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Muslim Children’s Books: an Exposé

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 by Hasan Jilani

The state of Muslim children’s books is deplorable. There are a few gems, but most books are poorly written and poorly illustrated. We must praise the intentions behind these pioneering efforts, but are they really helping our children?

When a kids’ book uses SAT words and dull pictures, it sends a subtle message: Islam is confusing and boring. We think we’re helping our children, but instead we may be driving them away from Islam. We need a new approach.

Better Writing

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To prove my point, here are a few examples of what’s in the market. This excerpt is from one of the few Islamic board books available:

One morning Hamza work up bright and early and went to the family room and said to his brother Ali, ‘Assalamalakum, let’s go have our breakfast.’ Ali replied, ‘I’m not going to eat breakfast today because it’s the first day of Ramadan and I’m fasting today.’ Hamza didn’t understand the meaning of fasting.

Reading Grade Level: 9.1 – The toddler has to be in high school to understand this!

Note the long compound sentences, big words like “because” and “understand”, use of contractions, and unnecessary details like “family room”. A better approach would be to break up the story into smaller sentences, simplify the plot, use smaller words, and avoid contractions.

Here is my re-write:

One day, Hamza woke up. He met his brother Ali. Hamza said, “Let’s eat breakfast!” Ali said, “I will not eat breakfast today. It is the first day of Ramadan. I am fasting.” What is fasting? Hamza did not know.

Reading Grade Level: 1.9 – Much better!

Here are a couple more examples:

From reading grade level 7.0 to 3.1 and then 2.8
From reading grade level 7.4 to 4.4

Better Pictures

Here are a few examples of the illustrations we offer our kids.

These are supposed to be birds. I can understand not wanting to draw living things, but couldn’t they just illustrate awesome looking palm trees instead?

pic1

I can understand not wanting to show eyes, but this book shows the back of the girl’s head on pretty much every page, even when it’s anatomically awkward. They could have just left off the eyes, like they did with other characters in the book.

pic2

We Can Do Better

 Here are illustrations from a kids’ book I’m working on, drawn by the artist behind the Superhanallah web comic:

image

Untitled2

Untitled1

Untitled3

Untitled4

Replace or Compliment?

Dr. Seuss is great. Every kid, Muslim or non-Muslim, should read Hop on Pop and Fox in Socks. Green Eggs and Ham? Eh… The point is Muslim kids’ books should compliment, not replace, classic children’s books. Not only does this help our children to understand and relate to greater society, but it also frees up Muslim writers from having to teach letters, counting, and colors. We can instead focus on morals, ethics, and identity. But if we hope to have them compliment mainstream American books, they must be on the same level of professionalism and polish. A kid who has the option between Cat in the Hat versus Circumambulation for Kids is going to choose Cat in the Hat. Every. Single. Time.

I am working on a kids’ book that sets a new standard of Islamic children’s literature. It aims to show the market what “good” looks like in the hopes that it will usher in an era of professionalism and polish we desperately need. If the masses become accustomed to outstanding Islamic kids’ books, the industry will have no choice but to improve their offerings. We hope they will mimic our style. Yes, we want our fellow Muslims to make rip offs of our work.

We must do for Islamic kids’ books what Dr. Seuss did for modern children’s literature. Before Cat in the Hat, many children were not learning to read because, according to Life magazine (May 1954), their books were boring. Dr. Seuss aimed to make a book children couldn’t resist. His approach was to use simple words and wonderful illustrations. It is no surprise Cat in the Hat is still popular today. We need the same revolution in Islamic children’s literature. Call me Sh. Seussi.

What makes our book different?

  • Written in simple English (1.4 grade reading level)
  • Beautiful illustrations that engage young (and old!) readers
  • Based on interesting hadeeth story that has not been touched by previous authors. We’re not rehashing what’s already been done.
  • To top it all off, we’re making it a board book. These are rare when it comes to Islamic books because they are very expensive to produce, but they are vital to exposing our children to Islam and literacy at a young age. We should read to our children when they are months old, not years old.

We have recently started a crowdfunding campaign on LaunchGood to raise money for printing and shipping. If we don’t reach our goal by July 11, this book will not be funded. Please visit our crowdfunding page and claim your copy of the book today!

https://www.launchgood.com/projects/project_detail/kidbook

Note: all reading grade levels were analyzed using the Flesch-Kincaid formula.

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96 Comments

96 Comments

  1. Avatar

    MuslimMatters

    July 9, 2014 at 12:15 AM

    Dear readers,

    Asalaam alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatu,

    During the last few days, members of our editorial team held a meeting to discuss some of our readers’ concern and feedback regarding this article. In conclusion we agreed to review and update our Content Policy for clarity, consistency and quality. Additionally, we’ve contacted the author and communicated our perspectives on article itself as well as the reader feedback we have received.

    Additionally, we’d like to emphasize that we welcome commentators, readers and Muslim authors to submit Guest Articles that showcase the process by which their Islamic Books (for kids or adults) have been produced, the effect these books have had, as well as highlighting the opportunities, challenges and rewards that a published Muslim author may encounter.

    We ask Allah to accept from all of us, bring peace and serenity to our lives and strengthen the bond of brotherhood and sisterhood between us. Ameen

    MuslimMatters
    July 11th 2014

  2. Avatar

    greenbirdpublishing

    July 9, 2014 at 9:41 AM

    Dear Brother Hasan, I am the founder and publisher of Greenbird Books and one of the so called ‘deplorables’ on your list is ‘Allah’s Gifts’ which you have kindly likened to ‘cousin it’ belongs to me.

    It is a shame that you didn’t show the full picture, it would have shown both mother and daughter praying in sajada, the daughter is facing her mother. All our no-face books show our characters in poses where the face is turned away. I have had nothing but praise for this style as it shows natural positioning of a character in an art form. One of the reasons we do this is so that young children are not quizzed as to why characters have unusual or missing features, instead It keeps them focussed on the story.

    For example in your last picture, in your book I can’t work out whether Hamza has a large nose or mouth? A toddler may find that equally amusing and your reading grade concerns on contraction and compound sentences may become the least of your worries.

    As a mother and writer myself I have nothing but praise for all those that seek to promote Islamic literature for children, it is very easy to point out the wrong in others as you have so candidly done, without taking into consideration the intentions and the hard work that goes into every title an author creates.

    Wouldn’t it have been better to ask all the above ‘deplorables’ for why we have presented our work in a certain way? That way your article would have been balanced, respected even for a difference of opinion. However most people can read between the lines as your intention seems to be a monetary one at present, to do a better job in your books, I’m sure most parents will be flocking to deposit funds for your literary journey.

    As for Muslim Matters, I sincerely hope articles in the future are monitored for ‘bias’ and sincerity and I will be seeking a response from the founder. Should you wish to contact me and discuss further I would be very happy to do so.

    • Avatar

      Elizabeth Lymer

      July 9, 2014 at 10:37 AM

      Alhamdulillah, I am very grateful for your comment Anaya. I was so embarrassed to read this article and the LaunchGood campaign attached to it.
      I find it very troubling that the article focusses upon children utilising books only as readers. Islamic tradition supports delaying formal education, including reading, until children are about seven years old. The early years are a time for playful exploration of the world of adults including being read to by adults/older children from a diverse collection of books that include complex sentences, compound words, and advanced vocabulary. (Children need to engage with literature above their reading level – consider how much vocabulary is introduced through nursery rhymes.)
      Within the Islamic tradition of delaying formal learning, Kube Publishing and Greenbird Books, for example, place books designed to be read aloud into their categories for children ages 5-7. Alhamdulillah their support for the beneficial tradition of delaying formal education (rather than conforming with conventional reading levels) is something to celebrate.
      Subhanallah there is a growing community of Muslim artists, writers and business people developing media for Muslims of all ages. Masha’Allah many people are dedicating a lot of time to facilitating others to develop their writing craft and production skills, as well as to promote the good works that are available. Masha’Allah author Aisha Saeed recently celebrated books written by Muslims in her recent #RamadanReads Twitter campaigns, editor LaYinka Sanni supports female writers to critique work for each other through Pen Powered and is developing writing courses, and writer Aishah Schwartz promotes and supports Muslimah writers through the Muslimah Writers Alliance. These are a few examples of ways people are addressing the needs of our community. We are all very aware that there is a lot of work to be done insha’Allah and welcome new hard working artists to join us and we welcome Muslims who purchase our work, review it, and contact us with critical feedback.
      Bismillah. It’s Ramadan. Let’s work together.

      • Avatar

        Hasan Jilani

        July 9, 2014 at 11:15 AM

        Sister, where in Islam does it say to not encourage reading for small kids? Many of our greatest scholars began memorizing the Qur’an well before 7 years of age. I think you’re going a bit far in your defense of Greenbird Books. You’re free to disagree with my article, but let’s not twist Islam.

    • Avatar

      Hasan Jilani

      July 9, 2014 at 11:13 AM

      I left out the name of your book on purpose as I didn’t want to detract from your sales (a monetary pursuit on your part as well, I might add. Any funds I get from sales go into an Islamic project. Please don’t question my sincerity.) I actually like your illustration style aside from the anatomically awkward main character.

      You are incorrect about your product on 2 counts: the picture I used was of the girl looking at fish, not praying. You are also incorrect in saying all of your characters have their faces turned away. There is a scene with several people walking at a distance with the sides of their faces showing (no eyes). This actually looks good and also conforms with conservative Islamic stances.

      And just for the record, Hamza has a large nose. C’mon, that’s obvious.

      Perhaps instead of questioning my sincerity and becoming defensive, you and I can work together to brainstorm better ways of illustrating without compromising conservative Islamic opinions.

      • Avatar

        greenbirdpublishing

        July 9, 2014 at 11:39 AM

        Thank you for your reply! I encourage an open forum to discuss such matters. I am not wanting to get into ‘art style’ pros’ con’s, I think most can make up there own minds and follow an opinion. My defense was in response to the way your article positioned, it comes across very harsh and whilst critique is one thing, labelling and name-calling is another. I work with very talented authors and illustrators in a growing community where we need to be more supportive of each others work and if you are going to call someone out then do so in the right way.

        On a lighter note, Hamza’s nose is wonderful and I am no position to question your sincerity, but whilst you are fundraising it is a shame that those efforts may now be called into question by some readers. If you wish to collaborate then please contact me offline at info@greenbirdbooks.com

      • Avatar

        Elizabeth Lymer

        July 9, 2014 at 12:11 PM

        Hasan Jilani, your reference to Muslims memorising the Qur’an at an early age masha’Allah is memorisation by ear not by reading. For answers to your question about delaying young Muslims’ formal learning, including reading, please consider reading ‘Educating Your Child in Modern Times’ by by John Taylor Gatto, Hamza Yusuf Hanson, Dorothy Sayers and Nabila Hanson.

    • Avatar

      Heba Sh.

      July 10, 2014 at 4:31 AM

      Having monetary intentions isnt necessarily a bad thing?

      With more money we can build more schools, more hospitals and just do more good.

      Money is a tool that is good….but some people may become over-attached to it (instead of being over attached to Allah), and that is the problem

      :-)

  3. Avatar

    Asfa Mubarak

    July 9, 2014 at 10:22 AM

    I am very disappointed that Muslim Matters being a respectable organisation for Islamic knowledge and articles has published this horrendous article. It does nothing but critique the Authors and Illustrators of the Islamic books. It is Ramadan in fact we should be encouraging children’s literature from all types of writers and illustrators who have done things in their own way. if you have a new book that you are working on and want to bad mouth your fellow brothers and sisters work then you should understand that Allah (Swt) is all hearing and all knowing and this is not the way to behave on a public platform such as Muslim Matters calling Islamic books deplorable. I can assure you there will be a number of people taking this matter further. Very disappointed!

    • Avatar

      Hasan Jilani

      July 9, 2014 at 11:13 AM

      Good intentions and doing “things in their own way” is no defense. In Islam, we must have good intentions and also conform with divine guidance. This same philosophy applies to worldly activities like education. You cannot write a book at a high school level and expect grade school kids to appreciate it, no matter how pure your intentions. There’s a right way to write for kids and a wrong way. The wrong must be criticized. It’s driving our kids away from Islam!

    • Avatar

      Heba Sh.

      July 10, 2014 at 4:36 AM

      Sister…no one can make you feel disappointed without your permission

      Surely you see some good in what brother Hasan is trying to say. This is the problem itself….too many stuffy. dry muslims presenting the Islam as dry and stuffy as well

  4. Avatar

    Shamina Khan

    July 9, 2014 at 10:37 AM

    I think this post has been written insensitively using unnecessary words to describe Islamic books currently on the market really MM is this the kind of stuff you are publishing now?

  5. Avatar

    Farah

    July 9, 2014 at 11:21 AM

    Assalaamu Alaikum Br Hasan. I do not like your approach. Instead of publicly condemning the authors choice of words, islamically it would have been better to contact them privately not that I agree with what you are suggesting.
    I’m a big fan of Dr Seuss books but there’s also some wonderful Muslim books out there, whether the grammar or whatever I will alway support the efforts of Muslim authors, May Allah reward them generously. Alhamdulillah it’s Ramadan ask for forgiveness this was not a good article period!!! Have you ever read Hena Khan’s and Peter Gould Books? Dr Seuss doesn’t have class with those books. We don’t need to “compliment” non Muslims work.

    • Avatar

      Hasan Jilani

      July 9, 2014 at 11:34 AM

      Wa alaikum as-salaam, sister. Jazaakum Allahu khairan for your advice. Notice I didn’t mention any names in my criticism. There’s nothing Islamically wrong with my approach. The Prophet, salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam, would publicly criticize wrong behavior by leaving off the name. Wa Allahu a’lam.

      • Avatar

        Farah

        July 9, 2014 at 11:43 AM

        What is profound to me is that you’re criticizing while promoting your book.
        One question that I need an answer for is how MM is supporting this?
        You would really need to enlighten me when did our beloved prophet (SAWS) behaved in a manner like this.

    • Avatar

      Hamood

      July 10, 2014 at 4:39 AM

      We dont need to “compliment” non Muslims work?

      You are living in a non muslim country, wearing clothes made in non muslim countries, shopping at non muslim made shopping malls…..you probably went to university in a non muslim country and learned from non muslim text books. Ha!

      Please…where is it written in our religion that we cant or shouldn’t compliment non muslims work

      • Avatar

        Farah

        July 10, 2014 at 4:55 AM

        Whatever! We are not supposed to be different from the non Muslims? So you’re attacking me on a personal level now….FYI my clothes are made in Syria and Jordan if you must know. I came from a non Muslim country to live in a non Muslim country, what about you :) I love how you are attacking each comment! May Allah reward you! Where do you get off, Allah is aware of what you’re doing, the word “humble” doesn’t mean anything to you. It’s Ramadan atleast have some decency! Shame on you!

      • Avatar

        Amel

        July 12, 2014 at 3:42 AM

        The reason this didn’t make sense is because the word was supposed to be “complement,” which has a different meaning. It is one of those “SAT words” that gives many people trouble.

    • Avatar

      Hamood

      August 5, 2014 at 2:54 AM

      Dear Sister Farah and everyone else that I may have upset or offended

      I would like to apologize for my attacking style of commenting

      It was not good of me to do that

      While I do stand the views I have expressed, i do realise that I should have done so in a more polite, compassionate way

      so there….thanks

      But I dont know why muslims love to use the phrase “Shame on you”

      If I have used it, then I apologise

  6. Avatar

    The Salafi Feminist

    July 9, 2014 at 11:49 AM

    I actually fully agree with this article. I understand that Muslim writers, artists, and publishers are “doing it their own way”, but as the mother of a 4 year old girl, I can tell you that most of what’s available out there bores her to death. It’s all very well to say that advanced reading levels teach our kids to absorb vocabulary earlier, but some kids do actually need simple language and vibrant illustrations that will catch their attention, not make them yawn in boredom and irritation.

    I for one believe that we need to be honest about the quality of Muslim children’s books, and not become so defensive over having it pointed out. We need to recognise that we need to improve, not remain stagnant.

    • Avatar

      mezba

      July 10, 2014 at 2:59 PM

      I left a larger comment below, but I think my major criticism of this article is that it’s a blatant advertisement for the writer’s own project. Also, there’s some fantastic books for kids and Islam out there (#ramadanreads on twitter has a list). Not every book is available on every market or for every budget.

  7. Avatar

    Asiah Kelley (@asiahkelley)

    July 9, 2014 at 12:10 PM

    I was excited to find out about the Superhanallah illustrated book. I love the guy’s work. This article is..uh…no comment. We can never have enough books in the market in my opinion. I’m a book addict, so I say buy all the books!

    And it is obv, we have different Muslims, and so different styles are going to appeal to those different sections. I for one am looking forward to more modern Western styles of books, as that is what my 2 yr old is currently used to reading and having something like that makes sense to both me and her.

    As for those who don’t believe in reading to kids before 7? Or having them read to before 7? I have heard of this teaching/learning style (usually in “unschooling,”) but is not at all something that I know to be common in the Islamic tradition. To each their own, and each kid is different :)

  8. Avatar

    LaYinka Sanni

    July 9, 2014 at 12:22 PM

    Bismillah.

    As an editor and writing mentor, I sit in the camp that as Muslims we need to up our literary game, not to compete with the likes of timeless books such as Dr Seuss’, but because our literature is otherwise considered mundane – which it shouldn’t be. Being a major advocate for the advancement Muslim-authored literature, I do not shy away from giving or receiving critique, and I openly tell authors when they need to sharpen their work, because not doing so is a disservice to them and their audience.

    Having said that, while I agree with the sentiments expressed in this article (sans the usage of disheartening words such as ‘deplorable’ – it’s not about what you say, it’s how you say it), I found it rather tasteless that it was presented as ‘there’s so awful writing out there, but I’ve got something SO much better to resolve our woes’. Even if the author didn’t intend on it coming across this way, the fact is that it did. It’s not a matter of judging sincerity, as only our Lord can do that, it’s a matter of us drawing a conclusion from what we see can see clearly before us, namely, a critique with a seeming conflict of interest.

    Let’s not completely throw out the efforts of our struggling authors, especially when they fall far from the mark of producing solid literature. All authors start somewhere, as do all publishers; they may not be getting it right now, but with encouragement, advice (which we should be giving to authors and publishers alike), and more quality editors, we can produce more fantastic literature like LaunchGood’s initiative.

    Divided we fall.

    – LY.

  9. Avatar

    niha

    July 9, 2014 at 3:01 PM

    assalamualaikum. but the comic shows the eyes of the characters. wouldnt that be unislamic? that would give kids the wrong message, wont it? i really loved your article, though. i rarely come across engaging islamic books for children (and for grown ups as well).

  10. Avatar

    lasjan

    July 9, 2014 at 3:23 PM

    Here is a good website to teach Islam for people of all ages

    http://caller-to-islam.tk

  11. Avatar

    Haq

    July 9, 2014 at 3:53 PM

    Want to know the reason why it’s so difficult for Muslims to succeed in life? Read the comments and you’ll know. We take criticism personally even if it’s accurate, especially if its accurate, and in this case it is. I believe any mother can tell you how difficult it is to find Islamic books worthy of our kids time and interest and here is brother Jilani trying to raise the bar , something that can help transform our youth and we are bickering like high schoolers. Instead of saying, ” yes we need to improve!” We say things like, ” how dare he criticize something i’m part of?!”
    Since this is Ramadan let’s reflect on our intentions here. Are we upset because he isn’t right or are we upset because it hurt our feelings so in return I will hurt his? I say let’s help fund this project and see if it does help raise the bar for children’s books especially since he stated in the comments that he will not be making money off of this.
    Once again, it’s ramadan and donating a worthy project, even if it irks us, may just help us enter into paradise.

  12. Avatar

    Shaista

    July 9, 2014 at 3:56 PM

    Bismillah.

    Although I don’t have any credentials in literature or any title to support any claims, I’d like to comment on this issue as a consumer. I’m also a fellow book addict, and it gets pretty difficult to find easy books for my sisters to read, that give nice inspiring messages about Islam.

    To any authors/illustrators that felt personally attacked by this article, I think we have to agree that every piece of art is criticized, whether it is absolutely outstanding, or bland. Whether it’d be painting, music, drawing; the artist has to deal with the fact that he/she is not always entitled to favoritism. That is a fact. An artist also has to deal with the fact that other artists may not like their art.
    I feel that this rings true with writing literature and illustrating. Instead of getting offended by critics and immediately jumping to the defense of said artwork, take the criticism with a grain of salt, and just remember that any form of expression always has a critic.
    Stop being so offended.

    Now about the article, I personally do not see these criticisms as any personal attacks toward other authors or illustrators. It may have come off as harsh criticism, but it did not identify the book and try to decrease its sales. At least as a potential consumer, I did not see it that way. I had no idea about what the excerpts’ backgrounds were until the author decided to show up and defend himself.

    The writer of this article had an aim to not only write his own interesting children’s books, but to also influence other people to write/illustrate books that are more vibrant and easier to read for younger audiences.

    Some people may have felt that the motive behind this book was “Don’t read that, it’s boring! Here, buy my books!”

    But really, the message is (or at least I saw it as),”Hey guys! Try to create better books! Don’t make it harder for children to read Islamic books! Try mine as an example! I hope this helps swerve Muslim’s children’s literature in a new direction!”.

    And honestly, I agree with that message.
    Children can start learning at any age. They don’t have a biological clock (or Islamic clock) that tells them when to start educating themselves. If we have the ability to increase production of more vibrant, interesting expressions of Islam, then why not? If a person has found a better substitute for children’s books, and he wants to share this method of teaching/writing, then he has full right to do so.

    Subhan’Allah. Allah (SWT) knows best.

  13. Avatar

    Sharaza

    July 9, 2014 at 4:04 PM

    Salaams I read this article and was completely thrown by the fact that the author has directly insulted other Muslims work this is not constructive criticism if it was I don’t think you will have people defending the fact that this article was not well executed. The author has made sarcastic and inconsiderate remarks regarding other Muslim writers work is that constructive criticism that Muslim authors should accept? I think really this is not people getting defensive or feeling hurt this is about the Muslim ummah needing to know that mocking is not right in any sense. what about the use of the term ” cousin it” and finding Islamic books deplorable or the state of them at this point of time and then using other people’s work as examples to pick faults. Even though the author has not mentioned names it will surely come to light and this is unfair. I think people need to realise that Allah (Swt) is watching even what we write by pen and one day we all will be held accountable to our creator. I think the author brother Hasan should apologise for using the examples he did and in such a manner that it has insulted or even caused harm to some authors or illustrators livelihood this is not islamic at all. In fact if the author wanted to give sincere advise he should have written the article without picking the faults of others. Astafurullah.

  14. Avatar

    Abu Nusaybah

    July 9, 2014 at 4:27 PM

    This article doesn’t mention any names so we shouldn’t be upset :)

    It’s actually a cause worth looking into!
    Keep up the good work bro!

  15. Hena

    Hena

    July 9, 2014 at 4:53 PM

    Assalam alaykum wa rahmatulah readers,

    JazakAllah khayrun for your comments and engagement.

    As EIC, I welcome further posts on the topic of publishing quality Islamic books. Guest posts do go through a selection process.

    Our role is to provide a platform for news, opinion and discussion. If an article falls in line with our vision of providing discussion and discourse with practical solutions to issues in the Muslim community, we (the Shurah) tend to publish those views.

    I welcome your quality submissions, please use this form http://muslimmatters.org/submissions/

    • Avatar

      Asfa Mubarak

      July 9, 2014 at 5:03 PM

      Assalamu Alaikum Hena, The majority of writers and Muslim community also welcome further posts on the topic of publishing quality Islamic books however I would like to bring it to the attention of Muslim Matters that publishing something which mocks or uses harsh sarcasm as opposed to constructive criticism is never commendable nor is it in line with the Shariah . I also feel for the authors or illustrators who have put effort into bringing their work only to have it compared and scrutinised. Please do review your article selection process insha’Allah.

      • Avatar

        LaYinka Sanni

        July 9, 2014 at 5:09 PM

        Scrutiny of our work is what we need more of in order to raise the bar and increase our literary standards. We shouldn’t shy away from critique nor be afraid of it. In doing so we only harm the craft and push readers to seek outside of the Muslim-authored literature realm. However, I do believe it’s the ‘how’ more than the ‘what’ that raises eyebrows with the article.

  16. Avatar

    Asfa Mubarak

    July 9, 2014 at 5:19 PM

    Yes sister LaYinka Sanni I do agree with you it is the ‘how’ we scrutinise this was written in more of a mocking style Allah (Swt) knows best.

  17. Avatar

    Cheryl

    July 9, 2014 at 5:33 PM

    I am a Muslim revert and have a daughter of my own. I have read one of the books mentioned here and found it enjoyable. Although we need scrutiny to improve we also need Islamic etiquette and how we express ourselves even through our writing. It surprises me that this passed through the editorial process MM could you please kindly answer all those who are upset with this article as to the manner it is written. This is not about the fact that authors, or artists are hurt in fact I know one of the sisters whose work has been mentioned and she has taken with a pinch of salt not even bothering to comment. But I do feel this is more about is mockery of others hard efforts and is this an acceptably written article? Is it Islamic? As I am a new revert please enlighten me I thought the Prophet Peace and Blessings be upon him taught kindness and when giving someone advise to do that in the best of ways? I know one of the authors whose work has been mentioned indirectly here and they have refrained from commenting on this although the publisher has initially commented and i commend that attitude to humbly accept the constructive aspects of what needs to be improved and stay silent at the insulting aspects. Please do reply Sr Hena.

  18. Avatar

    Amel

    July 9, 2014 at 5:52 PM

    As-salamu Alaykum,

    Several people have left comments explaining why they felt this article was disrespectful, and I hope you will read these comments more carefully to understand the points they are making.

    I would also point out that you misquoted from “Hamza’s First Fast” when you wrote the following:

    One morning Hamza work up bright and early and went to the family room and said to his brother Ali, ‘Assalamalakum, let’s go have our breakfast.’

    People who read this might think that the fourth word (work) was written this way in the book even though the original text says “woke” rather than “work.”

    For original text, see: http://www.islamicbookstore.com/b9074.html

    By misquoting the text, you have introduced a typo that did not exist in the original book, making the book appear as though it has not been edited properly.

    In your own book, you use an awkward sentence structure (something which you are critical of in your article) when you say: Water the garden of Ahmed.

    Maybe you have a reason for writing it this way, but it was very jarring to me to see this sentence, which would normally be phrased as: Water Ahmed’s garden.

    But perhaps the most intolerable error in your article is your misuse of the word “compliment,” which means to express praise or admiration. This should be changed to “complement.”

    The founder of Greenbird Books has given you a very gracious response considering the fact that you have used one of her books to illustrate the “deplorable” state of Muslim-authored literature for children. There are some truly bad books out there, but this is not one of them, and I would have definitely preferred that you discussed these issues in more general terms. Had you done so, I am sure that you would have gained the support of nearly everyone reading the article.

    • Avatar

      Hasan Jilani

      July 9, 2014 at 6:01 PM

      “Water Ahmed’s garden” causes the reading grade level to increase by 0.9 so it makes it harder to read. Thanks for trying.

      Questioning my sincerity is hardly gracious. Peace.

      • Avatar

        Amel

        July 9, 2014 at 6:18 PM

        Simplifying the language is important in children’s books, but we should not sacrifice idiomatically correct English in the process.

      • Avatar

        um aneesa

        July 9, 2014 at 6:36 PM

        Salam akhi
        Looking forward to more great Children’s books from the creative realm of the ummah. But please do be careful of your wording.

        Style Tip:
        If the story/ article sounds awkward when read out loud then it needs rewording, even if it meets all other criteria.

      • Avatar

        ghurair

        August 5, 2014 at 2:58 AM

        Dont be upset dude, you dished out criticism, and so you should be able to take some yourself

  19. Avatar

    Siraaj Muhammad

    July 9, 2014 at 6:28 PM

    Upon reading the article and the comments, a few thoughts come to mind:

    1. I think all are in agreement we have many areas we can improve in quality, and initiatives to do so are most welcome, though there may be disagreement on specific works.

    2. Taking and giving constructive criticism and feedback about one’s writings in a children’s book, a blog, or even the comments section in a blog should, ideally, be done gracefully and respectfully. When one is giving, they ought to minimize being offensive as much as possible, and when receiving, avoid being defensive.

    3. As it is Ramadan, it’s always good to keep in mind the virtue in avoiding arguments, and the reward for giving one up even if they know they are right.

    Siraaj

  20. Avatar

    Salaam

    July 9, 2014 at 6:33 PM

    Assalaamu alaykum wa rahamtullah,

    I wanted to share some insight from an educators perspective. I have been teaching Islamic studies as a class in various Islamic schools for a few years from grade levels ranging from PreK to 8th. There is a memory I want to share with you all:

    It was my first year teaching and I was preparing my lesson for my KG class. We were supposed to learn about Prophet Musa AS. I looked at the resource shelf that the school had provided in my classroom. It was categorized by subject topic. I looked through the KG book section and pulled out a few books. Naturally I was looking for something colorful with big writing and simple words. I could not find anything to fit the description. There were several books, don’t get me wrong, but I did not find a single one that had terminology that a child at the KG level would understand. I picked the most easy looking book and decided to go with it and see how it would work out. The book was very colorful, had large textual writings, and maybe one or two sentences on each page. I thought this would be the best choice for my class.

    As I began teaching my lesson I sat in the front of the room for circle time and had my students surround me. I got the students all excited for the story— but once I started reading, their attention was wondering off. They repeatedly asked me what words meant. I had to pause to find ways to explain the big words. I watched as they slowly began to lose attention while I used character voices and actions to make the story come alive. I flashed the pictures hoping to get their attention when I realized that my audience was not understanding the words that were coming out of my mouth.

    I needed a quick save. A class of 20 KG kids getting out of focus would be a big problem. So I stopped reading. I started telling the story. Using the illustrations in the book as my cues, I began to verbally tell the story in my own words. I watched as I was able to gather their attention again. A few clever students even asked me, “does it really say all that on that page?” I guess they could tell I was not reading to them anymore. :)

    I continued to do this. Not just for KG, but for several of the higher grades as well. There was not excitement or enthusiasm in the students when they read the books on their own either. It was very dry. I looked at the book shelf of so many children’s books that was provided for me to use for the kids. I felt bad that I could not read it to them because they could not relate or understand. School money spent on resources for students, only to sit on the shelves and not really be used for their full potential.

    The school I currently teach at has shelves upon shelves of books for children to read: du’a books, seerah books, books on akhlaaq, lives of Prophets etc. Unfortunately, they do not get used because none of the teachers feel like they cater to the student’s reading level. And you can’t really give a 3rd grader a book meant for KG only because the he could relate with the word choice. The third grader would not read it either.

    That was just one problem I have noticed in the present literature available. Spelling and grammatical issues is a whole different discussion. Some of my 4th grade students once asked me “why is that Muslim books always make spelling mistakes?”. A few students even compared their textbooks to other books as far as the illustrations went and complained about why “Muslim books” had funny looking characters. I feel bad because as they grow they have a derogatory attitude towards Islamic media because it is not always done with the best standards when compared with their other print media.

    Maybe not every book- but many books. Enough books to voice a need for reform. I do not think this discussion should focus on who is more sincere and who is not. That is not the point, and should never be because it is not for us to decide. Rather we should look at content of discussion. The bar DOES need to be raised. Getting personal will not help anyone in achieving any goals. We have made progress in the past, and we shall continue. I remember some of the books that I read when I was little kid. I compare it to the ones we have today- (spelling errors, grammar mistakes included) we have come a long way. However, we need to keep on moving forward- together and united. That is the ihsaan we need to to strive for. I personally have been very relieved and happy to see such a project and feel that inshaAllah there will be plenty good from this.

    May Allah SWT place barakah in the efforts of ALL the editors, publishers, and writers and allow us to work together towards improvement. ameen.

  21. Avatar

    Sahdia

    July 9, 2014 at 6:51 PM

    salaam alaykum, I feel that this article is no way connected to the brilliant literary project Launchgood which was only briefly mentioned right at the very end of this article! I am not going to write about who is sincere and who is not sincere as it is true that Allah is the only one who has this knowledge but based on the evidence of the content contained in this article I would say that firstly to generalise and say that the content of Islamic children’s books on the market is deplorable and then go on to mock other’s work is completely against the behaviour and tenets of Islamic etiquette it is discouraging and hurtful for the artists whose work has been publicly put on a blog such as MM and made fun of. Yes I acknowledge that OF COURSE there is always room for improvement and to set a higher bar but this message should be expressed in a thoughtful manner rather than take a few excerpts and illustrations from the artists of Muslim literature and put it on a public platform to pick out what YOU think is wrong with it and you cannot deny that you haven’t done that and MM cannot deny that they have allowed this to be published keeping the insults in the article being an Islamic organisation could you have not edited out the sarcasm or advised the writer regarding the way it was written this will certainly go against your reputation. No one is squabbling or arguing with the intended message to raise the bar of children’s literature but this article is no way beneficial due to the lack of Islamic etiquette. Br Hasan every one makes mistakes insha’Allah fear Allah (Swt) he is all hearing or all knowing perhaps your message was that we need to raise the bar higher from reading this we all understand it but do you think it was right to go that extra step and make comments that could potentially hurt or harm the work of others?

  22. Avatar

    Arif

    July 9, 2014 at 7:07 PM

    There are many comments on here suggesting that people should not write offensive comments when critiquing and people should receive criticism without being defensive. I would like to say that this would apply if this post contained knowledge or content that could be of benefit but it DID NOT contain constructive criticism to the various literary works exhibited here instead this article took a different stance altogether and it seemed as though the writer was saying that “all the works he is mentioning in the article are ‘deplorable” apart from the book I am currently working on”.

    Muslim Matters could you please address the concerns of your readers as there seems to be no official reply from you all regarding this. There are many artists, writers and illustrators in the fraternity that are upset by this article due to the fact that although the author claims to have written it with good intentions the brother has used terms which have insulted those in the Islamic literary field. I agree with him about raising the bar but would not have liked this message to be expressed in this manner and I deeply regret that your organisation has published this. There was an earlier post saying that this blog is for discourse, intellectual discussion etc and of course that is what we want but both Sisters and brothers do not want to read articles that slander others efforts especially during Ramadan

  23. Avatar

    Firaaz Masood

    July 9, 2014 at 7:10 PM

    People are missing the point – it is crucial and quite possibly the biggest issue with how muslims give ‘dawah’ or advice today. The issue is not ‘The What’ rather ‘The How’.

    What the brother is trying to convey in his message is largely a concern on the standards of islamic children books – That’s great – super-great actually!

    How the brother is executing on this narrative, is by singling out specifics and taking another persons hard work and efforts – and publicly criticising their contributions – Not so Great!

    Everyone that has embarked on a journey of writing or improving these books, has done so out of a concern and intention to improve. A more productive way would have been to collaborate with the existing publishers of the so called ‘deplorables’ and discuss how to evolve for the betterment of the wider agenda. But doing so in a public forum without any context, at the same time as promoting your own agenda, is somewhat – let’s say at best ‘questionable’.

    Greenbirdbooks was actually founded with the very notion that the quality of islamic children literature is sub-standard – but NEVER, EVER pointed out examples of existing books to make the point! Furthermore Greenbirdbooks has received multiple positive reviews for it’s fresh and unique approach to literature and illustrations.

    Execution of the message is so important, that it makes the difference between engaging someone in a serious debate or losing them as soon as you point out a criticism – we all should learn from that.

  24. Avatar

    Arif

    July 9, 2014 at 7:19 PM

    Salaam I also forgot to mention that who had granted the copyright to use extracts of written work for the first pointed our text from the Islamic board book which I do not want to mention its name. Due to the fact that of course you cannot source it back to the author or mention the book’s name which you have taken the extract from because that would be publicly naming the artists or literary works and causing more offence that it already has so now there is also an issue of copyright here and we will be be in contact with MM regarding this.

    • Avatar

      Abul

      July 9, 2014 at 7:27 PM

      There is no issue of copyright. He can quote excerpts of published works for educational or review purposes without express permission. This is what is known as the “Fair Use” doctrine.

      • Avatar

        greenbirdpublishing

        July 10, 2014 at 4:11 PM

        Copy Right has been infringed in this article in accordance to legal advice I have sought and taking up with MM

        What does fair use allow copyright law allow?
        Under fair use rules, it may be possible to use quotations or excerpts, where the work has been made available to the public, (i.e. published).

        Provided that:
        1)The use is deemed acceptable under the terms of *fair dealing
        Fair dealing you will find is not ‘directly insulting’

        2)That the quoted material is justified, and no more than is necessary is included.
        B Jalani has quoted material incorrectly

        3)That the source of the quoted material is mentioned, along with the name of the author.
        No authors were mentioned or referenced

    • Avatar

      Hamood

      July 10, 2014 at 4:47 AM

      There is no issue of copyright here, the fair use concept is in effect here.

      • Avatar

        Arif

        July 10, 2014 at 4:55 PM

        Brother Hamood you keep repeating that there is no issue with copyright. My sister is a lawyer qualified in media law and this HAS infringed copyright and I am sure the publishers of the books mentioned will take this up and have a legal right to do so.

  25. Avatar

    Firaaz Masood

    July 9, 2014 at 7:35 PM

    MM has over 128,000 followers on Twitter, and therefore have a social and moral responsibility to ensure a robust due diligence process, prior to articles such as this are pushed onto the public domain!

    By now we should have had some sort of official comment/apology/clarification from MM?

    …just saying?

  26. Avatar

    Arif

    July 9, 2014 at 7:49 PM

    JazakhAllah Khair br there has been no response from MM for the concerns of the Muslim writing community and others who find this article disrespectful. As for the copyright issue normally you should source any content used if you haven’t already got the permission from the author or illustrator that is my understanding but in this article there are enough issues already. Anyway I would like to state that as it is Ramadan and we all want to improve ourselves, our work etc this article is doing more harm than good. I think for this reason MM should give a response to the concerns raised by the majority as they have the accountability for publishing it.

    • Avatar

      Hamood

      July 10, 2014 at 4:49 AM

      I think you should be taken to court for using the name MM, since that is a registered trademark. You know…copyright and all that good stuff

      Arif bhai….take a deep breath.

    • Avatar

      Maqbool

      July 10, 2014 at 6:03 PM

      brother Arif

      Will an apology really make you feel better? Were you so hurt and distraught by this article that you cant move on without an apology from MM?

      Come on brother….forgive and let go

  27. Avatar

    Jannah

    July 9, 2014 at 8:30 PM

    I’m confused. When you chose to become a ‘public figure,’ as in an author, you should know you will be critiqued. Many people will not like your work and have the full right of openly say it… They dont even have to use pretty language to save feelings.
    This is simply childish.
    As a journalist, I commend MM for supporting an article that is simply that, an article.

  28. Avatar

    naila

    July 9, 2014 at 9:19 PM

    My 3 year old has speech delay and cannot read. He how ever can understand and use the words “because” and “understand”.

    I think a difference has to be made between books that are read to children and books children read themselves.

    I mean one of my sons favourite books is “The Gruff all o’s Child” What is the reading age of that?

    Also the other books read in nursery such as Owl Babies, Hand’s Suprise, Whatever Next etc are far beyond his reading capability and even would stretch the reading capability of my almost 6 year old. These books are meant to be read with an adult and the topics discussed together etc.

    I think there is room for both styles of books on the market.

  29. Avatar

    Tasnim Nazeer

    July 10, 2014 at 2:12 AM

    Assalamu Alaikum, I am the author of a book which illustrations had been referred to in this article and my publisher Greenbird books has already commented on this initially. I had chosen to remain silent on it all this time as I didnt see the need to comment but since it has caused a lot of response I would like to clarify that for me personally as an artist and journalist I embrace constructive criticism with the hope it will help us to improve by the grace of Allah (SwT). There has been concerns raised here regarding the nature of criticism or name calling. I would like to say Allah (swt) knows best in this matter and I refrain from commenting on that aspect. It’s Ramadan and there are many important issues such as what is happening in Gaza that I am currently working on to bring this to the mainstream media in addition to other additional Islamic children’s books. I hope as a writing community we can all stay united . Jazakh’Allah khair for your time in reading my comments.

  30. Avatar

    Amarah

    July 10, 2014 at 3:41 AM

    So shocked this article was published by Muslim matters.
    It is unislamic, unprofessional and quite frankly poor form. To put down another Muslims work to promote your own is a cheap shot and VERY uncool.
    Even if you had a point in what you are saying, (which you most definitely don’t – as a mother of 1, I happen to believe green bird books are awesome and innovative and extremely engaging for young children), the tone and manner in which you have spoken questions your sincerity and integrity.

    Surely good work promotes itself, there should not be a need to put down another piece of work by a fellow Muslim. Whether names are mentioned OR NOT is irrelevant.

    There is no wonder our Ummah is in the state that it is when Muslims can no longer support each other and work professionally side by side.

    If you had genuine ‘constructive feedback’ perhaps a more ethical, professional approach would have been to contact green bird books and make your suggestions.

    SHAME ON YOU.
    SHAME ON MUSLIM MATTERS.
    May Allah give you Hidaya and guide you inshAllah.

    • Avatar

      Hamood

      July 10, 2014 at 4:51 AM

      No, shame on you for your harsh words. Ask yourself if the prophet would ever use the words that you have used. Ask yourself if the Prophet ever went around “shaming” people. Never!

  31. Avatar

    Hamood

    July 10, 2014 at 4:53 AM

    by the way…in the illustration….it says “Water the garden of Ahmed”

    Is that correct? or is it supposed to read, “Water the garden O’ Ahmed”

    • Avatar

      Amel

      July 10, 2014 at 8:34 AM

      No, it is not correct, but the author wants us to accept it since (according to him) “Water Ahmed’s garden” would be too difficult for a young child to understand. Please see above comments for elucidation.

  32. Avatar

    Elizabeth Lymer

    July 10, 2014 at 6:10 AM

    I have listed some Muslim children’s books for early years that I recommend as good here: http://rhymesandstories.co.uk/muslim-early-years-books-list/. Please can others share links to their own blog posts/reviews recommending good Muslim children’s literature that they have used with other age groups – insha’Allah I’ll happily share links to your blog posts/reviews on my FB page. Jazakallahkhayr.

    • Avatar

      Stephanie @InCultureParent

      July 10, 2014 at 3:17 PM

      Hi Elizabeth, I review and publish reviews on multicultural children’s books and have reviewed books on Ramadan/Eid specifically as well since it’s a personal interest and I am always looking for books that reflect my children’s experience. Thank you for your list. I would add Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns to it for younger kids. Here is my review of it: http://www.incultureparent.com/2014/05/a-muslim-childrens-book-for-preschool-age-kids/ And here are my 6 favorite books for Ramadan for kids: http://www.incultureparent.com/2013/07/6-favorite-childrens-books-about-ramadan/

      As someone who reviews lot of multicultural books, not just Muslim-themed books, I will say that quality of editing and illustrations tends to be something my team often encounters as so often it is only smaller publishers without the same large budgets that are willing to publish these important stories and so many people self publish books now too. Part of the problem is that mainstream publishers who have the larger budgets for excellent design for example are not interested in these stories. There are many of us out there that are hoping to get more people aware of diverse children’s literature so that both consumers and publishers start taking note of the importance of telling these stories. All kids should have books that reflect their experience and not just 10 books or 20 books that tell stories about the Muslim experience but many types of stories: Muslim heroines that are princesses who ride unicorns (that would resonate with my five-year-old!) or heroines who skateboard and slay dragons, or a Muslim kid who goes to Passover dinner (like my Muslim kids do every year), a Muslim child who has been adopted, a Muslim child with a single mom, and 1000 more. There are many, many stories that still need to be written and you could replace Muslim with Latina, Asian-American, African-American, etc as all these stories are very badly needed. Kids don’t just need books that reflect their experiences but they need to read books that reflect the experiences of other kids as well. Both are critical.

      Personally, I do not review books that don’t meet a certain standard of editing and illustrations. But as I personally don’t want to criticize a genre of books that needs more stories and more growth, I just choose not to review the book versus making a negative review of the book. I have personally emailed authors to tell them why I chose not to review their book and suggested for example that a book needs better editing. One author was so so grateful for my feedback. I actually ended up editing the next version of her book to help her since I believed so much in the story she was sharing.

      • Avatar

        Saajida

        December 4, 2015 at 3:06 PM

        Hi Stephanie, I just came across this article and concur with your evaluation of the situation regarding Muslim children’s books. It is a genre of books that does need more stories and more growth and I believe this is at the crux of this article and many of the ensuing comments. I have recently started a small publishing house (Young Lights Books) in an attempt to address this exact need. Our first book, ‘The Spottywish’ is receiving some good reviews so far: http://www.younglights.com

      • Avatar

        Maimoonah Gori

        June 9, 2016 at 6:36 AM

        hi, I am a self published author of 12 Islamic children’s story books. I will really appreciate feedback and ideas on how to better myself in my writing. i live in South Africa.

      • Avatar

        Maimoonah Gori

        June 9, 2016 at 6:39 AM

        hi, My name is Maimoonah Gori. I live in South Africa and have self published 12 Islamic story books. I would really appreciate feedback and a review.

  33. Avatar

    Arif

    July 10, 2014 at 8:01 AM

    Still no response from Muslim Matters regarding the upset they have caused from publishing this insensitive article. Br I am not being defensive but I do not agree that is it Islamic nor the etiquette of our beloved Prophet to behave this way to publicly insult and may I add this has not been constructive criticism this insulting the words and language used to describe others work on a public platform such as Muslim Matters as some are respected well known professionals who you have no idea about by the looks of it. Muslim Matters is responsible for this not the writer because although he has written it there should have been some check over each article submitted and I do not see anywhere in Islam or the Shariah that it is acceptable to insult even if it is meant to be a critical analysis you should do so in a way that does not make fun of others which you have clearly done. I think this organisation needs to take lessons from great well respected counterparts such as Productive Muslim and Suhaib Webb insha’Allah learn from them about what is Islamic and what is not acceptable even if it is an article we have to answer to our creator for even what is written

  34. Avatar

    greenbirdpublishing

    July 10, 2014 at 10:12 AM

    Dear Brothers & Sisters,

    One thing this debate has drawn my attention to is the lack of unity when it comes to supporting and sharing knowledge in a positive way, so as a publisher I will be contacting all other Islamic Publishers to create an Islamic Publishing Association, as there is not one I am aware of? This could act as safe forum to critique and share knowledge for all those interested in contributing.

    If anyone is interested in helping me please get in touch, the more supporters the better inshallah.

    • Avatar

      LaYinka Sanni

      July 10, 2014 at 10:29 AM

      That is an absolutely brilliant idea, Anaya. And I’m glad that something positive has stemmed from this discussion.

    • Avatar

      Elizabeth Lymer

      July 10, 2014 at 11:27 AM

      Insha’Allah I’ll be in touch via email.
      Jazakillahkhayr Anaya.

    • Avatar

      Firaaz Masood

      July 10, 2014 at 5:18 PM

      Fantastic idea. Talk about turning a negative situation into a positive, unifying example! Kudos to Greenbirdbooks!

      I urge people to get behind this initiative.

    • Avatar

      Na'ima B. Robert

      July 11, 2014 at 6:22 PM

      Masha Allah, wonderful idea and much needed. BarakAllahu feekum!

      • Avatar

        greenbirdpublishing

        July 11, 2014 at 6:46 PM

        AsA Sister, mashallah you were in my thoughts as the first person to contact alhamdulilah. I will be in touch and really look forward to get your thoughts on this.

    • Avatar

      R Shelley Khan

      September 9, 2014 at 9:27 AM

      Assalaamu ‘alaykum,

      This is a great idea; I would love to join such an initiative.

      As a mother of a young daughter and a writer myself, I have been working on an exciting new project to produce a series of children’s rhyming picture books on the Companions (radiya Allahu ‘anhum), the first of which is due out in November insha’Allah.

      Together with my husband, we have launched Education Enriched, a new Islamic publisher: http://www.education-enriched.co.uk. Please get in touch insha’Allah as it would be great to work with others towards a common goal.

      Barak’Allahu feeki.

      Umm Sumayyah (R Shelley Khan)

  35. Avatar

    mezba

    July 10, 2014 at 2:57 PM

    Salaams to all. As a writer for children’s books on Quran, and also a previous guest writer on MM, I am very disappointed with this article, and flabbergasted that it passed the editorial review process. This is not an article – it’s a blatant attempt to peddle the writers’ own project. It’s an advertisement.

    Every writer of Islamic books for kids thinks the market is filled with rubbish books and theirs is the best. And every writer is wrong. First of all, there’s some fantastic books on Islam for kids. And second, you can find flaws in every man written book.

    Moreover, I don’t understand why the author needs other people to fund their project. If he or she believes in the work, produce it, and let the market decide if it’s good enough. My own books, which illustrate the Quranic stories of Surahs using LEGO bricks and toys, are available on Amazon. I too started thinking this was a niche market and there’s none like it, so I took the chance, invested in LEGO, studio lighting set and camera, and spent many hours finishing the books. And then I self published and did my own marketing. Alhamdulillah, brisk sales have validated my work. Why doesn’t the author go the same route?

    More information on my books are on my site http://readwithmeaning.wordpress.com/2014/07/07/surah-nuh-illustrated-quran-book-now-for-sale/

    • Avatar

      LaYinka Sanni

      July 10, 2014 at 3:11 PM

      You’ve done some fantastic work, Mezba. Tonight, my children and I were doing tafseer studies via your website. May your work be blessed. Ameen.

      • Avatar

        mezba

        July 17, 2014 at 11:44 AM

        Thank you for your dua!

    • Avatar

      toasteronfire

      July 10, 2014 at 4:16 PM

      You start your comment by saying this article is an advertisement. Not a breath later, you advertise your own work being sold on Amazon and then LINK to your own website.

      Probably not a good idea to do the exact thing you are trying to criticize. :)

      • Avatar

        mezba

        July 10, 2014 at 4:24 PM

        Salaams toasteronfire. Why I left the link to my own site is to inform how I published the books, and that the author of this article can go the same route instead of fund raising. Also, I think there is a difference of standards between an article on MM, and a comment! :-)

    • Avatar

      olivia

      July 11, 2014 at 1:03 AM

      Legos!!!! Everything is awesome!

  36. Avatar

    Sharaza

    July 10, 2014 at 4:47 PM

    Salaam as an avid reader of Muslim Matters articles I was little bit upset to see that this review has been published especially during the holy month of Ramadan and on top of it no member of Muslim Matters seems to be commenting hence leaving the controversy over what was said to escalate. I would like to point out these two following hadiths in the hope that reflection can be taken these are sayings and narrations from our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)

    Hazrat Abdullah Ibn Umar reports: “One day, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) climbed up the minbar (pulpit) and said loudly:

    “O hypocrites who are Muslims in their words but into whose hearts faith failed to penetrate! Do not cause hardships to Muslims; do not criticize them; do not try to reveal their mistakes because whoever reveals his brother’s mistakes Allah will reveal his mistakes. If Allah reveals one’s mistakes, He will embarrass him publicly, even if the mistake is within his house (hidden from people).

    In another narration from our beloved Prophet:

    “Muslims are brothers. They do not treat each other cruelly and do not give in each other to the enemy. Whoever meets a need of his Muslim brother Allah will meet a need of his own. Whoever saves a Muslim from a trouble, Allah will save him from one of his troubles on the Day of Judgment. Whoever conceals a Muslim’s fault, Allah will conceal his faults on the Day of Judgment.” (Bukhari, Mazalim, 3; Muslim, Birr, 58).

    Muslim Matters knowing the Shariah and being an Islamic website you have an obligation to your readers and to those who you directly or indirectly cause harm to. Insha’Allah I hope you will respond as to why you have published this allowing the insults to be kept in the article.

  37. Avatar

    Sharaza

    July 10, 2014 at 4:50 PM

    Also I forgot to mention and this is directly to the Muslim Matters please reflect on this from evidence from our Holy Qur’an and please respond as to how you can justify keeping the mockery of others efforts in this article.

    Investigating Muslims’ faults is also prohibited by the Quranic verses: “Those who love (to see) scandal published broadcast among the Believers, will have a grievous Penalty in this life and in the Hereafter: God knows, and ye know not.” (an-Nur, 19).

    • Avatar

      Arif

      July 10, 2014 at 5:03 PM

      If the editors of Muslim Matters want to create disunity amongst the ummah they have to be held accountable not to us but to Allah (swt).

  38. Avatar

    Mohammed

    July 11, 2014 at 3:00 AM

    Salaam Alaikum,

    Just saw these tweets by @RadTalks re: this article:

    “If your work drives kids away from Islam, I’m going to call you out. Their spirituality is more important than your pay check.”

    Brother, I have no relation to ANY of the publishers and no interest in defending them, but this attitude is not one that is constructive. It is exactly this attitude that your article displayed and this is why people are upset.

    You are clearly judging their intentions for writing the book as purely financial.

    You are saying that a book not written to your own arbitrary standard is actively driving kids away from Islam.

    You are saying that you are going to “call them out.” This is not advising with wisdom and patience. It is advising by denigration.

  39. Avatar

    Mohammed

    July 11, 2014 at 3:18 AM

    Another tweet from @RadTalks:

    “How can you defend a cardboard picture book written for high school freshmen??? The world needs this: (link to your own work)”

    I can defend them by saying that many of these books are written by people who may not speak English as their first language, some of whom were immigrants and also busy setting up mosques, Islamic organisations and building the foundations that we all are benefitting from.

    I can defend them by saying that at least they were available so that our kids have something Islamically based to read (even if not to the standard we would like) rather than have absolutely nothing whilst we wait for the next generation to come up with their own ideal version of how books should be.

    I can defend them by saying that despite financial constraints, they managed to get the book out without having to resort to crowd-funding… a feat in itself. I’m not saying anything is wrong with crowd-funding, but – as you know – there are many skills required to get a book published and if they lacked in some they may not have lacked in all of them.

    I can defend them by saying that until relatively recently, computer illustrated graphics and Muslim cartoonists/ artists were a rarity.

    I can defend them (and this is absolutely crucial) none of them released an article denigrating the work of all their predecessors and used irresponsible statements like “actively driving kids away from Islam” and exaggerating the deficiencies (high school freshmen level English) whilst simultaneously presenting themselves as the standard (QUOTE ” Here’s what good looks like”)

    Please understand that the article, the way you have responded to criticism of it (super-aggressive from the very first reply) and your tweets on @RadTalks are not constructive.

    There is no point producing the perfect Muslim kids book if the way you did so was by burning everything that came before you.

  40. Avatar

    Tasnim Nazeer

    July 11, 2014 at 6:02 AM

    Assalamu Alaikum Br Hasan, I have sent you a message to your official page RADTalks regarding this. I would just like to clarify I am one of the authors of one of the books you referred to its illustrations but I cannot speak for the author of the other book whom you referred to its text. Greenbird books is the publishers sister Anaya who you have been corresponding with on here too and has raised the concerns of the insults. We embrace constructive criticism as not everyone will appreciate others work there is no problem with writing a review against a book if you feel that is not your cup of tea insha’Allah. Allah (Swt) knows best and I have personally messaged you about this as I think that it is really sad that this has been brought up on a public platform like Muslim Matters. We all agree that we can all improve the offerings of Muslim children’s books but brother there is beneficial advise and then there is insults. I was concerned to read some of the tweets which had prompted me to write this message. One of the tweets read ” actively driving kids away from Islam” and also you paid reference that “one of the authors is rallying her buddies to write comments”. Brother if you read back at my one comment in this whole article I haven’t even mentioned anything untoward. I humbly accept if you would like to contact me personally about your views but I would really appreciate if I as the author is not referred to or receiving insulting tweets. Brother the book was written after I lost a child through miscarriage it was intended to promote and appreciate the blessings of Allah (Swt) and inculcate gratitude towards our Almighty Allah (SwT). It was no way intended to drive or bore children. I would really appreciate your kind response insha’Allah May Allah (Swt) keep us all united. There are many problems in the world today such as what is happening in Gaza I am going to focus my efforts on helping them insha’Allah.

    • Avatar

      mezba

      July 11, 2014 at 12:58 PM

      Salaams. This article, and the comment on RADTalks twitter that “Their spirituality is more important than your paycheck.” is very hurtful. Firstly, most Islamic books authors hardly do it for the paycheck. Yes, remuneration is useful and it’s a validation of our work (we won’t do it for free) but no one is paying the rent or their kids tuition through this work alone. The market is so small, especially in North America and UK. Most people do it out of a sincere intention to please Allah and help the community. Admittedly the first work in the field will not be as high a standard as the later works in the field. However, this article tries to trash talk and insult all those who produced Islamic books, smear their intentions, and then promote their own work. I am still shaking my head.

  41. Avatar

    greenbirdpublishing

    July 11, 2014 at 11:07 AM

    In light of no response from MM and the brothers continued comments now on other platforms I have set up this petition. For all those who have commented please share with your community members so we can finally have a response from MM.

    http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/muslimmattersorg-we-damand-an-explanation.html

    Jazakallah for everyone’s efforts.

    • Avatar

      mezba

      July 11, 2014 at 12:39 PM

      Salaams. On the facebook page of RADTALKS this was in one of the comments “organized smear campaign led by Greenbird publishing’s founder and her friends”. Now as a writer for children’s books myself, I can take criticism, and criticism (even person) is expected when you put your book out for the public. The thing about this article is that it doesn’t seek to see what’s wrong (allegedly) with Islamic children’s books, or if there are good books – it’s a promotion of this person’s own (supposedly superior) book. I am very stunned that MuslimMatters has allowed this article to be published on their respected site.

      • Avatar

        greenbirdpublishing

        July 11, 2014 at 12:53 PM

        Salaams Mezba, it is a shame he has had to resort to a lie to defend his position. My colleagues and strangers alike have been nothing but gracious in reaching out to him to discuss and collaborate but I have received nothing back. My efforts are now being concentrated on reaching out to industry practitioners to form an independent association inshallah.It is my job to simply do the best I can without hurting or disrespecting anybody in the process in the creation of our books. If I have upset brother Jalil or anybody else I sincerely apologise and Allah SWT knows best.

  42. Avatar

    Arif

    July 11, 2014 at 11:49 AM

    Inshallah muslim matter may give a response for all the Islamic literature industry that have been generalized and mocked.

  43. Avatar

    greenbirdpublishing

    July 12, 2014 at 10:35 AM

    Salaams Brother,

    The remarks I am referring to were not on MM’s platform but the authors own social media, however readers were responding here on Muslim Matters to inform the wider group. Apologies as that was not clear, as you have mentioned your team will be monitoring policy perhaps you can intervene earlier next time so things don’t escalate to that point.

    I wish MM the very best moving forward and thank you for all your comments and time.

    Jzk

  44. Pingback: Exploring the Problems in Producing a Good Islamic Children’s Book » MuslimMatters.org

  45. Pingback: EXPLORING THE PROBLEMS IN PRODUCING A GOOD ISLAMIC CHILDREN’S BOOK | PASS THE KNOWLEDGE (LIGHT & LIFE)

  46. Avatar

    monirkhan

    May 26, 2015 at 3:41 AM

    With respect to what you said: “I also believe in freedom of speech and take do everything possible to take on board all comments, but not tolerate disparaging remarks orientation of authors.” I guess you are for your authors and I am sure you would appreciate us doing the same thing also. Furthermore, I do not think the article was derogatory at all and say that is simply not true. In fact, I find statements like this just as bad as the word “deplorable” in the article above. I hope you can see that too.

  47. Avatar

    Aafia

    October 20, 2015 at 4:43 PM

    Masha Allah nice one.
    Well I would like to present a list of few books that are very very cheap and have very powerful influence on Kids to grasp the islamic education.Here it is,
    http://islamhashtag.com/islamic-books-for-kids/

  48. Avatar

    Ahmad Philips

    October 15, 2017 at 12:39 PM

    I don’t necessarily disagree with your article but doing something poorly that one can learn from ans improve is better than doing nothing. I myself have taken great effort to make a book for kids titled The Muslims Graphic Novel. It may not reach your standard but I’ve seen the joy and love from the kids who have purchased it and fought over it in the library. So I know at least mine is of some benefit to some kids out there Alhamdullah

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#Culture

Trump And The Holy Gobble: A Tongue In Cheek Short Story

When Donald Trump tries to impress a secretary and is exposed to aloo gobi and black pepper, what follows could mean the end of the world.

Aloo Gobi

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories. This story is satire, i.e. humor. You’ve been warned!

That’s Why They Love Me

The EEOB

The EEOB

With Secret Service agents guarding his flanks, Donald Trump exited the White House and headed across the street to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which housed the majority of the White House staff offices.

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“Mr. President,” the Special Agent In Charge protested. “I wish you would eat in your private dining room, or at least in the Navy Mess. It’s safer than the EEOB break room, of all places.”

Trump gave the man a condescending smirk. “You don’t understand what it takes to be a great president. I have to let my workers know that I care about them, bigly. I’m the best at that. No one has ever been better than me at being good to their workers. That’s why they love me.”

The SAIC rolled his eyes. He knew the real reason for the president’s desire to hang out in the EEOB break room. One of the new EEOB secretaries, a petite Russian immigrant blonde named Natasha Petrova, was a former “actress” known to her fans as Natasha Lipps. It wouldn’t be long, the SAIC expected, before Ms. Lipps – err, Petrova – would be made a presidential advisor, which would naturally require personal briefings with the president.

Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, strode beside him. Trump was fed up with the man, who kept trying to talk to him about the need to cover up his affair with Stormy Daniels.

“Can’t we just get the Russians to eliminate her?” Trump demanded.

The Nuclear Football

“Well, heh heh,” Cohen stammered. “That’s not really-”

Trump waved him off. Maybe it was time to fire the dopey dummy, if he couldn’t get things done. As they entered the EEOB, Trump turned to his aide-de-camp, a tall and muscular man wearing a medal-festooned military uniform and a beret. The man carried the nuclear football, and was always at the president’s side.

“Give me the football.”

The nuclear football

The nuclear football

The aide hesitated. The football, a Halliburton Zero aircraft-aluminum briefcase with a protruding antennae, the whole thing further housed within a thick leather satchel, contained a device that the president could use to launch nuclear missiles from any location. It was quite heavy. Besides, the aide knew that Trump only wanted to show it off to Natasha Lipps – err, Ms. Petrova.

Trump snapped his fingers. “Give it, loser.”

The aide handed it over, watching with satisfaction as the president listed to one side, nearly falling over.

In the break room, Trump, out of breath from the exertion of carrying the football, beamed with satisfaction. He’d timed it perfectly. Lipps was making herself a coffee. He admired her figure, resisting the impulse to grab part of her anatomy.

A few other employees sat at the cafeteria-style tables, eating sandwiches and chatting. A brown-skinned young man stood beside a humming microwave oven. They were losers, all of them. They weren’t the president. He was! They didn’t have people all over the world reading their Tweets. He did! Something smelled good, though. He looked around, trying to identify the source of the delicious smell, when the staffers noticed his presence. They all jumped to their feet, and one man saluted. Mental note: promote that guy to presidential advisor.

Natasha Lipps gave him a wide smile. Trump leaned forward even more than he normally did, all his attention focused on the Russian woman.

“Look what I have,” he boasted, grunting as he hefted the case. “The nuclear football.”

“You are such a poverful man,” Lipps purred in her Russian accent.

Cherokee People

“Something smells good in here.” He gave her a wink. “Is that you?”

“I vish it vas, Mr. President. Is Ahmad over there.” She nodded to the brown-skinned man. “He alvays bring delicious food.”

Trump frowned at the man, who had just taken a meal out of the microwave. Ahmad? Wasn’t that a Muslim name? He turned to Cohen. “Do we still have any Muslims on staff? I thought we fired them all.”

“I don’t know, sir. The White House has thousands of staffers.”

“Arrest him. But bring me his lunch. It smells really good.”

“I don’t know if that’s strictly legal, sir, there are laws-”

Trump silenced him with a chopping motion. “Hey, you. Ahmad.”

The brown-skinned man froze. “Yes, Mr. President?”

“You’re not Muslim, are you?”

Ahmad’s eyes shifted left and right. “I’m from California.” Which was technically true.

Trump made a face. “Just as bad.”

“I believe he is Indian,” Petrova whispered.

Oh, that was fine then. Trump had been dealing with Indian-owned casinos in Atlantic City for decades. “Cherokee people,” he sang out loud, “Cherokee trii-iibe. Hey chief, what are you eating?”

Aloo Gobi

Aloo Gobi

“Aloo gobi, sir.”

Holy gobble? What the heck kind of a dumb name? Getting back to more important matters, he set the football on one of the tables, touched his thumb to the biometric scanner, and popped the case open.

Inside, a special laptop computer was custom-fit into the case. The upper panel came on automatically, displaying a map of the world, with all the major cities marked with glowing dots. The lower panel contained a keyboard and a large red button, along with two smaller buttons, one labelled YES and one NO.

Allergic to Pepper

Trump grinned at Natasha Lipps. “Guess what this does? I could destroy the planet from right here if I wanted to. Pretty hot, huh?”

“Is vonderful.”

“Mr. President, sir!” the aide-de-camp protested. “This is highly irregu-”

Trump sneezed into Natasha’s face. It was a wet, jet-propelled sneeze. Her smile flickered for an instant, then returned as bright as ever as she wiped his spittle away. Trump scanned the room. The dark-skinned Indian guy had a hand-held pepper mill and was grinding pepper onto the holy gobble.

“Stop that, you moron!” Trump snapped. “I’m allergic to pepper.”

The man gazed at him pleadingly, and gave the crank a slow-motion turn. “But I like a lot of pepper on my food, sir.”

Trump let out a tremendous sneeze, one that shook him all the way down to his spinal cord. This time he felt himself losing balance, and reached out a hand, which landed right on the nuclear football’s red button. A loud beeping noise sounded, and lights flashed on the screen, along with the glowing words:

CONFIRM MISSILE LAUNCH = YES
ABORT = NO

Trump prided himself on being a positive person. No one had ever been more positive than him in all the history of the world. He didn’t believe in the word NO. He pressed the button for YES.

Arrest That Man

Everyone stared in horror, except for Ahmad, who used the distraction to give the pepper grinder three fast turns. Then he sat, said a quick dua’ and rapidly began to eat his aloo gobi.

“Dear Heaven,” the aide-de-camp breathed. “The Russians will retaliate. We’ll all be destroyed.”

Trump smirked. “You think I would point missiles at Russia? They’re pointed at Mexico and China. Immigration problem solved, plus we win the trade war! Am I the smartest or what?”

The aide-de-camp studied the laptop screen. “One of the missiles is off target. It’s headed for California.”

Trump nodded smugly. “I always keep one aimed at San Francisco.” Grinning widely, he crooned, “Goodbye, Pelosi!”

The SAIC tapped his earpiece. “We’re getting word. The Chinese have launched a retaliatory strike. We’ll be hit in fifteen minutes. We need to get you to the bunker!”

Ahmad took out a portable prayer rug, set it down and began to pray. “Alhamdulillahi rabbil aalameen,” he intoned. One last salat before the end of the world. He would meet his end with dignity.

“I knew it!” Trump pointed. “Arrest that man. For being Muslim, and for eating holy gobble.”

Cohen sighed, and Natasha Lipps – err, Petrova – began to cry.

THE END

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

Avatar

Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

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Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas | Book Review

In the second decade of the 21st century in America, Muslims consider themselves “as American as apple pie,” don American-flag hijabs, and consider their presence and participation in American politics as a crowning achievement. There is little to no resemblance between the majority of the American Muslim population today, and the very first Muslims who landed in America – not as privileged individuals, but as enslaved people at the hands of vicious white colonizers who had already decimated the Indigenous population and who had no qualms about destroying the lives of their slaves. Dr Sylviane A. Diouf’s book “Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas” tracks the journeys and experiences of African Muslims who found themselves shipped aboard slave-trafficking vessels and taken to the other side of their known world. From their induction into the Transatlantic slave trade, to their determination to uphold the five pillars of Islam – regardless of their circumstances – to the structure of the enslaved Muslim community, their prized (and dangerous) literacy, and their never-ending resistance against slavery, Diouf illustrates in incredible detail the powerful and painful experiences of enslaved African Muslims, and the legacy that they left behind in the Americas.

This review of “Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas” will focus on the unique qualities and formidable faith of the very first Muslims in the Americas, and the legacy that they left for Muslims in the Americas today.

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In Chapter One, Diouf begins by answering the very first question that arises when considering the path of enslaved African Muslims: how did they end up enslaved in the first place? Slavery already existed as an institution in Africa, though vastly different from the horrifying standards of the European slavers. Between the existing slave trade, military conflicts that created prisoners-of-wars who were then sold as slaves, and the European propensity for kidnapping innocent people, many Muslims found themselves swept into the Transatlantic slave trade. These same Muslims were the ones who provided us with much of the knowledge that we have today regarding the American slave experience. Most African Muslims were literate, due to the religious and cultural importance of education; of those enslaved, many were religious scholars or students of knowledge. They described how they were captured, the torturous journey of the slave caravans across the continent, and the even more horrific experience of the slave ships themselves. These men also documented their lives as slaves, and indirectly, provided deep insight into their own inner nature. 

Despite the intense pressure and demands on African enslaved people to renounce their ‘heathen faith’ and be inducted as Christians, African Muslims demonstrated a commitment to Islam that should cause modern Muslims today to feel deeply ashamed in comparison. The very first words that Job ben Solomon (Ayuba Suleyman Diallo) uttered, after running away and then being discovered in Pennsylvania, were the shahaadah; Omar ibn Sa’id wrote numerous Arabic manuscripts, in which the shahaadah was always found (Diouf, 2013, p. 72-73). When Catholic priests tried hard to educate slaves about Christianity as part of the conversion process, the African Muslims were both resistant and unimpressed; they were already familiar with many Biblical stories, thanks to their Qur’anic education. Of those who seemed to have accepted Christianity, many did so only outwardly, while confirming their belief in Allah and His Messenger in every aspect of their lives. Indeed, in Brazil and other areas where there were large concentrations of Muslim slaves, the Muslims established underground madaaris to maintain and pass on their Islamic knowledge and education. Muhammad Kaba Saghanughu was a man whom the missionaries had thought was successfully converted when he provided all the right answers to their pre-baptismal questions – eleven years later, in a Baptist Missionary Society notebook, he wrote a 50-page fiqh manual in Arabic that encompassed the rulings of salaah, marriage, and other topics. 

Slavery did not stop the African Muslims from maintaining their salaah in whatever manner they could manage, considering their circumstances. Some did so in secret, while others insisted on upholding their salaah in public, to the extent that these incidents were recorded by the descendants of slaves and slaveholders alike. In Brazil, the African Muslim community – both enslaved and freed – held together so strongly that they were able to secretly establish Salatul Jumu’ah and attend gatherings of dhikr, even in the face of intense scrutiny (Diouf, 2013, p. 88-89). 

Perhaps one of the most greatly moving examples of enslaved African Muslims’ dedication to their Islam was that even in the midst of the utter poverty of slavery, they found a way to uphold zakaah, sawm, and Hajj. In Brazil, it was recorded that the Muslims would end Ramadan with the exchanging of gifts, no matter how simple they were; in truth, these gifts were zakaatul fitr and zakaatul maal.

In other areas, the descendants of Muslim slaves recalled that their parents and grandparents would make rice cakes called saraka at least once a year – saraka was a corruption of the Arabic word sadaqah, and the rice cakes were a Jumu’ah tradition in West Africa. (Diouf, 2013, p. 92-94) In Ramadan, many Muslims sought to fast; indeed, despite the incredible hardship and lack of nutritious food that the slaves already endured, there were those who fasted voluntarily outside of Ramadan as well, often by pretending to be ill. They knew that their situation meant that fasting – in Ramadan and outside of it – was not obligatory on them, and yet, to them, no circumstance was bad enough to warrant not even attempting to observe Ramadan. Hajj was another pillar of Islam that was both impossible and no longer obligatory on the enslaved Muslims; yet in Brazil, in a house that was used as a masjid, there were illustrated depictions of the Ka’bah – demonstrating the emotional bond that the African Muslims had with the Sacred House. 

Throughout Diouf’s book, the overwhelming theme that arises is the fierce commitment that enslaved African Muslims had to Islam. It was not superficial, shallow, or easily shrugged away in the face of difficulty. Instead, the African Muslims held onto their belief in Allah and their daily, lived practise of Islam, even when they had every excuse to relax their obligations. They upheld their Islamic and cultural dress code, not just at its minimum standard of modesty, but in a way that clearly demonstrated their religious identity (Diouf, 2013, p. 101-110). They found ways to make prayer mats and dhikr beads; they gave their children Muslim names in secret, when they were expected to present themselves as Christians; they even strove to observe whatever they could of the Islamic dietary code, by refusing to drink alcohol or eat pork – Ayuba Diallo went so far as to only eat dhabiha meat that he himself slaughtered (Diouf, 2013, p. 119-122). The enslaved African Muslims valued their Islamic identity above all. Even in slavery, they knew that their ‘izzah came from their Deen – and so did those around them, who noted their unique bearing in the face of the horrors of slavery. 

The story of the African Muslims who were enslaved and brought to the Americas is not merely a history lesson, or a token homage in honour of Black History Month. It is a story that echoes the persecution of the earliest Muslims in Makkah, and applicable to Muslims today. Muslim minorities in the West are often all too eager to complain of our difficulties and to seek religious exemptions for our minor inconveniences. Yet who are we in comparison to the earliest African-American Muslims, who endurable the unspeakable? Who are we, with our privileges, with our very freedom, in comparison to those Muslims who were stripped of everything and everyone they knew and loved, and who still held ever tighter to the Rope of Allah? One may say that it is unfair to compare us and them; that to recognize their struggles should not mean invalidating the challenges we face today. Certainly, we face numerous different fitan that are very different from what they experienced, but the truth is that we should compare our attitudes with those of our predecessors. We should be ashamed of our own weaknesses in times of privilege compared to their strength in times of oppression. More importantly, we must learn from them what it means to have such a relationship with our Creator and our Deen that we are capable of surviving and thriving in even the worst of circumstances. 

May Allah have mercy on the enslaved African Muslims who endured one of this Ummah’s historic tragedies, and may He make us of those who demonstrate their strength of love for Him through every tragedy of our own.

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Searching for Signs of Spring: A Short Story

At the party she stood near the front door, as if she might attempt escape. No one talked to her, though she saw plenty of glances cast her way. At least the food was good.

Golden Gate Bridge at night

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

The Smoker

Cigarette butt

“I’m going to kill her,” the man in the back seat growled. A moment earlier his phone had beeped, indicating a text message.

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Randa ignored him. She could already smell him – he reeked of cigarette smoke and Drakkar, a syrupy yet rancid combination, like a rotting fruit – and didn’t care to expend the energy to turn her head.

Exhausted from a nine hour shift slinging overloaded plates of food to hordes of Japanese and German tourists, she sat in the front seat of the UberPOOL car, staring out the window at the passing nightlife of San Francisco. Taxis and buses jostling for space, restaurants with lines down the block. Cable cars, street cars, tourists with their expensive cameras like baby candy for Tenderloin junkie thieves. Chinese women heading home from SOMA sweatshops, elbowing their way onto packed buses. Local hipsters, bike messengers and pimply faced tech millionaires. They were all jammed into this city on seven hills, mesmerized by the lights and endless cash, or imprisoned by them. Free to go where they would; free to ruin themselves.

She reached into the shopping bag between her knees and fingered the silk scarf she’d purchased. She’d spent half her weekly paycheck on it. A gift for Nawal. SubhanAllah, its exquisite softness was unreal. What she would have given during the last three years to feel something so yielding. She released the scarf and settled back into the seat. Quick stop at the halfway house to shower and change, then on to Nawal’s party. She could do this. After all she’d been through, why should a party make her nervous?

“Bitches lie,” the smoker went on. “That’s all women do, they lie. I’m going to kill the sl*t.”

“Sir,” the driver said, glancing in the rear view mirror. He was a tiny man with a thick moustache and a flat cap. His name was Ali, according to the Uber app. European looking, maybe Kurdish, maybe Arab. “Calm down or I will put you out.”

“Screw you,” Smoker said. “I paid for this ride, I’m not going any-”

Ali swerved to the curb and hit the brakes, screeching to a stop beside Union Square. “Out.”

It was almost Christmastime, and the square was packed. Randa saw people ice skating on the little rink they set up every December. The compressor that cooled the ice was very loud. Tourists were crowded into the Starbucks beside the rink. On every side of the square, monuments to consumerism rose. Macy’s, the Westin St. Francis, Nike, Apple, Louis Vuitton, Bul93gari, Tiffany & Co… Idols of wealth and third world labor. After spending three years owning nothing but a few sets of clothing and a few books, this was all foreign. As if some great beast had eaten every valuable thing in the world and regurgitated it in one place. She wasn’t quite sure if she wanted it all, or was revolted by it all.

“Drive the damn car,” Smoker said.

Randa had had enough. She turned and scanned the back seat. Directly behind her, a teenaged blonde girl in denim looked very uncomfortable – almost frightened but not quite there. Randa focused on the smoker. He was brown skinned and barrel chested, with thinning black hair. Middle Eastern. He looked familiar, actually. His eyes were bloodshot. It was like a set up for a joke: three Arabs and a white girl get into an Uber… Except there was nothing funny about this guy. He was big and looked quite capable of violence.

Randa, on the other hand, was physically unimposing. Short, skinny, long black hair tied in a ponytail, she was a typical Yemeni girl, as light as one of the reeds that grew in the Aden wetlands, where her parents had grown up. That didn’t matter. Anyone could hurt anyone, she knew this. Her eyes were lasers drilling into the smoker. Her jaw was a steel trap. Liquid nitrogen flowed through her veins. If this guy wanted to mix it up, she would tear him to pieces.

The man’s eyes met hers, he opened his mouth to speak, then thought better of it. He exited the car, slamming the door.

The driver smiled at Randa. He looked very relieved. “MashaAllah alayki,” he praised her in Arabic. “I don’t know what you did, but thanks. Maybe you should be a rideshare driver.”

Randa did not reply.

The Threat

Prison visitors window

She checked into the halfway house on Turk Street with ten minutes to spare before her work period expired. The staff member on duty was her own case manager, a thin, bald man with a pasty complexion and a scar on his lip.

“I’ll need a recreation block later,” Randa told him. “Starting at seven.”

The man smirked. “Hot date?”

Randa gazed at him impassively, her face as ungiving as a concrete wall.

“I need to know where you’re going,” the case manager said, annoyed.

“Bachelorette party.”

“Better not be any drugs there.”

“Muslim party. No drugs, no alcohol, no men. Just women dancing and eating.”

“You only have one rec block left this month.” He nodded toward the door that led to his private office. “Come back here, we’ll have a little fun, I’ll give you five more blocks. You’ll have a good time.” He punctuated this assurance with a wink.

“Eat poison and die.”

The man flinched as if he’d been slapped, then snarled. “Take your block. But if you’re one minute late I will write a violation on you faster than you can say, ‘Allah help me.’”

Up in her tiny second floor room with the two-woman bunk bed, changing out of her waitressing uniform, she considered not going. She hadn’t been to a social event since her release. She knew they’d all be talking about her.

While locked up she’d earned a correspondence bachelor’s degree in business administration. She was still trying to figure out what to do with it. Education wise she’d already surpassed 90% of the Yemeni community. But that didn’t matter. To them she was a shame and a wreck, a disgrace to her family.

And she wasn’t sure it was safe. What if her brother Motaz showed up? Did he still have it in for her? She had not seen him since her arrest, when he came to see her in the county jail. They sat across from each other in small cubbies, separated by thick plexiglass into which someone had scratched the words, “LOVE YOU FOREVER.”

Leaning forward to talk through a perforated panel, she explained that she hadn’t known there were drugs in the backpack. Her boyfriend had told her it was a game console he’d sold, and asked her to deliver it on her way to school. She’d been in love with Lucas, and never imagined he would manipulate her that way.

Her brother’s cheeks were purple with rage. “I don’t care about the drugs,” he seethed. “That only proves how stupid you are. You had a boyfriend. An American.” He struck the plexiglass and Randa reeled, nearly falling over in her seat. “If we were back in Yemen,” her brother went on, “I would kill you myself. It would be best for the family if you hang yourself from your bunk.”

She didn’t try to tell him that she’d never been intimate with Lucas and that she was, in fact, still a virgin. It wouldn’t make any difference, she knew that. It was public perception that mattered, and the shame it would bring. And she wasn’t saying her brother was totally wrong on that score. She hadn’t represented herself or her faith well. But that didn’t give him the right to threaten her.

She had not spoken to her brother since that day. She had no idea what his intentions for her might be. But she didn’t intend to give him the chance to make good on his threats.

The Phone Call

The phone rang. It was her mom, reading her mind. Randa told her she was going to skip the party.

Her mom clucked her tongue. “Nawal is your friend. She’s getting married, she wants you to celebrate with her.”

“She didn’t invite me.”

“She invited me. That means you as well.”

“What if Motaz shows up?”

“Why would he? It is a ladies party. And if he did, so what?”

“You know what. He threatened to kill me.”

“Ah, Randa! Astaghfirullah. That was in the past. All is forgiven. Anyway he never meant it. It was only his anger talking.”

Randa was not sure. Islam taught compassion and mercy, but in her native Yemen, feuds could carry on for generations. People did not forget. She voiced another of her fears: “They’ll all be judging me. The ladies.”

“Eh?” Her mother sounded genuinely perplexed. “Why should they?”

“Because I just spent the last three years-”

“No,” her mother interrupted. “We don’t speak about that. It never happened.”

“I don’t know how to talk to those people.”

“Those people?” Her mother sounded outraged. “They are your people, Randa!”

Randa sighed and shook her head. She could fight off people trying to kill her, and had done so, but she was powerless against her mother. Why was that, still?

Her mom switched to Arabic. “Give your tribe your money and blood, but give outsiders the point of a sword.”

Her mom and her proverbs. And she never used them right. “That doesn’t even fit.”

“It means do not justify yourself. The past is the past.”

“I don’t think it means that.”

“And wear something colorful. No more black like you’re going to a funeral.”

Prayer

All she had was black. What else? After three years of state-issued denim, she’d sworn she’d never wear any shade of blue again. What, then? Orange was jail jumpsuits. Red, pink, yellow, purple? What was she, a clown? Or white, like a nun, a nurse, or a virgin bride? She would laugh at that if she remembered how.

San Francisco Islamic Society Mosque

She donned a long black skirt over black stockings, walking shoes, a long-sleeved blouse and a black sweater, and set out on foot. Her first stop was the Islamic Society masjid on Jones at Market. In the elevator she took a light black abayah from her purse and draped it over herself, covering everything but her face and hands. The masjid was on the third floor, a wide open space in which Randa could forget her problems for a time. She had rediscovered her faith in prison, and sometimes it was the only thing that kept her going.

She knew that was a cliche, but it was true. When every door was made of solid steel, double locked and remote controlled – Allah’s door was open. When every road was not only blocked but taken away altogether, because you were sealed in a tiny room – the road to Allah was still there. When there were no windows, and the light bulbs were turned off so that you sat in utter darkness, Allah’s light was still there.

She smiled imperceptibly, remembering the first of Ruby’s rules. Ruby, her cellmate and mentor, had developed a set of rules to survive and thrive in prison. Rule number one: only God can get you out.

Well here, she was, out, and just in time for ‘ishaa. A handful of other women were in attendance and she prayed beside them. As the Imam recited Surat Ar-Rahman, Randa searched her own heart for some sign of spring. A bit of softness, a warm breeze stirring, a melting of the ice. She found little to give her hope. Too soon, she thought. Her great fear was that her past self, the Randa who cried at the recital of the Quran, hung out with friends and gossiped or laughed about boys, or just walked down the street with a bounce in her step, happy to be alive, was gone.

The Party

Yemeni food mutabaq sandwich

Mutabaq

She took another Uber to Nawal’s house, out in the Richmond district, near the ocean. At the party she stood against the wall near the front door, as if she might attempt escape. No one talked to her, though she saw plenty of glances cast her way. She drank guava juice from a small glass and ate a mutabaq. At least the food was good. She hadn’t eaten anything so delicious in years.

Her mom had hugged her when she arrived, chastised her for her grim sartorial choices, then wandered off to sit and gossip with her friends.

There were at least forty women present. The younger ones danced to the sounds of A-Wa, with the occasional Ahmed Fathi song thrown in to appease the aunties. Others sat at a table around a henna artist, taking turns getting their hands and arms tattooed. A woman in an orange scarf sat on a sofa crying, while two other women flanked her, comforting her.

Nawal sauntered over to Randa and embraced her. She looked radiant in a sequined blue gown, her long black hair flowing freely, her arms hennaed up to the elbows with intricate designs. “Thanks again for the scarf. It’s lovely. You didn’t have to do that.”

“My pleasure.” Randa nodded to the crying woman. “What’s going on there?”

Nawal looked. “Oh. That’s my Tant Ruqayyah. Her husband’s been cheating on her. But she’s finally done with him. She sent him a message today, asking for a divorce. Hey.” Nawal grinned at Randa. “What’s up with the black outfit? You planning a burglary later?”

Randa bristled, pulling back. “What do you mean?”

Nawal faltered. “No. Nothing. Just a joke, Randa. What happened to you? You lost your sense of humor.” Nawal squeezed Randa’s shoulder and turned away to rejoin her friends.

Randa wanted to shrink into a corner of the room and draw the darkness around her like a cloak. Nawal’s comment stung like chili in a cut, all the more for its truth. She knew she wasn’t the fun person she’d once been. She wasn’t someone people wanted to be around. She wasn’t someone people loved.

A commotion from the direction of the entrance made her turn. The door was just around the corner and she couldn’t see what was happening. She heard a man shouting, and a woman protesting. For a second she had the irrational thought that it was her brother, come to murder her as he’d threatened to do three years ago. Then she smelled it. The stench of cigarette smoke and Drakkar. It was the man from the Uber. Suddenly she knew why the man had seemed familiar. She’d seen him with his wife at parties in the past. His name was Momo, she remembered now, and he was Ruqayyah’s husband. She remembered the text message Momo had received in the car, and his saying, “I’ll kill her.”

A woman shrieked from the doorway and the man pushed his way in. He passed by Randa, not noticing her. Her eyes shot to the man’s hands, just as Ruby had taught her. Rule thirty: watch people’s hands, not their faces.

Momo held a long butcher knife tucked low against the back of his leg. No one else in the room seemed to have noticed it. The other women were too busy scrambling to put their scarves on, now that there was a man in the room. Some were retreating quickly, heading for the bedrooms. Some of the younger ones were still dancing, oblivious. Meanwhile, Momo was making a beeline for Ruqayyah.

Ruqayyah had spotted the knife. Her eyes were locked on it as she backed up, her hands held to her mouth in horror, her face pale as the moon.

Randa moved. Dropping her plate and glass, she walked rapidly toward the food table, slipping off her sweater as she did so. Rule thirty two: anything can be a weapon. Without breaking stride she snatched up the pepper shaker and pocketed it, then grabbed two unopened soda cans. She wrapped the cans with her sweater and twisted it, gripping it by the sleeves.

Momo had almost reached Ruqayyah. He brought the knife up, aiming it at her heart. Ruqayyah stepped back, stumbled into a chair leg, and fell to the ground. It probably saved her life.

Randa was only a few feet behind Momo now. He still had not seen her. Rule thirty five: hit first and hit hard. She gripped the sweater sleeves with both hands and swung, turning her hips, putting everything she had into it. All her frustration, fury and shame, her loneliness and self doubt. The soda cans in the sweater connected with the side of Momo’s head. There was a loud thudding sound, and Momo dropped as if a djinn had snatched his heart out of his chest. His hand opened and the knife clattered to the ground beside him. Some of the women screamed, and someone finally turned off the music.

Still clutching the sweater in one hand, Randa reached down and took Ruqayyah’s hand, helping the older woman to her feet, and helping her adjust her scarf, which had slid forward over her eyes. The auntie was stunned speechless.

Momo groaned. Randa turned to see him reach for the knife, find it, and begin to climb back to his feet. Damn. Hard-headed bastard. Reaching into her pocket, she calmly unscrewed the pepper shaker and flung the contents into Momo’s eyes. He hollered in pain and dropped the knife once more, and this time Randa kicked it away so that it skittered under the table. Once again she gripped the sweater sleeves with both hands and swung. The cans smashed Momo square in the face. He fell backwards with a cry, blood spurting from his nose. He rolled about on the floor, clutching his face, all the fight gone out of him.

Someone seized Randa’s arm and she turned to see her mother. The woman was literally quaking with rage. “Get out of here,” she hissed. “You crazy person. Why did I think you changed? You are a majnoonah.”

Nawal was there too, her face set in stone. “You should leave,” she said. “I won’t tell the police what you did, but you should go.”

Randa didn’t argue. What did it matter? These women had their minds made up about her, as did her mother. Fine. She turned to leave. Again someone gripped her arm, but this time it was Tant Ruqayyah. The auntie pulled Randa into an embrace, then kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you,” she said, her lower lip trembling. “You saved my life, habibti. May Allah give you life. I don’t know how I can ever repay you.”

Nawal frowned. “What are you saying, Tant? Randa, what does she mean?”

Randa looked at her former friend. “He came here to kill her. He had a knife.” She gestured with her chin to the table. “It’s under there.”

“To kill her?” her mother said. “What nonsense is this?”

Randa smoothed Ruqayyah’s orange scarf. “Don’t worry, Tant. You’ll be fine.” She turned away, replacing the pepper shaker and dented soda cans on the table on her way out. One of the cans had punctured and was spraying soda in a fine stream. She put her sweater on and found it wet.

At the doorway, a woman was rising from where Momo had pushed her over on his way in. Thank God he hadn’t stabbed her.

Bridges

Her mother called out to her, but she let herself out. The night breeze instantly penetrated her wet sweater and raised goosebumps on her skin. Her hands were shaking badly, so she thrust them into her pockets, violating one of Ruby’s rules. In fact her entire body shook. She told herself it was just the cold.

Nawal emerged from the house and called to her, then hurried to catch up. Her friend was flustered, her cheeks red. “I’m sorry,” she said, taking Randa’s hand. “I misunderstood. You… You are a hero.”

Golden Gate Bridge at night

Randa looked away. In the distance she could see the Golden Gate Bridge glowing red in the night, and the dark hills of Marin County silhouetted against the sky. Bridges took you from one reality to another then back again, but what if you never wanted to go back? What if you wanted to put the past behind you forever? Was there such a thing as a one way bridge?

They said she was a villain, then a hero. Which label applied? Ex-con? Disgrace? Waitress? Yemeni, American, daughter, friend?

She returned her gaze to Nawal’s face. “No,” she said. “I’m not.”

She turned away. A light drizzle began to fall, chilling her, but somehow she’d stopped shivering. She was miles from the halfway house, but there was plenty of time left on her rec block. She would walk. The city stretched out before her like a jeweled wedding veil, the wet sidewalks shining beneath the street lamps. Appreciate the moment. Another of Ruby’s rules.

Randa walked.

THE END

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

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Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters, Zaid Karim Private Investigator, and Uber Tales – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

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