بِسْمِ ٱللَّٰهِ ٱلرَّحْمَٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
We Need More Muslim Novels
This week’s post is all about diversity—or the lack of it.
The first book I read that had Muslim characters was “Shabanu” by Suzanne Fisher Staples. I was in sixth grade and my English teacher, Ms. Nana, recommended this book since I was visibly Muslim (hijabi) and an avid reader in her class. At the end of the year, I got to keep the book! It was then I told myself to find more books like “Shabanu” in the school library—and ultimately all libraries I could visit. I spent hours at the local Barnes & Noble, hoping to find Muslim stories for myself. I wanted to see not only representation (South Asian here), but a reflection of my faith in stories and novels. I would go on to read many more books with Muslim, or South Asian characters, but I wasn’t satisfied. These authors weren’t like me—their writing included diversity—but it lacked authenticity. They weren’t from these backgrounds; they didn’t grow up Muslim or South Asian-American to really connect to the stories.
The sad thing is I couldn’t find the books I was looking for. Why? Why aren’t there practicing Muslims in stories and novels? Why are there such a small number of books by Muslim authors?
This was when I started doing my own writing. Most (if not all) of the fiction stories I wrote for class assignments were just “white” characters—they reflected what I’d read over the decade, but not my identity. The only time I wrote non-white writing was a non-fiction piece about my mom, in the third grade, and diary entries about my visit to Bangladesh. Yup. All those stories I’d written were about little white girls doing whatever little white girls did—no mention of faith or culture or anything someone like me could identify with. I have none of those stories from my elementary and middle school-aged days, anyway (Ammu must’ve purged all those notebooks at the end of each school year). Now, I’ve decided to write what resonates with me—from childhood to now—the stories are a reflection of me and my identity.
Now, to answer the question: Why are there such a small number of books by Muslim authors? It’s because the traditional publishing industry only focuses on what SELLS. Modern media has tarnished us Muslims as “evil” so therefore, no one would pick up a book by one or accept it for publication, especially if the author has a “Muslim” sounding name. I thought about using a pen name to publish my stories even if I wasn’t taking the traditional route. Then I thought: what if there’s a girl like me out there looking for books written by Muslims like I did? That’s why I’ve decided to use my real name when I publish my books. I won’t hide my Muslim identity when I wouldn’t be who I am without Islam.
Maybe in the future, there would be more Muslim-oriented books for everyone—not just for Muslims—and readers will open their eyes and see for themselves—not what others tell them—about us.
If anyone’s interested in the books I’ve read in my quest for representation (South-Asian and/or Muslim), here’s the list:
(PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS NOT A RECOMMENDATION LIST—that will be coming soon!)
- Shabanu by Suzanne Fisher Staples
- Anahita’s Woven Riddle by Meghan Nuttall Sayers
- Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
- Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos
- Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet by Kashmira Sheth
- Payback by Rosemary Hayes
- Jahanara by Kathryn Lasky
- Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan
- Parvana’s Journey by Deborah Ellis
- Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher
- Under the Persimmon Tree by Susanne Fisher Staples
If you know of good books with authors of diversity—mainly Muslim/South Asian PLEASE let me know! I’d love to read it and you’ll be credited for giving me my new favorite read!