MURRAY, Ky. — Room 208 in Murray State University’s Faculty Hall was overflowing on Nov. 21 for a presentation by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, founder and editor-in-chief of the popular blog MuslimGirl.com and author of the book “Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age.” Al-Khatahtbeh read excerpts from her new book, which describes her experience as a Muslim woman in America and the struggles she has faced since 9/11.
Al-Khatahtbeh’s book isn’t solely a means to share her story, however. It also provides a way for Muslim girls to see themselves represented on bookstore shelves. Featuring Al-Khatahtbeh’s portrait on the cover, the book has been prominently displayed at Barnes & Noble and comes recommended by the New York Times.
“Amani is one of the most vocal voices of Muslim Americans,” said Dr. Ihsan Alkhatib, associate professor and pre-law adviser in the department of political science and sociology. “She is only 24 and has been described by NYT as a media mogul titan, and her book has been written about in NYT twice as an editor’s choice and a book review. She is an important voice of American Muslim women who are underrepresented in the mainstream media.”
Al-Khatahtbeh also provides commentary on social, cultural and political issues on CNN, Al Jazeera and the BBC, has been featured in The Guardian and Teen Vogue and has been included on Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list. She is a frequent speaker at conferences and events, addressing issues pertaining to women, Islam and the Arab world.
Visibility and overcoming stereotypes were common themes throughout her talk on Murray State’s campus. She began with a compelling statistic: There are 2.2 billion Christians in the world, and there are 1.8 billion Muslims. Just as there are varying denominations within Christianity, she explained, there are diverse views within the Muslim religion as well.
During the talk, she asked audience members to shout out the age they first experienced a racial slur. Many responded with ages under 10.
The diverse audience included students, faculty, staff and community members. The room’s 100 seats were filled, and many people stood or sat on the floor. At the end of the talk, Al-Khatahtbeh took questions from the audience.
When asked how to respond to racism, Al-Khatahtbeh suggested giving people the benefit of the doubt and trying to help them learn. She also encouraged allies to take the initiative to speak up, because it takes a “collective effort” to create change, and people cannot become complacent.
One student asked how to use social media as a tool while avoiding “Facebook fights,” to which Al-Khatahtbeh said she chooses not to respond to trolling but instead combats negative messages through her own posts.
“For me, the tactic that I’ve relied on is using social media to amplify a message. There are going to be a lot of people using it to perpetuate negative stereotypes or preconceived notions and stuff like that, but the beautiful double-edged sword of the Internet is that you can also use it for good, in the same exact way,” said Al-Khatahtbeh.
A student in the College of Education and Human Services asked what she and other future educators can do once they are in the classroom. Al-Khatahtbeh suggested that she put a stop to bullying when she sees it and encourage her students to talk to her if they are being bullied.
The event was sponsored by several departments across campus, including the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, University Libraries, the department of organizational communication, gender and diversity studies within the department of English and philosophy, the department of history and the department of political science and sociology.