Over the summer two of my blog posts focused on how through reading books about diverse characters, we can combat racism. (Combating Racism Pt.1, Combating Racism Pt. 2). As saddened as I was about the horrific attacks in Paris this past Friday, my heart feared greatly for the response our country, no our world, would take. I feared for peaceful Muslim people, but more specifically for one of my dear friends who constantly receives hate and was most recently practically driven off the freeway. I know of the ugliness that folks do to her all the time, and in the first few hours after an attack, with emotions high, I feared the racist diatribes and violence to come. Sadly, I was not wrong.
As I read articles on the web and read the comments, my essay from the summer kept coming to my mind. I read of folks asking to be taught about the Muslim faith and responses saying “Google is your friend”. While Google is great, I feel that if folks truly want to know they can also read a book. We become more empathetic through reading literature because we can imagine ourselves as the characters. What a better way to become more empathetic to the plights of the Syrian refugees by reading about fleeing a country from terror. And then, hopefully once the mind is opened, the heart will be and the newly enlightened person will help.
With these thoughts heavily on my mind the past few days, I thought I’d put together a small list of books featuring Muslim characters just living their lives, for parents, teachers, librarians, just people, to share with their youth (and read themselves) and develop a sense of empathy.
Written in the Stars, by Aisha Saeed
This heart-wrenching novel explores what it is like to be thrust into an unwanted marriage. Has Naila’s fate been written in the stars? Or can she still make her own destiny?
Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up—but they will choose her husband. Following their cultural tradition, they will plan an arranged marriage for her. And until then, dating—even friendship with a boy—is forbidden. When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed—her parents have found her a husband and they want her to marry him, now! Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif . . . if he can find her before it’s too late.
For a bit of intersectionality, here is a terrific book whose characters are not only Muslim but LGBT.
Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They’ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love—Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed if their relationship came to light.
So they carry on in secret—until Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Nasrin tries to persuade Sahar that they can go on as they have been, only now with new comforts provided by the decent, well-to-do doctor Nasrin will marry. But Sahar dreams of loving Nasrin exclusively—and openly.
Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin. Sahar will never be able to love the one she wants, in the body she wants to be loved in, without risking her life. Is saving her love worth sacrificing her true self?
This is a book I have actually taught. Many of my students could really relate to it because they are immigrants, or the children of immigrants, and understood Fadi’s struggle.
Shooting Kabul, by N.H. Senzai
In the summer of 2001, twelve year old Fadi’s parents make the difficult decision to illegally leave Afghanistan and move the family to the United States. When their underground transport arrives at the rendezvous point, chaos ensues, and Fadi is left dragging his younger sister Mariam through the crush of people. But Mariam accidentally lets go of his hand and becomes lost in the crowd, just as Fadi is snatched up into the truck. With Taliban soldiers closing in, the truck speeds away, leaving Mariam behind.
Adjusting to life in the United States isn’t easy for Fadi’s family and as the events of September 11th unfold the prospects of locating Mariam in a war torn Afghanistan seem slim. When a photography competition with a grand prize trip to India is announced, Fadi sees his chance to return to Afghanistan and find his sister. But can one photo really bring Mariam home?
Based in part on the Ms. Senzai’s husband’s own experience fleeing his home in Soviet controlled Afghanistan in the 1970s, Shooting Kabul is a powerful story of hope, love, and perseverance.
If today were Thursday, this would be my throwback book. Released in 2007.
Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
When sixteen-year-old Amal decides to wear the hijab full-time, her entire world changes, all because of a piece of cloth…
Sixteen-year-old Amal makes the decision to start wearing the hijab full- time and everyone has a reaction. Her parents, her teachers, her friends, people on the street. But she stands by her decision to embrace her faith and all that it is, even if it does make her a little different from everyone else.
Can she handle the taunts of “towel head,” the prejudice of her classmates, and still attract the cutest boy in school? Brilliantly funny and poignant, Randa Abdel-Fattah’s debut novel will strike a chord in all teenage readers, no matter what their beliefs.
This list is far from complete as there are many more wonderful books out there. And in fact, the good folks at Diversity in YA made a list last summer of books for teens about the Arab World. Take a look. I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll like.
Notable Novels for Teens About the Arab World
One Reply to “Mirrors and Windows of Muslim Life”
Another light read for young YA, of a Muslim American protagonist dealing with everyday friend-and-family issues, during Ramadan, is Medeia Sharif’s THE BESTEST RAMADAN EVER
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