In February I read Amani Al-Khatahtbeh’s Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age Story. Al-Khatahtbeh is the young passionate force behind the Muslim Girl web community. In this short book, Al-Khatahtbeh describes growing up in New Jersey in a post-9/11 atmosphere (she was in fourth grade during the 2001 terrorist attacks). She also expounds upon the challenges that Muslim women face in the United States, while also highlighting the public voice of advocacy that she and other Muslim women are rightfully claiming. I appreciated Al-Khatahtbeh’s examination of the ways that tokenization and stereotyping dominate society’s narrative about Muslim women. I was also very interested in her account of the brief time in her life that she lived in Jordan as a teenager, and how she navigated culture there. I wished there had been even more of that, but that is more a reflection on my own interests in Jordan than on Al-Khatahtbeh’s story.
My main criticism of the book is that it needed to have been fact-checked better – I suspect it was rushed too quickly to print. I caught several errors in the book’s descriptions of news events, when my curiosity had led me to look up the incidents online. For instance, in her book she describes a father and son being killed in the Gaza Strip in 2000, but it was only the son, Muhammed, who was killed.
Another example: when a group of anti-Muslim activists decided to host a “Draw Muhammad Day” in Garland, TX in 2015, Al-Khatahtbeh’s Muslim Girl team cleverly offered an alternative Draw Muhammad online event which invited people to draw a Muhammad that they know (brother, friend, etc.). In her book she says “our campaign effectively drowned out any negativity surrounding the event.” What she does not mention in the book is that, unfortunately, two gunmen did show up to the inflammatory Texas event and were killed by police. So to say that because Muslim Girl’s campaign went viral, that it drowned out any negativity surrounding the event seems naive – and to not mention the gunmen at all seems like trying to dodge the complexity of the situation. I think what the Muslim Girl team did in response was creative and awesome and in no way diminished by what those gunmen did, but I was bothered by how the gunmen weren’t mentioned at all.
I’ve dragged my feet on publishing this review because I worried that my criticisms about fact-checking could be taken as criticisms about the cause and mission of Muslim Girl. But this review reflects my reading experience of the book. I am still impressed by how Al-Khatahtbeh has built an online advocacy community at such a young age and if you visit the Muslim Girl website, it is consistently intersectional, and consistently boosting the voices of people who are underrepresented in general media.