, The New York Times and a series on Teen Vogue. The New York Times recently included her new book on their recommended reads list.

On one hand, there's a lot of scrutiny on Muslims in America and on the other hand there's a lot of cultural misunderstanding (for example, wearing head scarves - hijab - as a choice). Amani says where she begins as a role model and educator is with the safety of Muslim women. She says that comes first and foremost at Muslim Girl. This includes physical, mental and emotional security. She says the last couple of weeks, "have been trauma for Muslim women and have been met with an escalation of hate crimes targeting Muslim women and women of color."

Muslim Girl was a personal coping mechanism post 9/11, she says. It served as an effort to express her voice and find like-minded Muslim women experiencing the same thing. She says "the conversation was always focused on us but it was never us doing the talking." She launched the site from her teenage bedroom, born out of frustration and the need to talk back, a space to have the conversations pertinent to their lives rather than waiting for the conversations in mainstream media.

MuslimGirl.com is written by mainly young Muslim women from around the world, from writers ranging from a 16-year-old girl in Gaza to a professor at Murray State. She says Muslim women are not a 'monolith' or a 'homogeneous group,' but represent a diversity of thoughts and opinions. "I hate to use this term, but it humanizes us. Especially in a time when we're being systematically dehumanized by the media and made to seem like we are one category."

She says the site doesn't just try to create a voice for Muslim women but also tries to reach people, especially in the United States, who have never met a Muslim person. That void allows for a lot of stereotypes, she says. By cultivating the narrative of MuslimGirl.com without pandering to stereotypes, people can then come to the site and eliminate preconceived notions about who Muslim women.

President-elect Donald Trump has made many comments about the future of Muslims in America, including blocking immigration from some countries and planning a Muslim database or registry. His pick for Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said over the weekend, according to Time.com, he's "not going to rule out anything" with regards to the registry and blocking immigration.

Amani says "We have a huge problem in our society today if it is possible for a man running for the most powerful position in the country to be able to stand on his podium and belt out these ideas that are just so adjacent to our American principles and democratic values... the fact that there isn't enough of an uproar, enough of a push back is something I think we should all really be concerned about." She says 'this type of racism' is getting attention now because it's been put on a national platform and that these issues have been the experience within local communities for decades.

She says many 'allies' have stepped up wearing safety pins, but calls for a more active and engaged response "to this type of bigotry that should not have any type of allowance within our society." She says in the next four years, she sees MuslimGirl.com as being a resource for safety. Around one year ago, Trump made his comments about banning Muslim immigration, during which the website published a "Crisis Safety Manual" for Muslim women. She anticipates continuing to provide that manual. She adds that the website will "hold our politicians feet to the fire" and make sure "there are eyes always on the policies that are being implemented."

For young Muslims living in rural areas like western Kentucky who may not have the resources of a community available, Amani says it's important to align with other minority communities "that might be facing the same threat." She says to identify and empower 'allies' and encourages Muslim women to become familiar with local organizations, resources and hotlines. She says, "It sucks that we are even talking like this. This isn't a war zone. This is just walking down the streets of our hometown where many of us have been born and raised that are suddenly just too dangerous for us to even walk out of our homes in."

MuslimGirl has launched a monthly subscription box service, called the "Muslim Girl Army Care Package." It's a monthly reminder to practice self-care, she says. Each month has a theme and the first box, available on Black Friday, is a post-election care package with products and a copy of the crisis safety manual, some other items including a hand-written letter and pepper spray.

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh speaks Monday at 6 p.m. at Murray State University in Faculty Hall room 208.

Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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