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article imageDigital Journal Mavericks: The Woman Behind the Magazine for Modern Muslim Teens

By David Silverberg     May 29, 2008 in Lifestyle
What happens when you take a teen girl magazine and fill it with articles about hijabs, Afghan doctors and Ramadan resolutions? Muslim Girl Magazine is reaching a unique demographic and editor Ausma Khan says it’s been an uphill battle.
Digital Journal's Mavericks of 2008 series will profile 10 trailblazers in various industries, allowing readers to learn more about the innovators and risk-takers who are making an impact in 2008.
Digital Journal — How do you uphold an ancient culture’s values in a modern era? How do you give Muslim girls a voice in a publishing field that has practically ignored their stories? These were the questions swirling in Ausma Khan’s head when she launched Muslim Girl Magazine in January 2007, a bimonthly dedicated to helping Muslim teen girls cope with the challenges of living in the U.S. It is the first such North American magazine to address Muslim issues to young Muslim women.
It aims to enlighten and entertain a demographic constantly feeling isolated and segmented. Its target market isn’t the Cosmo Girl crowd; it is focused on groups of Muslim girls who want to remain religious but are also curious about boys. These girls want Muslim role models and advice on Islamic law in the 21st century. They want to remain patriotic to both American and Muslim beliefs.
Muslim Girl — based out of L.A. with offices in New York and Toronto — reaches 30,000 bi-monthly subscribers who have pored over such articles covering topics such as a female Afghan soccer team, the best winter hijabs and the CBC TV show Little Mosque on the Prairie. The mag blends hard news features with softer pieces on fashion and lifestyle options, which Khan says relates to both dimensions of a Muslim teen’s personality.
Most impressively, Muslim Girl profiles female role models rarely giving the prominence in other publications. Muslim cheerleaders, Congressman Keith Ellison and his daughter Amirah, country music star Kareem Salama…they are all lauded as leaders worth admiring, an especially necessary idea for girls inundated with prime-time imagery of Miley Cyrus, Gwyneth Paltrow and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Khan has created a specialized magazine no one had the courage to launch years ago. She constantly faces controversies over how edgy her material should be in light of Islamic tradition and old-school Muslim parents who may not approve of certain articles. But therein lies the appeal: this is a mag for kids, not for adults. It talks with them, instead of at them, inviting them to join a conversation usually relegated to the shadows. Muslim Girl educates its readership on issues of true importance under its flashy exterior — a feat very few teen publications can say with a straight face. talked to Khan from about the challenges she faces in courting advertisers and what thought-provoking magazine article intrigued her most.
The September/October 2007 issue of Muslim Girl
The Fall 2007 issue of Muslim Girl focused on articles about Ramadan recipes and resolutions.
Courtesy Muslim Girl Since you launched in January 2007, how has Muslim Girl changed, if at all?
Ausma Khan: When we started, we were fairly cautious because this was the first venture of its kind, and we wanted to see if we can be authentic to that community and be true to Muslim values. In terms of editorial content, we’ve become more comfortable with the Muslim community which has allowed us to be bolder and take more chances and be more open-minded about airing issues on the minds of these young women.
It’s a shame there is such a scarcity of these Muslim-focused magazines. It’s a huge market and it’s very diverse within itself and there’s nothing in the mainstream to cater to those needs. Are you struggling to find advertising for Muslim Girl?
Khan: It’s a constant challenge. Some companies can’t get past our name, and others wonder if their brand will be associated with a political or extremist magazine. Apart from getting organizations to advertise, we haven’t had much success breaking into the mainstream ad market. The best we’ve done is getting fashion and entertainment advertisers because of our fashion shoots. Reading Muslim Girl feels like peering into a society North America doesn’t showcase too often. Was that the intention?
Khan: We started this magazine because we knew Muslim girls felt nothing represented their voices. Also, the impressions people had of Muslims is not true to their own reality. We want to educate people on what Muslims are really like, we want to demystify assumptions – they’re not just women in headscarves and robes.
For example, why do women wearing hijabs? Because they’re forced to do it and they are giving in to oppression? Based on the stories from our magazine from girls who wear it, the issue is largely matter of personal choice and a sign of their commitment to their interpretation of religion.
The debut issue of Muslim Girl magazine
The January 2007 issue of Muslim Girl featured a cover girl shoot of a Muslim teen wrapped in American patriotic garb
Courtesy Muslim Girl What’s one of the most controversial stories or images you ran?
Khan: Our debut issue featured a cover shot of a young Muslim teen holding an American flag, and that was a provocative and symbolic statement. That cover essentially said, “We are like other Americans. We represent American values and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.” I thought you were going to name a story about dating or relationships.
Khan: The reality is that most families who identify with Islamic religious values are not engaged in dating culture. But the teenage girls are still curious about sex and boys. Our popular relationship column has dealt with questions like having sleepovers where boys are invited too. And in May 2007, our cover story focused on dating and Muslims, featuring different perspectives from three families.
My most pressing concern is that the bulk of magazines for young women are all about her desirability and how to attract the opposite sex. There’s so much content on how to make him like you and we think those editorial visions neglect who a girl's character and ignores her accomplishments. We want to get away from that mess. What’s in the works for future issues of Muslim Girl?
Khan: For our September issue, we hope to land interviews with the major presidential candidates, all three of them. We want them to comment on issues facing the Muslim-American community. If we can’t interview them, we’ll at least try to profile young Muslims who work on their campaigns.

Mavericks Series

This is the sixth profile in a 10-part series on Mavericks of 2008, focusing on trailblazers in various fields, from Internet to photography to music. Every day, read about a new industry maverick. Tomorrow, we look at the creative director behind an innovative gaming publisher.
Other Mavericks:
- Ron Deibert, creator of Psiphon software: Psiphon is a censorship-fighting tool, allowing those in oppressive regimes to access any website.
- Jayant Agarwalla, the inventor of the Scrabulous game: Scrabulous riffs off the classic Scrabble board game, and it's become the center of a controversial lawsuit launched by Hasbro and Mattel.
- Nikki Yanofsky, a 14-year-old jazz singer: Yanofsky is a teenage jazz prodigy who's already played Carnegie Hall and jazz festivals, giving audiences a taste of the talent brewing in her golden voice.
- Phil Borges, a photographer capturing the forgotten cultures of indigenous tribes: Passionate about foreign ways of life, Seattle-based Phil Borges wants to let the West know about endangered tribes and villages through his impacting photographs.
- Ben Popken, editor of blog The Consumerist: Few blogs fight for consumer rights as well as The Consumerist, which criticizes corporate scams big and small.
More about Muslim girl, Islam, Khan, Magazine, Ramadan
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