Maysoon Khatib

Writer, activist, professor & all around Muslim Girl,y'all!

Maysoon Khatib is an adjunct professor at MSU. She is also an activist, a writer and the managing editor of the web site Maysoon is speaking at WKCTC on March 12, about “Fighting Hate with Humor” and iList encourages you to hear her story. I’ve done hundreds of iMeets, and this one IS my favorite. iMeet Maysoon…she is an inspiration!

Welcome to iMeet, Maysoon. Tell us about yourself...

I’m a middle-aged Arab American Muslim woman living in Murray. There’s nothing odd about that – until someone tries to pronounce my name, or ask me who my kin are!

I was born in Cleveland. Stayed there for a minute before making a brief pit stop with the family in Chicago. Then we moved to Southern California when I was four. I was raised in San Bernardino/Highland area and moved to Dearborn, Michigan at the age of 28.

The majority of my learning in class, and in life, happened in California. Grade school, high school, university…. all West Coast taught, until I completed my Master’s from Murray State University in 2014.

My parents owned a small grocery/liquor store while I was growing up. I learned math behind the cash register, ringing up Pall Mall’s and Colt 45s by the time I was seven. Since both parents were immigrants, I learned some creative English/Arabic/Portuguese expressions, all rolled up into one, so my communication style was a bit eclectic.

As a young kid my friends were the regular store customers. They would play with me in the parking lot during the evening. We used the parking lot lights as stage lights and put on shows. There were no soccer games or piano lessons for me. Every day after school was spent at the store until closing time.

I was raised Muslim, (ironic since we sold liquor at our store, and alcohol is prohibited in our religion.) I was always the only Arab and Muslim in my group of friends. I spent many years pretending I was Mexican just to fit in. (Since my mom was Brazilian, it seemed like an easy transfer of identity.) When I did tell people I was Palestinian they would mistake it with Pakistani - for the most part, many still do!

After graduating high school I married an amazing man from the same faith and cultural background as my father. In fact, our families had history with each other from overseas. We tied the knot in 1991, and in 1994, four days after giving birth to our first and only child together, my husband was killed in our grocery store during a robbery. I remained in California for another 6 years before deciding to leave the state to start a new life.

Tell us about your family...

By 2000, both my parents had passed away, and my brother had decided to move to Michigan. I followed him with my daughter.

I began working for a community newspaper writing articles about growing up as an Arab in America. That’s where I met my husband. He had just moved to the area as well.

He sent a letter to my paper complaining that the story I had written was factually inconsistent with the statistics he had read. Annoyed by him, I decided to marry him! We have three sons together, Ali, Omar and Mohamed. (We tell people we picked their names off the terrorist watch list.)

Along with my daughter from the previous marriage, we are a family of six (and a half counting our dog, Scout.) My daughter, Mieh, recently graduated  from Murray State with a Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Communication, the department I teach in. Ali is in seventh grade and the twins, Omar and Mohamed (Moody) are in fifth grade.

My husband, who was a practicing attorney when I met him, went on to get his PhD in political science from Wayne State University. He is now a tenured pre-law advisor at MSU

Tell us about the web site

Muslim Girl is an online magazine/blog, started by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh at the age of 15 in her bedroom. She was frustrated - watching how the media portrayed Muslims without proper representation from our own community. As years went by, the blog became quite popular and now has evolved into a dotcom online magazine with over 30 writers and five editors.

I am the managing editor, and the “mom” to all these writers. I produce the storyboard, assign the stories, and make sure they are submitted for editing. I also do editing, and occasionally write my own pieces to contribute to our narrative.

Our main objective is to reclaim our Muslin girl narrative because it’s our story to tell – whatever story it is that concerns Muslim women yesterday, today and tomorrow. The writers are all Muslim millennial women, so there is definitely an age difference between myself and all those who contribute, but they keep me on my toes, and in tune with important issues and causes of today that impact us all.

And you're a professor at Murray State! What brought you to Kentucky?

I am an adjunct professor in the Organizational Communication department teaching intro to public speaking. I moved to Murray in 2012 after my husband received an offer from the university to join the political science department.

Prior to coming to Murray, I spent over a decade working for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights as an investigator and Civil Rights Specialist. I served as a liaison for the State of Michigan and the community of Arab Americans living in Michigan. It was hard to leave a career I am so passionate about, but you go where you can be the greatest support for your family. So we packed up our stuff and hauled it to western Kentucky, ya’ll!

How is living in western Kentucky?

Where do I start? First, everyone waives at you here. I mean, the niceties are unreal, but in a good way. It took some time to get used to. The lack of Muslims in my town can be disheartening, but I also use it to strengthen my own connection to God by reading more scripture from the Qur’an and spending time teaching my kids about our faith.

Listen, what we have in a small southern town is no different than what we have in bigger cities across America. The only difference is how people approach you - their thoughts or perceptions. In one city it may have more to do with your face or skin color, whereas in a smaller town their perceptions and biases may be disguised in little micro-aggressive comments.

I’ll get the comments like, “Oh, you don’t wear that head covering thing so I am more comfortable asking you questions. You are more approachable than some of the students we see covering themselves up.” It’s like, what am I? Naked? People will make a comment to me about Muslim covered women, and I’m like “I’m one of her!”

What do you think is the biggest misconceptions that people hold about Muslims?

That we don’t believe in Jesus, we don’t love him and he is different from the one Christians love. That we believe and worship Muhammed, and not God, and we don’t believe in the same God as others of a monotheistic religion. That every imam (spiritual leader) in the mosque gives lectures about taking over America for the purpose of converting everyone to Islam.

That Muslim women are oppressed or submissive to men in our community. That we aren’t allowed to speak or drive, or do anything without their permission.

Its a misconception that Muslims hate Americans - remember I am an American. I was born in Cleveland. That we hate democracy, freedom and all things that the West is founded on. That we all know a terrorist in the making and that we are keeping it a secret. I could go on….

Tell us about a typical day for you…

I open my eyes and pray to God that I don’t embarrass myself by whatever comes out of my mouth. I make sure my kids are ready for school, make the bed, turn on my laptop, and start editing and publishing.

Somewhere around noon, if I’m not teaching, I start cleaning and prepping for dinner. My phone is always in my hand because I use an app called Slack to connect with my writers and editors all day long. My phone is constantly dinging and pinging. It gives me anxiety sometimes. Too many noises from such a small device!

When the kids come home from school they eat, do homework, and then play before we get ready to go to the gym with their dad. Around 9pm, before the boys go to bed, we gather together in the living room and pray. We talk about our day, concerns, funny things that happened. We may have the boys do a little dance to get the wiggles out so they can sleep better. We do a lot of talking at home. Communication is so important.

What's the best part of your job? What is the hardest?

Best part of the job, whether teaching public speaking or mentoring my writers, is seeing that Ah-ha moment when they get the message behind what you are trying to teach them. Writing and speech giving are two of the same – it’s about telling a story. And sometimes it’s finding the real story within the story.

The hardest part is when your time is over with them and you know you haven’t reached them. It makes you second guess yourself. I always feel like I don’t know enough, or I haven’t given enough. And then, even at my age, you walk away with the feeling of letting others down.

What do you like to do in your free time and for fun?

During breaks from school we leave town and travel to see family, or states and countries, we haven’t visited before. I love painting old furniture with chalk paint. I’m really into ‘shabby chic’ since moving to the south.

I love going to open houses and looking at homes. I’m a bit addicted to real estate. I know the best neighborhoods in cities I’ve never lived in because I look through Zillow a lot and then visit those towns on my vacation. I think I was a real estate broker in a past life. Maybe that will be a career I look into.

Have you read any books lately? Please share what you are reading currently...

I love humorist genre. Anything by David Sedaris has been read a hundred times over. Me Talk Pretty One Day is a favorite. Of course I read Muslim Girl’s book such as Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age.

Because I am reading and editing pieces every day by our writers for publishing, I haven’t had a chance to read anything new recently. I do listen to Youtube lectures in the evening before going to bed. It’s provided me with a list of books I want to read based on the author’s lectures online or on Ted Talk. One in particular I am looking forward to reading this spring break when I get some free time is The Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs.

Tell us about your upcoming event at WKCTC, Kentucky Muslim Woman Fights Hate with Humor...

I’m really excited about the upcoming speaking engagement at WKCTC on March 12. But I’m kind of nervous. I mean, I am not a stand-up comedian, so the title of the speech is a bit deceiving. I use humor a lot in telling a story. I’m a story teller by nature and I use examples of real life experiences that happen with me and my family so the audience can relate to me.

As a teacher in a small southern town, for many of my students, I am their first exposure to an Arab Muslim woman. I’m not what they expect, nor are the things that come out of my mouth what they expect from a Muslim women.

My goal is to tell them how I try to stay “woke” when everyone appears to be sleeping. Hopefully, what people will take away from this is that Muslim women, children of immigrants, a middle aged woman in the middle of America, is not so different than the crazy mom they have at home. Bless their hearts.