Gladtidings to the Strangers -- Dania Alkhouli

Dania is a Syrian American Muslim Writer, poet, activist and runs the non-profit A Country called Syria. What better way to get to know someone then to interview!

Salam Dania! Let everyone know your full name, Age, and professional title and any other identifiers?

Hey, y’all. My name is Dania Ayah Alkhouli. I am a 31 year old Syrian Muslim writer, editor, poet,

and community organizer hailing from sunny Southern California. I am also the author of three poetry books that focus on the intersection of a Muslim woman’s life experiences—from

relationships to identity to domestic violence/sexual assault to religion to politics. In 2012, I was

blessed with the opportunity to co-found a nonprofit traveling exhibition on the history, culture,

and stories of Syria with my mom. Currently, alongside this work, I curate and manage events as

well as the social media marketing for a local press. Unknowingly, life kind of made me a jack of all trades, but it’s been a fun adventure to explore and thrive in so many different fields and I'm curious to see where else it will take me.

You are very vocal on social justice issues and social issues, What made you go into writing and poetry?

If I try and remember the first time writing came to me, I’d say it was simply remembering the joy I

had anytime we were given a writing assignment in school. Whether it was a structured essay or a

free write, I got enthusiastic because it was the realest form of expression for me. For the longest

time I kept my writings private—be it prose or poetry or thoughts. Eventually, I found it both

therapeutic and a beneficial tool for change when shared. For women, especially women in

marginalized communities, sometimes our written words are heard the loudest, and I mean that in

both a positive and negative way. To speak up about topics society calls “sensitive” (but in reality are

necessary conversations) is not always easy for women. We immediately become targets of fixation

and backlash. It’s not always the “talking about them” that’s difficult, rather how reprimanded we

are for possessing the courage to work towards change through our words. It's never stopped me

though. Once I recognized the significance of what I say and how much it has offered support and

empowerment to others, I knew this was the path that Allah (swt) created for me. And what a gift it

is to find your passion and your work braided together.

Was there a moment in time you realized you were different because of your visibly Muslim identifiers such as your hijab? How did you change in that moment?

Being Muslim American means inevitably experiencing different moments in life where we feel

visibly different or some sense of otherness. Honestly, the simplest example is how after 31 years,

born and raised in this country, people still can’t get my name right. Looking back at my life, there

was always something that existed or happened to give me some sense of otherness. I have been

wearing hijab since I was seven so it’s both been a defining element to my visibility but also just a

fusion of my identity that even in my visible difference I feel oblivious to it. People stare at me ALL

THE TIME but it stopped bothering me a long time ago. I take it as perspective. Not every defining

experience is negative. Some people realized they were staring at me and came over to tell me it

was because they loved my shoes or had a question about where I got my scarf. However, this isn’t to

say every experience was positive.