Mena and Zena Nasiri are two young women trying to make a difference in the world. They have donated many books to schools and libraries so Muslim girls like them will be able to see themselves in the books they read and the collections in these libraries will be more inclusive. We welcome Mena and Zena to the blog today to share a little about what they are doing and why.
Tell us a little bit about Girls of the Crescent. How did you start your organization? What is your goal?
Girls of the Crescent is a nonprofit organization that donates books with female Muslim main characters to schools and libraries. We want to empower Muslim girls through books and also spread awareness and acceptance. We hope to increase representation and diversity in literature. The first time we realized that there was a lack of diverse books was in 4th grade when we were given a research project to research about someone inspirational. We went to our local library with Muslim women in mind for the project but we could find no books about them and ended up having to do the project on someone else. We never really thought that we could do something to address the problem until last year when we read our first book with a female Muslim main character. The experience of reading about a character we could relate to was amazing and we want to make sure other girls can be represented as well. We decided to start the organization in March 2018 and have been working on getting these books into schools and libraries since.
I’m sure you have busy lives like anyone else. What keeps the two of you doing this work?
We do have busy lives with school, homework, after school activities, and more, but the nonprofit is something we are passionate about. We always make sure to have some time each day to work on the nonprofit. Our work with Girls of the Crescent is so important to us because we know that we are making a difference and that drives us to keep doing it.
If someone wants to read young adult books featuring female Muslim main characters, which titles would you recommend?
Our favorite book on our list is The Lines We Cross, by Randa Abdel-Fatah, a young adult novel about a refugee from Afghanistan named Mina that flees to Australia and has to deal with negative experiences regarding her identity.
Suzanne Fisher Staples’ Under The Persimmon Tree is a brutally honest and powerful story about Najmah, a young Afghan girl who flees her home and family after the Taliban attacks. She meets Nusrat, an American woman running a school for refugee children in Pakistan, and the two help each other find where they belong.
Yes, I’m Hot in This: The Hilarious Truth about Life in a Hijab, by Huda Fahmy, is a hilarious, relatable, and eye-opening collection of comics about the daily struggles of Muslim girls and women.
It has been incredible seeing the books we donate in schools and libraries and noticing the impact they have. Librarians and teachers have told us about how their students were excited to see a character that looked like them and that really reinforces why we are doing what we do. Young Muslim girls deserve representation in the books that they have access to and it is wonderful knowing that we are providing that representation. It brings us back to when we couldn’t see characters we could relate to and makes us even more passionate about our work. Also, we know that the books we are donating are not only helping Muslim girls but are also great for other students. The characters in these books can provide a new perspective and give people more awareness and acceptance. One of our friends came up to us after reading one of the books on our list and said that it was interesting and eye-opening. We hope that through the work we are doing we can impact more people through the books that we are donating.
What would you tell young people who would like to make a difference in their communities?
If you want to make a difference in your community, there are no limitations to what you can accomplish. Your age, gender, or background are never something that should hold you back. We are both high schoolers but we started this nonprofit and have received a lot of support. Find people that support you, whether its your family, friends, neighbors, or community. Once you know the issue that you want to address in your community, brainstorm ways you could approach it. For us, having a nonprofit was the best and most effective way to reach the most people and accomplish our goal. When you get started, don’t be discouraged if you face obstacles. It might be hard at first, especially if the issue you are addressing is large, but know that you are making a difference. Most importantly, love what you are doing. We love working on our nonprofit because it is something that we are passionate about and that keeps us motivated. You have unlimited potential and can make a big difference if you put your mind to it!
If you would like to learn more about Girls of the Crescent, please visit their website.