SHAFAQNA – A Muslim pop culture website: The idea seemed so obvious, Zainab Khan waited years for someone else to make one. A place for jokes about nosy aunties, sharing hijab hacks and Ramadan recipes, and advice on navigating Minder (yup, there’s a Muslim Tinder).
But existing sites for young Muslims tended to focus on international news and politics. Mozzified, which Khan launched in January while attending journalism school at the University of California, Berkeley, is geared toward what Khan and her friends call “Mozzies,” young, socially aware Muslims who might, say, “binge-watch Friends on Netflix, play basketball after Friday prayers and buy eco-friendly products.”
Khan and a team of four classmates have put out dozens of articles on everything from Muslim street artists to the whereabouts of a post-One Direction Zayn Malik. The site thrives on inside jokes, like the 12 thoughts every Muslim has while prayer cleansing in a public restroom.
What you won’t find? Apologies. Khan looks for content that she thinks will appeal to other young Muslims, and says she refuses to pander to fear-mongers or Islamophobes.
Khan expected the site to be popular with people like her — high school and college students who grew up with Muslim and American identities. She says she’s been surprised at how many young Muslims from Australia, the U.K., Pakistan and India have been checking the site out, too.
Given that her target audience is one of the world’s fastest-growing demographic groups — Pew estimates there will be540 million Muslim youth worldwide by 2030 — Khan says Mozzified is just getting started. I had a few questions for her:
So, what does Mozzified mean?
Mozzify is a made-up word. At Wesleyan, we had a small but active Muslim Students Association, this really cool community of international students and people from across the country who all had shared experiences, and we started calling each other “Mozzies.” The idea was this intersectional identity of being everything else and being Muslim.
To “mozzify” is to take something from any culture and reinterpret it through a Muslim lens. So, for example, when I walk into a Nordstrom and I see a rack of scarves, I’m like, “Oh, that’s the hijab section.” Being a Mozzie, I’m filtering the information that I’m seeing. I think a lot of people do this, and it’s really, really powerful for us to be able to give voice to that community.
Why did you start this website?
I wanted to do something for people like me, in college or in high school, who are maybe the only Muslim students in their entire school, or just one of a few. They have these experiences that are very similar, but they don’t know that there are massive groups of people throughout the world who are experiencing the same thing.
I grew up in a traditional Pakistani Muslim household, but being at Wesleyan University was the first time that I saw people perform both their American and Muslim identities comfortably. That was something that was really foreign to me, because growing up in my household, to be Muslim meant to be Pakistani, but here I was, a kid who was raised in the suburbs of Chicago. I didn’t feel very culturally Pakistani. But at Wesleyan, I noticed this unique culture of Muslims owning all of our identities.
I had a Muslim chaplain who was Egyptian and American Muslim, and the first time I saw her, she was wearing a Gap hoodie, a long denim skirt and a hijab. I thought that kind of epitomized this Muslim American identity, and that was really cool. As a kid, I was agnostic in high school, I wasn’t practicing, and then I get to one of the most liberal colleges in this country and I saw that it was possible to perform all of my identities and to do it well.
How does your site address Muslim identity differently from spaces that already exist on the Web?
There’s two ways to form an identity. One is by deciding who you are not, and in my opinion that’s a very dangerous way to form an identity, because you’re building yourself based on reactions rather than affirmations. So I wanted to create something that was based on an “I am” sort of identity formation.
But there’s a vast breadth of knowledge on Islam and Muslims on the Web already, and I don’t feel the need to re-explain. Instead, I get to have my contributors and myself and this large, large, large group of people share their stories as they want to, and as they see them. I think post 9/11, a lot of Muslims and a lot of Muslim organizations have gotten into this trap of being apologetic, and always responding. It’s much more powerful to tell your own story on your own terms. I think it’s really healthy for us as Muslims, as communities, to start understanding ourselves from inside out rather than outside in.
What’s next for Mozzified?
There’s a whole bunch coming. We’re going to do a “dirty laundry” column, a platform to talk about the issues that we as a community want to ignore. The idea is that I want Mozzified to be an inclusive space for all kinds of Muslims. I don’t really turn anyone away.
One of my really good friends wants to write a piece called “The F-word.” And it’s not the F-word that you would imagine; it’s “feminism.” Why does that cause such a reaction in the community? Really exploring things that need to be aired out, airing out our dirty laundry. That’s something I’m really excited about.
Articles you’ve written in the past that have gotten large reactions, both positive and negative: What were some of those reactions, and how have those experiences affected the way you pick what goes on Mozzified?
I’m so happy the community called me out for this: I wrote a piece for the Islamic Monthly called “Deconstructing the Hijabi Bride.” When I talked about American Islam, I didn’t even know that I was doing it, but I was promoting second-generation, educated Arabs and Pakistanis and South Asians as the communities that represent American Islam. People were really quick to call out the fact that I had completely disregarded black American Muslims, African-American Muslims and West African Muslims. I’m thinking about model minorities, and within the American Muslim communities, who interacts with whom, whose narratives we are trying to erase, whose narratives we are not giving prominence. I think putting that piece out there was great in making me more self-aware.
I’ve written pieces that end up on all these subreddits where people just hate me, they hate my face, hate everything that I have to say. At first it’s alarming, but I learned fairly quickly what it takes to do this kind of stuff. It’s prepared me for the Internet and reactions in general.
My first major decision with Mozzified was that I don’t want our posts to be reactionary. That’s my philosophy when it comes to building an American Muslim voice, or a Muslim voice, or identity formation, whatever it may be. I wanted to do things on our own terms. Obviously, there’s gonna be some news that really calls for our reaction, but for the most part, I still have the philosophy of, just put it out there and see what happens. I don’t think it’s smart to hold back.