Amani al-Khatahtbeh is a self-described “Jersey girl through and through”: She spent her childhood summers on the Shore, listening to Hot 97 and reading gossip columns about Britney Spears.
But after 9/11, al-Khatahtbeh’s childhood became “distinctly shaped” by bullying and Islamophobia.
Her family’s home was vandalized, her father’s beachfront business was threatened with eviction, and her classmates tormented her constantly. “I remember going straight to my guidance counselor and telling her, ‘Every single kid in my class is attacking me,’” al-Khatahtbeh recalls. “And my guidance counselor said, ‘Well, if everyone feels that way, then maybe you need to change.’”
The summer after elementary school, al-Khatahtbeh skipped the beach and taught herself HTML. She created MuslimGirl, a website for “other Muslim girls that were experiencing the same thing [she] was.” The site was a haven for young Muslim women to talk about not only their identities but every aspect of their lives. “One of the first blog posts on MuslimGirl was about your period,” al-Khatahtbeh says.
Today, al-Khatahtbeh has turned MuslimGirl into a thriving company. She’s partnered with Teen Vogue, spoken at the Cannes Lions festival, and been featured on Forbes’s 30 Under 30 List.
When al-Khatahtbeh met a Hindu mother who read MuslimGirl with her 14-year-old daughter every night as a self-esteem-building exercise, “I was just flooded with so much happiness … in that moment,” al-Khatahtbeh says, “because I was that 14-year-old girl. It made me realize what this is all about: making these girls believe that they can do whatever the hell they want.”