A Conversation with Amani Al-Khatahtbeh

No longer hiding her Muslim identity, author Amani Al-Khatahtbeh discusses her faith, her website and her youth in New Jersey.

Photo by Jenna Masoud

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh was in the 4th grade at Bowne-Munro Elementary School in East Brunswick when the news broke that two planes crashed into the World Trade Center. After that tragic day, she tried to hide her Muslim identity. But after visiting Jordan, where her family is from, she gained a renewed sense of pride in her heritage and felt a need to be a voice for her faith.

New Jersey Monthly: What is the most troubling stereotype about Muslims? 
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh: The correlation between Muslims and terrorism. There are approximately 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. To put that into perspective, there are 2.2 billion Christians, and to categorize them all as one stereotype would be offensive and ridiculous. But Western media has managed to make Muslims one homogeneous group, disintegrating our individuality. This rhetoric we have to endure has a harmful effect on us as we navigate our lives day to day and leads to horrific policies that allow government to be capable of talking about a Muslim registry.

NJM: What inspired you to launch your website?
AAK: What I was seeing in the news and learning in the classroom were inaccurate, and if I’m in the room, I feel it is my responsibility to speak up. I stood up to a teacher once and he dismissed me, even when I came in with research to back up my point. Young minds are impressionable, and I wanted to provide an alternative perspective.

NJM: How have those outside the Muslim community responded to your site?
AAK: Muslimgirl.com helps humanize Muslims. I hate that I even have to say that. It’s a testament to how far we’ve been disconnected from society. One mother who is Hindu told me she prints out an article each day from the website and reads it with her daughter at night as a self-esteem building exercise. Women of color, regardless of religion, face similar issues.

NJM: Would you say the experience growing up a Muslim in New Jersey is different from other states?
AAK: Living here is safer. However, I still felt like a lone voice and experienced prejudices.  After my trip to Jordan at the age of 13, I decided to start wearing a headscarf. Across the street from my middle school, a police officer looked at me and asked my mom if we speak English. It wasn’t until I got to Rutgers that I met many other Muslims who I could bond with.

NJM: You do a lot of public speaking.  What messages do you share? 
AAK: One of the things I speak about is my name and the pressure I felt to Americanize it. I was on the track team, and my last name was too long to fit on the back of my shirt, so I figured out an “American” way to spell it. The principal’s secretary called me out on it—said I should be proud of my name and every letter in it. That changed how I thought about it. This anecdote reinforces my message to be true to oneself, which has led me to publish a best-selling book with my full name on the cover, in all its glory.

NJM: What would you like readers to get from your new book?
AAK: My goal is to make a feminist statement—shatter stereotypes, open minds, and impact our generation. For Muslim girls, they may see themselves in the stories I’ve written. I hope the next generation will not have to endure what we went through.

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Comments (6)

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  1. John

    I obviously didn’t write the following article, but I can’t disagree with it’s content. If you can’t agree with it as your Quran commands you, then you agree to it’s barbaric commands of death to non-believers(Infidels). If you disagree with the text and commands of the Quran, then you are an infidel and should be subjected to it’s barbaric commands of death by the most inhumane methods imaginable, as per the rules of your religion, Islam. The world wants to choose it’s own religious beliefs without the threat of being slaughtered for those beliefs. Until the leaders of the Muslim nations and the Imams of your religion can openly denounce (un)Holy Jihad against all non-believers of your religion, your words are falling on the ears of the terrorized. That is, was, and always will be wrong, and the crux of why your religion will never be trusted. You speak of equality, religious freedom, and recognition for Muslims and for the religion of Islam. The rest of the world wants that for their religions also, but we aren’t brutally killing innocent people to achieve it. It’s time for your religion to reinterpret the violent inhumane writings of the warlord Muhammad and the Quran or continue to struggle being accepted by modern civilization. tohttp://www.theblaze.com/contributions/islam-is-the-most-violent-religion-in-the-world-but-lets-keep-calling-it-peaceful-anyway/

    • Ray

      Dude, you need to learn about Islam correctly. Stop spreading lies, all Muslims who read your message surely will laugh at you. If Islam is so bad, no one in the western world will convert to Islam like nowadays. Hmmmm I get it, you are too scared to face the truth, I know it’s painful to change your mental map, you will resist at all cost because you’ve been subjected to your belief for years. Visit a mosque and debate one of Islamic scholars, let’s see if you can win with your arguments. I bet you are too scared.

      • John

        1)Did you read the attached article I included and didn’t write?
        2)Nothing I mention is a lie. They are quotes from the Qur’an.
        3)Christian men, women, and children are being slaughtered in the name of Allah throughout Muslim countries.
        4) I have not read nor heard of an Islamic scholar denounce the violence against Infidels that is commanded in their ‘Bible’, The Qur’an.
        5) Sharia Law is an archaic, barbaric law that treats woman like slaves.
        6) The leaders of many European countries now admit that their immigration rules were flawed and now regret having let so many Muslims enter into them who have no intention of assimilating but whose only intention is to spread their Islamic beliefs by any means and change the country they immigrated to, to impose their religious beliefs.
        7) The growth of Islam has nothing to do with it’s popularity. The reason is birth rate. This is a quote from a Pew Research Study on the growth of Islam and it is sited as the main reason for such growth:
        “The main reasons for Islam’s growth ultimately involve simple demographics. To begin with, Muslims have more children than members of the seven other major religious groups analyzed in the study. Each Muslim woman has an average of 3.1 children, significantly above the next-highest group (Christians at 2.7) and the average of all non-Muslims (2.3). In all major regions where there is a sizable Muslim population, Muslim fertility exceeds non-Muslim fertility.”
        8) Don’t assume to know me or my religious beliefs. Do your homework and prove me wrong with some factual content, not your opinions. I’m not afraid to accept a persuasive rebuttal.
        9) Don’t waste my time if you can’t.

      • Guy

        sorry but many are forced to convert. Look at Iran…I have a CHRISTIAN FRIEND and when she returns to IRAN just to visit relatives she is force to muslim standard or face harsh punishment!

  2. Guy

    question…will her male relations best or stone her…if she doesn’t wear the headdress. Obviously there are a LOT of issues for muslims….mostly between their various religions. I have traveled in muslims countries and the people are very nice….but when I read about women being stoned to death for being raped or not wearing the headdress…..this overt religious display takes on other meaning beyond….I am a good person!