Tired of being bullied, this “MuslimGirl” found a way for Muslim women to talk back

I was born and raised a Jersey girl through and through. I spent my childhood summers on the Jersey shore. I knew all of the boy bands. I followed along with all the news about Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. I watched every single episode of the Jersey Shore. I was listening to Hot 97 from, like second grade. When I think back to grade school and my childhood, it is distinctly shaped by my experience getting bullied. The year that 9/11 happened was the first time that I was called a racial slur and it was in my classroom. I remember going straight to my guidance counselor, and telling her, you know like, every single kid in my class is attacking me. And my guidance counselor said, “Well, if everyone feels that way then, maybe you need to change.” My father had an electronic store, on the beach. Immediately after 9/11 another vendor created a petition to kick out all the Muslim vendors. They would, like, come to my Dad’s store, right in front of me, like harass him, call him names. Our house started getting teepeed, egged, water ballooned, on the regular. That’s when I started actually learning about the history of this religion and what its basic principles are, what it stood for. I decided that I wanted to wear a headscarf as my public defiance of islamophobia. Right off the bat, umm, my friends just stopped communicating with me all together. The summer after I finished elementary school my Dad opened up a new store on the boardwalk. That had an internet cafe. My Dad was one of the first people, like, on AOL instant messenger. And I remember just being fascinated by it. I was like, “what are you talking about?” you’re talking to your friends, through your computer screen right now? Instead of being at the water park or the beach like I normally would be, I instead spent the entire summer on the computer. Teaching myself HTML and coding, and I was just obsessed. I decided to make a website with the intention of finding other Muslim girls that were experiencing the same thing I was. And my Dad thought, “Oh my God, that’s such a great idea.” “Make sure you talk about Islam.” “Make sure to tell people what it’s really about.” “Oh my God, like share the actual principles of it.” “Share some good on” and stuff like that. And I remember thinking, like, “Okay Dad, we’re going to do it in our own style.” One of the first blog posts on Muslim Girl was about your period. Things that seemed taboo or conversations that seemed hidden away for most of our lives were things that we just opened up about. After I graduated college I started to focus on Muslim Girl full-time. We developed a team of volunteer editors. And started really developing it as a company. And now, this little thing that started in my bedroom when I was a teenager, has really grown to take on a life of its own. Muslim Girl was blessed with a lot of great moments this year. Our video series with Teen Vogue. Getting a TED Talk in Greece. Or when I spoke at the Cannes Lions festival in France. Muslim Girl was in the Forbes 30 under 30 list. One of the most touching moments was when I met a Hindu mother, who told me that: she read Muslim Girl and she would print out an article from it that she would read to her fourteen year-old daughter every night, when she put her to bed. And that, that was their self-esteem building exercise at the end of a long day. I was just flooded with so much happiness and tears of joy in that moment because I was that fourteen-year-old girl at one point. It made me realize what this was all about. Making these girls believe that they can do whatever the hell they want. Yes, we can be successful in a society as adverse and islamophobic as this. We can survive, and we can stay true to our identities at the same time. And that’s a wrap.