How the 22-year-old who owns the @Muslim Instagram handle used it to launch a disruptive media company
- 22-year-old Ameer Al-Khatahtbeh founded Muslim, a publication and brand for Muslim youth.
- In two years, @Muslim on Instagram has gained more than 750K followers.
- The publication now has a sizable audience on all social media platforms and a Snapchat partnership.
- Al-Khatahtbeh was featured on Forbes 30 Under 30 for his work on Muslim.
We are in the midst of a media reckoning, where digital publications and platforms are suddenly scrambling to rectify homogeneous newsrooms. In this time, it may feel like American media companies are finally beginning to make space for minority voices.
But 22-year-old Palestinian and Jordanian Ameer Al-Khatahtbeh is not waiting around for his turn. Al-Khatahtbeh is creating a new path altogether for his community as the founder and editor-in-chief of Muslim, a digital platform for Gen-Z and millennial Muslims.
While religious publications in the past have focused on providing spiritual guidance for their audiences, Muslim focuses on being a unique space where young Muslims can get news, relate to other Muslim youth, and gain a sense of belonging.
As far as mainstream media goes, Muslim is slowly making a name for itself. Even if you don't immediately recognize the platform's #MuslimTikTokMonday or "Muslims React To" YouTube videos, there's a chance you may have seen its viral infographics of the Yemen crisis, which were shared by celebrities including Gigi Hadid and Halsey, or the site's coverage of Rihanna's controversial use of an Islamic prayer during her Savage x Fenty Fashion Show.
Muslim is a digital brand growing on several platforms
The Muslim brand consists of its main site, Muslim.co, where articles on news, opinions, lifestyle, and culture are posted; its Instagram page, where fun infographics and videos are shared; and its TikTok, Snapchat, and Twitter. The brand is meant to present Islamic topics through the lens of Gen-Z and Millennial Muslims.
In just two years since its inception, Muslim's Instagram page, @Muslim, has garnered more than 750K followers. Its TikTok, which launched in September 2020 is now approaching 200K followers, and its YouTube, which was launched in February of this year is about to hit 10K subscribers. Aside from some help with graphics and editing from talented Muslim friends, Al-Khatahtbeh grew the platform all on his own.
"I couldn't find a Muslim community on Instagram so I created it," Al-Khatahtbeh told Insider. "For me, the content is for Gen Z Muslims, and who knows the best way to cater to them than a Gen Z Muslim themselves?"
The idea for Muslim grew during Al-Khatahtbeh's time as a student
Al-Khatahtbeh first got the idea for Muslim during his time as an undergraduate student at Rutgers University. Donald Trump had become president during Al-Khatahtbeh's freshman year of college, which contributed to a surge in anti-Muslim rhetoric. Al-Khatahtbeh often found himself the only Muslim person in his classrooms. He often felt like he had to be the spokesperson and defendent for the Muslim community in school. He wanted to change that.
His chance came when he was forwarded a flyer about the Asian American Journalist Association's Catalyst program, an intensive boot camp for people of color in the media interested in creating their own media products. During the three-day workshop, Al-Khatahtbeh had to come up with a pitch deck and present his idea to media investors.
When Al-Khatahtbeh presented his publication as a media platform for Gen Z and millennial Muslims, he seemed to pique the interest of the advisors. And when he told them he owned the name @Muslim on Instagram, they were hooked.
"They were just like, 'Oh my God, yes. You have something big.'"
Al-Khatahtbeh felt more determined than ever to make something of his idea. On February 15, 2019 he launched a newsletter called "The Post Up" and created his first post on the @Muslim Instagram page. Al-Khatahtbeh used both the newsletter and Instagram page to aggregate and explain Muslim news from all around the world. He gathered the news by setting Apple News alerts on his phone for words like "Muslim" and "Islam," and would rush to release content any time any breaking news happened.
He established a base following by promoting the newsletter and Instagram at Rutgers Muslim Student Association meetings and plugging them at local mosques. Eventually, the site grew through word of mouth and different students sharing his posts.
Aysha Khan, a former Islam beat reporter at Religion News Service and a current freelance journalist in Boston covering American Muslim issues, tells Insider, "This newer generation of Muslim outlets has been tapping into an audience of Gen Z Muslims on Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat and are not only covering digital culture for Muslims but actually becoming a part of it. So I'm hopeful that as these newer publications come of age, they'll be able to support full-time editors and newsrooms to produce the professional reporting our communities deserve."
While other publications catered to older Muslims, or understanding Islamic scripture, Muslim served as a place for younger Muslims to gain an appreciation for their faith while keeping up to date with current events.
How Muslim grew its following
In its first year, Muslim gained 70K followers on Instagram. Al-Khatahtbeh attributes some of this growth to his tenacious posting during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan, from tips on how to celebrate Ramadan while quarantining, to Islamic reminders and quotes from the Quran. At one point during the month, he was posting five times a day on his Instagram and publishing three articles a day to his site, with the help of student volunteers and contributors.
"I just thought, 'We just need to spew so much content,' because we just need to be there for our community during its most vulnerable time," he said.
Muslim wants to dismantle stereotypes and creat a community
Though he recognized the size and potential strength of the community he wanted to address, one of the most difficult aspects of building Muslim was figuring out how it should be used to serve the community. Al-Khatahtbeh knew he wanted to create a space where he was not instructing anyone on how to be the "right kind of Muslim."
"Who is to say what practice of Islam is the right practice of Islam? No one," Al-Khatahtbeh said. "So when we're representing Muslims, of course there are so many Muslims to represent. My job was to figure out: How can we cater to all of them?"
Al-Khatahtbeh wanted to create a community and deliver them news. And that's exactly what he did, all while finishing up his undergraduate career.
While Muslim has exponentially grown in its short existence, Al-Khatahtbeh sees it as just the beginning. Already, Al-Khatahtbeh has been featured in Forbes 30 Under 30 list and secured a Snapchat Discover Channel for the upcoming Ramadan. He has high hopes for what the publication can achieve in the long-term.
"I really hope that we can hit all our goals with our mission of dismantling the stereotypes and creating the community for Muslims, especially young Muslims," Al-Khatahbeh says. "I also just hope that people are as excited to be a part of Muslim or be associated by Muslim as they are with any mainstream media."
Al-Khatahtbeh is confident that he can help other young Muslim people embrace their faith the way the publication does.
"For Muslim, the mission statement has always been regardless of who you are, how you practice, how you present, regardless of any of that, at the end of the day, if you define yourself as a Muslim, the space is there for you."
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