Not long after I finished high school, I read about an organization called We Need Diverse Books. (You can find more information about their organization at diversebooks.org )As a lover of books, this caught my attention. It forced me to reflect on the books I had up until that point chosen to read. I found that they primarily followed the same pattern. The protagonist was white, they were heterosexual, if there was any mention of religion it was some form of Christianity, and it took place in locations that I was familiar with. I realized that I was in a very specific reading bubble.
Once I took a chance to look in the mirror, I decided it was time to make a change. From then on, I've tried my best to consciously try books that didn't follow these patterns. I wanted something outside of the box for myself. Between this nudge and my personal religious journey, I began picked up a couple books written by Muslim authors and featuring Muslim characters from all around the world. Since then, I've read a number of them with a long list of others I'm hoping to read in the future. I want to share with you some of my favorites as well as some that I hope to read soon.
One of the first books that I picked up was Written In The Stars by Aisha Saeed. This is one of the very few books that I've read cover to cover within 24 hours. Saeed is a Pakistani American author who is actually one of the founding members of the We Need Diverse Books Campaign. This book is about a girl in high school named Naila. While she is raised in the US, her parents are from Pakistan and from their differing upbringings, they have very different idea about life and love. Historically when telling others to read this book, I would tell them essentially nothing about the book and just say, "It's really good, just read it." I did this because the blurb on the dust jacket told me more about the story than I wished I had know. However I will explain here that part of the story line in this book is a forced marriage. Saeed makes a point of writing and explaining that forced marriages aren't allowed in Islam and this isn't something she condones at all. This is a fiction story, but is unfortunately something that does happen around the world. It is a beautifully written novel and one that I don't hesitate to encourage others to read.
Around the time that I read Saeed's novel, I was also finding myself going on a religious journey. I was wanting to learn more about other religions. The next novel, The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson was recommended for me to read. This memoir is about Wilson's time as a young adult. She explains how she was raised and where life was taking her with college and the years following. Wilson moved to Egypt for a period of time and converts to Islam. She talks about her journey with her health, her religion, her time in Egypt, falling in love, and everything that follows. It was a beautifully written memoir that spoke to me as I was going on a journey of my own. I also loved Wilson's writing style and have gone on to read almost all of her other books.
Alif the Unseen is the first novel that Wilson went on to write. I picked up the book almost immediately after finishing The Butterfly Mosque but actually waited a number of years to finally read. The 400+ page novel was a bit intimidating for me. Countless times I would start it only to put it back down again. But once I finally read a few chapters in, I was hooked. I couldn't put it down. It was unlike anything I had ever read before. It's honestly something very difficult to even sum up. The protagonist, Alif, is a computer hacker that finds himself in a bit of trouble and has to go "underground" to save himself. There are certain elements that are similar to 1984, such as the all seeing intense state government with the leader being referred to as the "Hand of God," similar to "Big Brother." The novel takes place in an unnamed fictional Middle Eastern country and deals with both futuristic elements, as well as an element of fantasy as Alif comes in contact with a variety of jinn. As I said before, it's a novel unlike anything I'd ever read before. I highly recommend it to everyone. Even if you think, "eh the tech hacking world isn't my thing," give it a try. I thought the same thing as someone who isn't even remotely tech savvy and found myself loving it.
In addition to writing novels and memoirs, Wilson has also written a number of graphic novels. Cairo is a stand alone novel that, naturally, takes place in Cairo. The premise is around a number of people who, all for their own reasons, are drawn to a stolen hookah. It was a fairly short read, but was a glimpse into some of the characteristics of Cairo and the adventures that Wilson envisioned through Cairo.
Wilson has explained in interviews that she has always loved Marvel comics. And now she is fulfilling her dream of one day being the creator of Marvel comics. The Ms. Marvel series centers around a teenage girl, Kamala Khan, living in New Jersey. Like any great superhero/Marvel story line, Kahn finds herself coming into contact with some abnormal "disaster" that leaves her with superpowers. From there, the story follows Kamala Khan as she explores her new powers, her secret identity as Ms. Marvel, and the other normal day to day struggles she finds herself in as a teenage Pakistani American Muslim girl growing up in New Jersey.
Wilson's most recent novel is The Bird King. This is one that I just picked up only a few weeks ago, so I have yet to dive into it. That said, I am looking forward to it since I have loved everything else of Wilson's.
Next, I want to jump to Laughing All the Way to the Mosque by Zarqa Nawaz. This is a memoir written by Nawaz in the style of short stories. Nawaz is a Muslim living in Canada and she shares stories about simply living her life as a Muslim, rolling with the punches, and laughing along th way. There were a number of stories that I could relate to and genuinely found myself laughing along while I read her stories. Nawaz is also the creator, writer, and producer of various short films as well as the writer of the TV series Little Mosque On the Prairie that ran from 2007-2012 in Canada. The series is just as entertaining as Nawaz's book and also worth checking out. There are various plot points in the show that relate to different things she personally experienced and has written about in this memoir.
Across the pond, over in the UK, Ayisha Malik has taken inspiration from her life as a Muslim living in the UK and created the world of Sophia Khan. Sophia Khan Is Not Obliged and the sequel The Other Half of Happiness are fictional novels about a young woman named Sophia Khan that shares her experience in the dating world while also working on her professional career in the world of publishing. In addition to Sophia's love life, Malik uses the supporting characters to explore other areas of romance in the Muslim world, such as interracial relationships and polygamy. Malik's writing style will take you through a range of emotions while you're uncertain what will happen next.
Somewhere along the way, I stumbled upon comics done by Huda Fahmy about her experience as a Muslim in America. She is best know as "Yes I'm Hot in This" which is also the title of her first book. Fahmy takes from personal experience and puts them into funny comics. Some things have been from things she's experienced with her family, while others come from experiences with friends, acquaintances, and strangers. While telling silly stories, Fahmy also uses her platform as a creator to encourage others to not let people bring you down and to be proud of who you are. In her second book, That Can Be Arranged, Fahmy shares the story of how she and her husband Gehad met and how some arranged marriages work within Islam. Later this year, her third book Huda F Are You? will be released. In her third book, Fahmy shares her experiences as a young girl moving to a new city and exploring her sense of identity.
As I shared in my May 2021 check in post, I recently cruised through Uzma Jalaluddin's two novels, Ayesha at Last and Hana Khan Carries On. Her second novel, Hana Khan Carries On, has just been published in the US, which is how I became aware of the novels. There was praise and support for her novel on Instagram which prompted me to check out both of her novels. Right away, I ordered both of them and dove right in. While I knew that the two were stand alone novels, I chose to read them in order of publication. Ayesha at Last was described as being a Muslim take on Pride and Prejudice. While some elements of the story were predictable, I found the writing to be entertaining and I loved every last bit of it. Once finished, I immediately dove into Hana Khan Carries On. This novel, taking place in the same area as the first, centers around rivaling restaurants and is described as the Muslim take on the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan Movie, You've Got Mail. When I started this one, I thought "it's good, but Ayesha was better." But by the end, I have to say that I loved the two of them equally They were light and fun while still breaking down internal conflict, societal struggles, etc.
On my shelves, I have a few books written by Muslim authors that I have yet to read, and even more that I have yet to buy and read. Beyond simply reading books by Muslims, I am trying and hoping to continue to expand on the background of Muslim authors and characters. The experience of Muslims in Malaysia can look wildly different from those in South Africa which will of course differ from Muslims in France. One of the books that I own and have yet to read is Once Upon an Eid. This is a middle grade collection of short stories written by different Muslims. They have all written a short story about how their character is celebrating Eid and how it differs for everyone. What are some of the traditions that they celebrate? How does that look different from one Muslim to the next? I love the idea of this book and how it has brought different backgrounds together.
One thing that became glaringly obvious to me as I put this post together was how I found there to be a lack of books written by Muslim men and/or with a protagonist that was a Muslim man. I would be interested in the different perspective. For anyone that has titles written by Muslim men and/or having a Muslim man as a protagonist that they liked, please share them with me! I'd really like to read some.
Have you read any of these books or heard of any of these authors? Do you have any authors you want to add to the list? If you have any suggestions for new books to check out, I'd love to hear from you. I'd also love to hear your thoughts on any of the books I listed above.