Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri
26 June 2017
The cartoons narrate Ramzan experiences
that are recognisable the world over: like, when fasters are ignorantly asked
if they forgo food to lose weight, or when they get halitosis from not drinking
water, or the guilty pleasure they feel at eating twice after dark. There’s an
universality to the illustrations but also a sharpness.
Created by the British-Bangladeshi
illustrator Nasima Ahmed, the series was commissioned by MuslimGirl.com, the
top web publication for Muslim women in the US. The women in the illustrations
speak the same language as MuslimGirl and its young readers: on the site, for
instance, the sections are called #Blessed, #Problem, #Lit (for literature),
While #Blessed is a repository of
information on what Islam means to a modern Muslim, #Problem is a registry of
hate crimes against Muslims in the US and reportage on campaigns underway to
combat this problem. Over the years, it has published stories on gay imams, and
anti-black racism in the Muslim community.
The website was started in 2009 as a
project in the bedroom of Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, then a teenager, with blog posts
by her friends at the mosque and her own thoughts on what being a Muslim girl
in an American high school meant.
“Growing up, I felt so alienated by society
for my religion that I would lie about being a Muslim,” said Al-Khatahtbeh, in
an interview to Teen Vogue. “Starting MuslimGirl was not only my response to
the lack of accurate representation of Muslims in the media – it also became my
way of asserting my narrative as an American Muslim to the public and
reclaiming my identity.”
With more than 55,000 followers on
Instagram and over one lakh followers on Facebook, Al-Khatahtbeh has come some
way in achieving her goal. The articles on her MuslimGirl.com simplify the
concepts of “fatwa” (religious rulings in accordance to Islam), halal and explore
the area of halal fashion. It recently collaborated with an American beauty
brand to create Halal-certified nail polish for Muslim women.
Al-Khatahtbeh was aware that in post-9/11
America, the words Muslim and terrorist had become coupled in the minds of some
Americans. Just nine at the time the Twin Towers crashed, she was ostracised by
friends – but instead of getting embittered, she resolved to redefine the
narrative of what it meant to be Muslim, and years later, started
Muslimgirl.com way to explore the experiences of Muslims in US.
“We feel a threat to our lives every time
we step out of the house,” said Al-Khatahtbeh in an interview to
Stylelikeu.com. “Airports are a ‘humiliation’ and subways are filled with
Over the years, the MuslimGirl team has
combated Islamophobia innovatively. Shortly after the 2015 attack on the office
of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, Pamela Geller, an American
anti-Islam campaigner, organised an exhibition of offensive drawings of what
people associate with the name Muhammad. So, MuslimGirl decided to help Geller.
“We thought, why not push back against the
hate – with love?” says the MuslimGirl team. “Muhammad is the most common name
in the world. Chances are that all know a Muhammad. So, let’s draw Muhammad.
Let’s honour his diversity. Let’s celebrate his many different faces. Let’s
elevate his humanity. In a bleak world where the Pamela Gellers are the ones
with the mic, let’s shine some light on the good. The result was people drawing
funny little portraits of their friends and colleagues.”
This Ramzan, MuslimGirl published several
explainers – such as, how to give zakat – and a series titled “30 Outfits in 30
Days” that showcased Muslim fashion designers and brands.
In October 2016, Al-Khatahtbeh released her
memoir, titled Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age. The writer Forbes in an interview
that the book’s goal was to have “Muslim girls’ eyes ‘brighten up’ when they
saw they were represented on a bookshelf, a sight rarely seen. But also make
accessible to non-Muslims, the humanity of Muslims living in the US.”