In this Dec. 19, 2019, photo, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, founder of MuslimGirl.com, records a podcast pilot at Spotify's headquarters in New York. (AP Photo/Emily Leshner)

MuslimGirl founder Amani Al-Khatahtbeh announces congressional run in New Jersey

(RNS) — Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, founder of MuslimGirl.com, has become the first Muslim woman to run for Congress in New Jersey.

On Saturday (April 4), Al-Khatahtbeh announced her mission “to make democracy happen” by unseating 16-term Democratic incumbent Rep. Frank Pallone, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in the state’s 6th Congressional District.

A New Brunswick native, Al-Khatahtbeh studied political science and Middle Eastern studies at Rutgers University in the district.

“This moment is a stark reminder that we can no longer wait for incremental change. Our leadership can and must put the health and well-being of working families and the most vulnerable among us front and centre,” Al-Khatahtbeh said in a statement. “I’m proud to represent a coalition of under-represented communities in what’s nothing less than a historic fight for our lives.”

Muslim Americans have run for office in record numbers in recent years. According to Jetpac, a Boston-based Muslim political advocacy group, about 172 Muslims around the U.S. ran for office during the 2018 midterm elections; 63 won, including Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib . Last year, 46 of about 94 candidates won their elections.

Al-Khatahtbeh’s campaign platform prioritizes progressive causes, including Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, student loan cancellation, tuition-free public universities, criminal justice reform and a federal $15 minimum wage.

And, thanks to the coronavirus outbreak — which has hospitalized her campaign manager — Al-Khatehtbeh’s 2020 campaign ahead of the state’s June primary will be entirely digital.

It’s fitting for the 27-year-old media founder, who launched MuslimGirl.com out of her bedroom as a high school student. The site, whose writers are mostly young Muslim women in high school and college, publishes posts about issues ranging from self-care, fashion and body positivity to faith and progressive politics.

Now the site is one of the world’s most popular online English-language destinations for Muslim women, she says, with investors including Gary Vaynerchuk and backing from the Malala Fund.

Al-Khatehtbeh wrote about her experiences launching the site and as a hijab-wearing Muslim growing up in the tri-state area post-9/11 in her 2016 memoir, “Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age,” which was named a New York Times editors’ pick. 

That same year, Al-Khatahtbeh and MuslimGirl.com landed on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 media list, making the site the first Muslim company to do so. She’s been featured in a Maroon 5 music video; partnered with nail polish brand ORLY to develop a line of halal polishes – permeable to water, which many Muslims believe is necessary when performing ablutions; and was asked by Michelle Obama to speak at the United State of Women Summit, where she was on a panel moderated by former President Bill Clinton.

Al-Khatahtbeh’s announcement came days after she celebrated the fourth annual Muslim Women’s Day, a campaign she launched in 2017 to increase Muslim women’s representation in media, in partnership with several major brands.

Al-Khatahtbeh, who is the daughter of Jordanian immigrants, told Bustle that she saw Omar and Tlaib as role models for national leadership and has developed a friendship with both legislators. Ahead of her run, Al-Khatahtbeh said, Omar called and gave her an “amazing pep talk.”

“For us, as women of color, once we get in there, we have to open the door for others to follow,” Al-Khatahtbeh said. “She told me to expect that some people I counted on are going to let me down, but that (will) be counteracted by people coming out of the woodwork to have my back. That is sure to overpower anything else.”