It’s fitting that Ateqah Khaki’s first foray into the world of photoblogging took the form of Hearts Hearts Hearts, a site dedicated to the cheerful shape popping up in all sorts of places. A drop of water spreading on jeans, a sliced bell pepper; Ateqah could look at the world around her and see not spills or dinner, but whimsy, creativity, positivity.
She’s not limited to hearts, though. Whether in her daily life as a New Yorker, during her visits to her hometown of Sammamish, WA, or on her travels around the world, Ateqah looks for the good, for the heart, in every thing, and every one. Mind you, this isn’t some sort of post-collegiate revelatory personality change. Throughout high school, Ateqah was the person who could inspire you with a smile, and put you at ease with a glance. I certainly looked up to her. She was smart, compassionate, supportive; there was no doubt in my mind that she could change the world.
Growing up, our hometown wasn’t exactly the most diverse as cities go, but Ateqah’s confidence and friendliness helped her to never feel out of place. When 9/11 happened just weeks after she started college in the rural town of Walla Walla, WA, Ateqah recalls that “not even hours after the attack, despite the fact that Whitman is a fairly progressive campus/community, I found myself having to speak up in defense of my faith in a way that I had never really had to do before.” Whether she knew it or not, the immediate aftermath of September 11th shaped the direction her life would take.
Flashing forward ten years to a post-9/11 New York City, Ateqah, who works in the social justice field, was witnessing yet another “wave of bigotry and xenophobia” toward Muslims. For Ateqah and her best friend Lindsay Arbuckle, this culminated in a news story about Muslim travelers detained at the Canadian border. Both women were outraged, but not surprised, by this fresh slap of racism. “Do you think we should start a website called, ‘My Best Friend is Muslim’? Just pictures of you and your best friend who is a Muslim?” Lindsay asked. “I thought it was a brilliant idea, and a minute and a half later, I had created a Tumblr page for the project,” Ateqah recalls.
Today, MyBestFriendIsMuslim.com is full of smiling snapshots and real stories of true friends, all assuaging the rising tide of Islamophobia in America. It is a tender, but forceful shout of frustration, of hope, of heart. It’s just another example of Ateqah’s ability to create a positive, welcoming place in what can be a dreary, hurtful world. “Do good work. Make the world a better place to be” was a mantra often repeated in the Khaki household. By collecting and documenting these friendships, Ateqah is hoping to do just that. Changing the world by changing minds. Sometimes it’s about a big splash, other times it’s about a small ripple. “Get involved with what you care about — whether it is the environment, education, civil liberties, whatever. Connect with other people who share your passion, and DO SOMETHING,” she says. Don’t be hesitant because your cause isn’t grand enough, your audience large enough. If anything, Ateqah shows us that story by story, photo by photo, we can change the world, and maybe some hearts, too.
Women Working to Do Good is a series that Hello Giggles and the White House have been collaborating on. We will bring you stories of women in communities across the United States who we think are stars in their own right. Whether they are young entrepreneurs, active community organizers, or making a difference in a single life or community, we think these women are amazing and want to share their stories with you! Each story will also be featured on the White House blog, and we are working together to bring more strong female role models to the forefront.
If there is a woman in your community who you think should be honored in this series, email us at email@example.com!
This piece was written by Lauren Humphrey. You can find her on twitter at @ElChump