Amani Alkhat is not your average college student. This researcher, scholar, public speaker, activist, and writer (whew!) was invited to speak at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance conference at the UN Plaza.
We spoke to Amani about her remarkable blog, Muslim Girl, about what it’s like being a young, fashionable Muslim woman in America. She’s got a bright mind full of goals and a heart full of drive, so trust us—one day, she will be in your child’s history book.
YHM: Tell us a little about your experiences at Rutgers University and elsewhere.
Amani Alkhat: I’ve been heavily involved with Middle Eastern community and with cultural and politically conscious organizations. It was really refreshing to have them on campus; in high school, I didn’t have any communities to connect with. The Institute for Women’s Leadership (IWL) changed my life. I feel like a different person. It exposed me to feminism in all its forms and has helped shape my identity and how I view feminism as a Muslim and Arab woman.
YHM: I see that you’ve spoken at some really high-profile events. How did that happen?
AA: I started as a delegate for the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) where my main responsibility was to organize a youth advocacy program at the UN. It was an incredible experience that allowed me to network. A woman approached me there and asked me to speak at her event! After that, I just kept getting invited to events. I look back now and think how amazing it was how things unfolded.
YHM: What is muslimgirl.net and what influenced you to start it?
AA: One word: frustration. I was a high school senior and felt so alienated and outcast by the way I kept hearing my religion get spoken about on the news or by my peers. I hated that people thought Islam was some backwards or outdated religion. I wanted a place for Muslim women to connect and apply Islamic standards to our modern lifestyle because ours is a constantly evolving religion.
I wanted to create a forum for women of all religions to learn about each other in the spirit of sisterhood. It was such a nonthreatening way for people to learn about Islam and clear the air about misconceptions, because it was just girls being girls.
YHM: Muslimgirl.net has many different sections like “Professional Muslim Girl” and other fashion related topics. What are the biggest dilemmas you face when purchasing clothing?
AA: One thing I have seen is that girls can be so innovative with fashion. Most clothing that’s marketed toward our age group is really revealing or suggestive. Most Muslim women living in our society accustom themselves to be able to transform their outfits to hijabs or to be modest. There are ranges of modesty. Some wear hijab and some don’t. It’s individualistic and is determined by what their definition of modesty is.
YHM: What does wearing the hijab mean to you?
AA: For me personally it means empowerment. There are so many different definitions of empowerment and liberation. With some women, it comes through by covering your body and protecting yourself against societal standards of beauty to allow people to see you for your mind and personality.
For me, wearing the hijab is also an act of defiance against racism and Islamophobia in order to stay true to who I am. It’s a very personal decision, because if you wear it, the first thing people know about you is that you’re Muslim. I think of it as giving me the ability to open people’s minds by being an ambassador to my religion.
YHM: I see there are a lot of responses to your blog—many of them negative, telling you to “become American” and “relinquish” your culture. How do you respond to ignorant negative messages you receive about your blog and your work?
AA: My whole reasoning behind starting the blog was to eliminate stereotypes—how can you react angrily when that’s one of the very stereotypes you’re trying to combat? I try my best to act in a way that will properly represent my religion. Even if someone insults you, you should respond with peace.
YHM: What would you say to encourage women to be more confident in themselves, their abilities, and their beliefs?
AA: Know yourself better than anyone else knows you. Once you understand your flaws and the great things you have, then no one else can define them for you.
Written by Kerilyn Bartley / Courtesy Photos