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Muslim Books I Can't "Recommend"

By Rukhsana Khan

Recently I had the honour of being asked to speak on a panel called Passports to Understanding: International Children’s Books and Publishing at the American Library Association’s annual conference when it was held in New Orleans. They gave me twenty minutes to tackle the Muslim world in children’s literature.

There were plenty of issues I didn’t have time to explore, one of the most interesting being the difference between Muslim books and books about Muslims.

As a Muslim children’s author I’m often asked to recommend other books teachers/librarians and other conscientious educators can use in their classrooms to help address Muslim issues and make their Muslim students feel a bit more represented.

For that purpose I compiled a list and posted it on my website under the Muslim Booklist. But there were so many very good books that for one reason or another I couldn’t mention so I’m going to address them here.

Go to any Islamic conference and you’ll see instantly that there’s a thriving market for Muslim children’s books. Parents are desperately snatching up titles that will teach Islamic values to their children. The vast majority of these books are heavy-handed lesson-oriented books that don’t translate well for mainstream audiences. It was obvious that I had to exclude them from the list I was compiling.

In fact that might lead some to wonder why I don’t publish my books within the Muslim publishing industry. The fact is I tried them first. I got very little response and later learned why. Apparently some of the publishing companies I’d approached have a very nepotistic approach and only publish their own. In the end I decided that what I really wanted to do was write books that reflect the reality of Muslims here, in North America. I wanted to write the kind of stories kids would call, “Cool!” or whatever the current hip/slang expression for admiration is.

Muslim children in particular suffer from a sense of insecurity and inferiority--at least I did. While growing up I felt as though all the bluster of the Muslim leaders in the masjid arose because they couldn’t make it in mainstream circles. They couldn’t be a ‘someone’ in the ‘real’ world so they had to build their little hill in the Muslim community and stand atop it proclaiming themselves king. Pathetic!

I didn’t want to be like that. I wanted to think bigger. I thought, if I’m going to make it, I want to make it in the mainstream because after all, I didn’t want to limit myself to writing only for Muslim children. I wanted my stories to be for everyone.

While I was 'making it in the mainstream' the Muslim publishing field has changed a lot. There have emerged writers of talent and some Muslim publishers produce books of such quality that they rival mainstream productions. It’s exciting to see such progress!

One of the best examples of this is a lovely series of children’s novels written by an ex-policewoman from Phoenix Arizona named Linda Delgado, aka Widad, who’d accepted Islam. Basing the series on her granddaughter, the Islamic Rose series of books would have been a great addition to my booklist. Unfortunately, the series follows real life and in about the fourth book or so, the grandmother accepts Islam.

That’s a bit of a problem. It isn’t a problem within the Muslim community, in fact quite the opposite, but it is a problem within the mainstream. And it violates my objectives.

Let me say frankly, that my agenda isn’t to convert anyone. The only ulterior motive I possess is to try to humanize Muslims and create more understanding. But really I just want to write a good story. And because I’m a Muslim and there’s still a lack of good books about Muslims, I’m called upon to make sure my stories are about Muslims. It’s filling a niche.

Sometimes it’s a bit confining. I’m sure one day I’ll write about other kinds of characters, but for now it’s Muslims.

I know that with the current environment of suspicion and mistrust there are bound to be parents who’d be suspicious of including any books about Muslims on their school’s syllabus. Of course I need to be sensitive to these concerns. I couldn’t add the Islamic Rose series to my booklist because it deals with conversion. Such stories belong in the same category as Christian publishing. They are books specifically aimed at their religious markets so I had to leave them off.

That said, my twelve year old son found the Islamic Rose books mesmerizing. And the fact that Sister Widad has her books selling in Malaysia, South Africa and other Muslim countries is testament to the popularity of the books. I wish her all the best. To order the books check out Linda/Widad’s website: http://www.widad-lld.com/ But just remember I’m not ‘recommending’ them. ;o)

This article is copyrighted by Rukhsana Khan and cannot be transmitted or produced without her express written permission.