In a world where Muslim voices are often marginalised or misrepresented, Ameer Al-Khatahtbeh, a 25 year old Jordanian-Palestinian visionary, is breaking barriers and amplifying Muslim narratives through his groundbreaking media publication, Muslim. Born and raised in New Jersey, Ameer’s deep-rooted connection to Islam and his passion for justice have driven him to create a platform that not only centres Muslims and addresses the issues impacting their lives, but also celebrates them. With a mission to provide a voice for the Muslim community, Ameer’s journey reflects resilience, determination, and a steadfast commitment to change.
From a young age, Ameer’s upbringing instilled in him a deep appreciation for Islam and its teachings. Raised in a faithful Muslim household by his Jordanian father and Palestinian mother, Ameer was immersed in Islamic values and stories, with his father imparting wisdom and inspiration during their cherished moments together. Despite not attending a traditional Islamic learning environment, Islam became an integral part of his everyday life, shaping his worldview and fueling his passion for justice and fairness. As Ameer grew older, he encountered firsthand the devastating effects of Islamophobia, an experience that further propelled him to challenge stereotypes and create a platform that celebrates the rich diversity and contributions of Muslims worldwide.
Below, read GRAZIA’s interview with Ameer Al-Khatahtbeh where we delved into his inspiring story and the transformative impact he aims to make.
GRAZIA: Can you tell me about your childhood and what role Islam played in your upbringing?
Ameer: “Oh man, Islam is everything. It has shaped me into the person I am. My core values, my strive for justice and fairness all comes from my upbringing and relationship to Islam. I learned about Islam mainly from my father. My father is Jordanian who came to the US in his mid-twenties, whereas my mother is Palestinian who came to the US as a refugee when she was seven years old. They met in New York in their twenties, and when they got married they made sure to make Islam a priority for my siblings and I, as Islam wasn’t emphasised in the US compared to back home. Our family’s business is a video game shop (it still is!) – So growing up, my dad worked from the morning until late at night so I never really saw him outside of work. But, every moment I had with him, whether it was five minutes in a car ride, it was filled with Islamic teachings. He would relay stories and noble characteristics of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and his companions during long car rides and I was always left inspired. I didn’t go to a traditional Islamic learning environment, but because of my family’s strive in ensuring prayer – Islam became my everyday way of thinking and living. I viewed the Prophet SAW as a superhero and role model. My last name is Al-Khatahtbeh, which is very Jordanian, but our lineage is said to derive from Prophet Muhammad SAW’s companion, Umar ibn Al-Khattab.”
GRAZIA: Have you ever witnessed Islamophobia first-hand?
Ameer: “Yes. I witness Islamophobia first-hand almost every day, I kind of became desensitised to it. It’s awful how normal it is, when you think about it. Whether it’s a comment made by a politician on social media, or a media headline – we are so accustomed to accepting these micro-aggressions against our community. My first recollection of Islamophobia was witnessing my father being scrutinised at our video game shop at the age of three, right after 9/11. At the time, my father had a booth at a flea market to sell video games. I remember another vendor started screaming at my parents, and called my dad the most awful slurs. As a grown up now, I asked my parents about the event to ensure it wasn’t a fever dream, and they told me that at the time the vendors at the flea market came together and made a petition to try and remove my family’s booth because of their Muslim identity. Islamophobia progressed more as I aged. By the time I went to middle school, I remember at another time, our class could pick any topic to present for our school project. I chose skateboarding, about six different students decided to pick 9/11 as their topic of choice. When it came time to present our projects, the students one after the other spoke about the events of 9/11 and how Muslims killed innocent Americans. I was the only Muslim student in my class at the time and so I kept getting stares and silence, but I was so distraught and confused. It was an awakening for me on how others perceive me. My classmates and I were only three years old when 9/11 happened, but looking back I notice how this anti-Muslim narrative was indoctrinated to us as kids who had no attachment to the event.”
“We are so accustomed to accepting these micro-aggressions against our community”
GRAZIA: When and how did you create Muslim?
Ameer: “I had the idea of Muslim throughout university but didn’t act upon it until my junior year of college. I created Muslim on February 15, 2019 at the student centre of my college campus. I went to school for Journalism. Muslim started as a project to document and curate Muslim news headlines that were under-looked by mainstream media outlets, but it grew to a full-time commitment by the time I graduated in May of 2020.”
GRAZIA: Why did you decide to create a media platform dedicated to Islam?
Ameer: “Donald Trump was elected into office and the emphasis on the Muslim travel ban made such a chaotic environment for our community. I went to school for journalism. While my classmates were reporting on red carpets and celebrities, my beat in journalism was to cover news impacting Muslims, and at the time we made headlines every day. I was working on a story that university students at Rutgers were impacted by the travel ban and were trapped abroad, and that my university didn’t do anything about it to help them. Once the story was ready, I went to look for a Muslim news outlet to have it published. I wanted this story to reach Muslim students so that they were warned that if they were impacted by the travel ban, to move with caution in university settings. This was the moment that I realised that there weren’t any mainstream media outlets for Muslims. It made me reflect deeply on how Muslims are always perceived in the media, but we did not have a space to tell our own narratives. Everything just clicked, and I had tunnel vision into building a news outlet for our community. Media has a huge impact in community organising, and I want to create a publication similar for Muslims internationally.”
GRAZIA: In your own words, what would you say is the purpose and main goal of “Muslim”?
Ameer: “To centre Muslims, for once. Muslim spearheads coverage on news that impacts our community that is continuously underlooked by mainstream media. Our platform is responsible for creating trending Muslim news stories, developing content for Muslims worldwide, and taking lead on international campaigns and initiatives to ensure we are included, seen and heard. Muslim is a news outlet, media publication and online community for Muslims to connect with one another, to empower each other, amplify our faith, and share our lifestyles and views.
Last year our Instagram following was at one million followers, and now we’re reaching four million Alhamdulillah. Our platform is growing and evolving at a fast rate, it’s exciting but also terrifying. I’m at a phase of scaling right now – it has definitely been a challenge because Muslim is investor-free, does not receive any government funding and relies solely on partnerships, grants, ad revenue and viewer support. I’m very excited for what’s to come in the coming years as we pivot into building our newsroom, inshaAllah.”
GRAZIA: Muslims have been stereotyped for centuries, but what would you say is the worst misconception they face as a whole?
Ameer: “Oh, this is a very good question. There are so many, one being that the Muslim community is “backwards” and not “with the times” just because our faith doesn’t prescribe to a Western lifestyle. Like, no. Muslims are actually the innovators when it comes to equity, fairness and justice.”
“Muslims are actually the innovators when it comes to equity, fairness and justice.”
GRAZIA: How important is the Palestinian cause to you?
Ameer: “With every breath I take, it is in the sake of the return to Palestine. My grandparents survived the Deir Yassin massacre and devoted their lives to make sure the history was preserved and told far and wide. It’s a baton passed on to me to ensure justice is served.”
GRAZIA: Have you ever visited Palestine? If so, what was your favourite memory? If not, what is the first thing you’d like to do there?
Ameer: “No I haven’t, and with the heavy surveillance and harassment I face from Israeli officials and Zionist organizations because of the coverage I deliver on Palestine, I fear that I may never get the chance to visit my homeland. The first thing I would do is pray at Al Aqsa, and then visit my family’s rightful land of Deir Yassin.”
“With every breath I take, it is in the sake of the return to Palestine.”
GRAZIA: What is your favourite verse from the Quran?
Ameer: “There are so many, but I find myself repeatedly coming back to Surah Ad Duha. The work with Muslim gets heavy, I navigate through a lot of different egos daily and sometimes I lose motivation. Allah reaffirms us as he did to our beloved Prophet SAW, “Did He not find you unguided then guided you?” (93:7) I understand that every day presents a new challenge, and that although I may not be equipped to handle it today, Allah will guide me to a resolution, for Allah is the one who guides the misguided.”
GRAZIA: If someone wanted to learn more about Islam, what is the first thing you would encourage them to do?
Ameer: “Oh man, it can be very overwhelming if someone wants to learn about our faith. I’d recommend definitely reaching out to someone in your network that you know is a Muslim, regardless if you have a connection to them or not. Every Muslim is very welcoming and can help guide you or introduce you to the local Muslim community. I’d also recommend looking into the programming of local Muslim communities near you, whether that’s at an Islamic Centre or at a University campus. Muslims are always hosting events and invite everyone to attend, plus they will feed you so it’s a win-win. All I ask is that you set the intention to learn.”
GRAZIA: Living in New York, have you ever felt pressure to steer away from your faith? If so, what helps keep you on the righteous path?
Ameer: “Every day, for sure. Especially being in the media industry, too. Every time an event is made, it’s a mixer or an environment that doesn’t align with my faith per se, but I have to attend to a degree to maintain a network. While working with mainstream brands and sponsorships, I can’t help but feel at times there are set agendas to try to bend Muslim values to perceive us as cool, edgy, or trendy. It definitely can feel like walking on eggshells when so many people around you are living a lifestyle that is the opposite of your practice. However, I always remind myself of my intentions. No opportunity is worth compromising our community and our values. Having the right mentorship and friends who are on their deen has helped me make sure I’m grounded. But to be honest, a lot of my grounding comes from my prayer and my relationship with Allah. I turn down a lot of opportunities that conflict with Islamic values, but I always know that Allah brings forward 10x the reward later. Staying true and steadfast in our faith is a test in this life.”
“No opportunity is worth compromising our community and our values.”
GRAZIA: Where do you see “Muslim” growing in 5 years time? What are your personal and professional aspirations?
Ameer: “I still haven’t launched Muslim, so I will definitely be using the next 5 years in building our news network and media outlet. I want Muslim to be the mainstream go-to for everything Muslim. When it comes to Muslim news, we are at the forefronts. I want correspondents across the world reporting on news affecting our ummah globally. I want us to expand and have a presence so large that we can make every Muslim feel connected. As a community, we always say “we’re one ummah” but don’t have a way for us to connect with each other globally. I believe having a mainstream publication that covers Muslim stories across the world can be a vehicle in uniting our ummah. I’m going to build an Islamic centre one day. And I want there to be computer labs to teach the future generation of Muslims how to use digital tools and how to film videos with the hope to inspire and invest in a future with more Muslim journalists and Muslims in media.”