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Muslim Children’s Books: an Exposé



 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?


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.


We Can Do Better

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






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!

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

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  1. Avatar


    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

    July 11th 2014

  2. Avatar


    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


        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

      • 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?

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    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


        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


      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… 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


        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


        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


      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


      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


    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


    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


    July 9, 2014 at 3:23 PM

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

  11. Avatar


    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


    July 9, 2014 at 3:56 PM


    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


    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


    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

    • 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


    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


    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:

    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


        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


        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.


  20. Avatar


    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


    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


    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


    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


      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


        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


      July 10, 2014 at 4:47 AM

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

      • Avatar


        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


    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


      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


      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


    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


    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


    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.

    May Allah give you Hidaya and guide you inshAllah.

    • Avatar


      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


    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


      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: 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: And here are my 6 favorite books for Ramadan for kids:

      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


        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:

      • 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


    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


    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


        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: 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


    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

    • 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


        July 17, 2014 at 11:44 AM

        Thank you for your dua!

    • Avatar


      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


        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


      July 11, 2014 at 1:03 AM

      Legos!!!! Everything is awesome!

  36. Avatar


    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


    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


      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


    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


    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


      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


    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.

    Jazakallah for everyone’s efforts.

    • Avatar


      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


        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


    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


    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.


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


  46. Avatar


    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


    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,

  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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Podcast: David’s Dollar | Tariq Touré and Khaled Nurhssien



We often preach about our children learning the importance of money, group economics, and developing healthy spending habits. How awesome would it be to have a fully illustrated picture book that explores how a dollar travels from hand-to-hand?

Join Khaled Nurhssien and award winning poet and author Tariq Touré as they discuss Tariq’s new children’s book David’s Dollar. In this Interview they touch on art, Islam’s approach to community and Tariq’s creative process.

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Day of the Dogs, Part 9: All We Have To Do

The driver whistled. “Waow. You some big politico? So watchu gonna do about the foreigners snatchin’ our jobs? The Chinos?”



Corredor Sur, Panama

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

This is chapter 6 in a multi-chapter novella.  Chapters:  Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8

“Policia Nacional!” – Omar

Broken Window

Tocumen International Airport
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Tocumen International Airport

Back in Panama, pulling his wheeled suitcase along behind him, Omar walked out to the long-term parking lot at Tocumen airport. It was a hair past noon, and the sun poured forth its fire as if the earth were a morsel of meat it wanted to cook for lunch. Knowing the weather in Panama, Omar had changed his clothes in advance in the airport bathroom, putting away the linen suit and slipping on a pair of knee-length basketball shorts and a t-shirt. He was glad he had. After the chilly skies of Bogota, being back in Panama was like stepping into a sauna.

When he came to his car, he found the driver’s side window shattered. He shook his head in disgust. Why would anyone break into his car? It was a five year old silver Toyota sedan with no frills. It didn’t even have a CD player, just a basic AM/FM radio. He could have afforded better, but he drove this old beater for exactly this reason: it didn’t look worth breaking into.

Searching the car, he found nothing missing. There hadn’t been anything worth stealing anyway. Just the manual in the glove box, a little LED flashlight, a pack of cinnamon chewing gum, and some napkins. Oh, wait – they’d taken the Quran CDs. Arabic recitation with Spanish translation. Maybe the thieves would listen and be guided.

When he inserted the key and turned it, he got nothing. Not even a click. Opening the hood, he discovered the reason: the thieves had stolen his car battery. So that was what they’d been after. Now he was angry. Where was airport security?

Car with shattered window

Drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, he considered who to call. He needed someone to bring him a battery. His wife didn’t drive. Fuad didn’t drive either, because he never knew when he might have an epileptic attack.

Fuad’s crazy wife Ivana did drive, but Omar didn’t want to deal with her. If Fuad somehow convinced her to come out here, she would either want to be paid, or would expect Omar to take her and Fuad to the most expensive restaurant in Panama. Ten times! Omar laughed at the thought.

He could call Nadia Muhammad, his old friend from IIAP. She was married and sometimes came to visit with her husband and two kids. She was a goofball, always telling jokes and making his son Nur laugh. But even though they were just buddies, and his wife thought nothing of it, he didn’t want to push the boundaries of trust by spending half a day driving all around Panama city with her.

It Burns!

Deciding that there was nothing left to steal, and that it wouldn’t hurt to leave the car alone for a while, he trudged back to the taxi stand in front of the terminal. Ignoring the touts who snatched at his sleeves, desperate to put him in a limo or town car, he found a 60ish, balding taxi driver with forearms like German sausages. The man sat disconsolately in his cab, filling out a crossword puzzle. The two of them negotiated a price of $40 for the whole business, and took off.

As they headed into the city with the windows open and hot air whipping through the car, Omar reclined his head against the seat and closed his eyes.

Apparently not noticing or caring that Omar was trying to rest, the driver called out, raising his voice to be heard. “Oye, jefe. You some kinda tuna fat foreigner?”

“I’m Panamanian.” Omar opened his eyes and studied the road, and was dismayed to see that the driver had taken the slow midtown route. Avenida Domingo Diaz was an interminable road lined with auto shops, plant nurseries and love motels – known as pushbuttons in Panama, because all you had to do was drive in and push a button. You never had to see any clerk or staff face to face. “Hey, why did you go this way? I would have paid the tolls on the Sur.”

“Well I din’ know that, no?” The man’s sped-up slang Spanish marked him as having been raised in Colon. Omar could barely understand him. “Just because you a tuna fat Colombian. You might be a biter. You ahuevao foreigners is welcome if you bring some flus. Otherwise we don’ need you.”

Ignoring the fact that the man had just called him stupid – he’d understood that much – Omar, repeated, “I’m Panamanian.”

“Then where the president live?”

“Palacio de Las Garzas. I’ve been there.”

The driver whistled. “Waow. You some big politico? So watchu gonna do about the foreigners snatchin’ our jobs? The Chinos?”

There were a lot of Chinese in Panama, true, but they didn’t take jobs. Just the opposite. They opened stores, restaurants, internet cafes and electronic shops, and employed Panamanians. Omar explained this.

“Then the mascabola Venezuelans! Ñangara Comunistas!” The driver hawked and spit on the floor of his own car. “They spray the word taxi onna side of a car and steal my fares, don’ even have licenses.” He pounded the dash with a meaty fist. “It burns!”

“I see how that’s bad for business, but they’re our neighbors. We have-” Omar stopped talking as the driver abruptly swerved across two lanes of traffic and pulled up beside a love motel called Lady Finger.

“Get out!” the driver demanded. “Ain’t drivin’ no mascabola Communist-lover. And I ain’t votin’ for you!”

Omar pursed his lips. It would be hard to find another taxi out here. He considered offering the driver more money, but the guy was a nasty piece of work. As much as the man wanted Omar out of his cab, Omar wanted to be done with him too.

He collected his luggage and paid the driver a quarter of the normal fare, which under the circumstances he felt was generous. The driver cursed at him and peeled out with a squeal of burning rubber.

Allah blessed him. Omar had only begun to contemplate his options when another taxi pulled up to the Lady Finger. A 60ish man in a business suit and a young woman in a skin-tight dress headed into the pushbutton. Omar called out to the driver and half-ran, pulling his bag behind him. A minute later he was on his way – again – with a driver who kept the windows rolled up, the AC on and a Cuban jazz CD playing softly. Alhamdulillah.

Do the Right Thing

Three hours later, with a new battery in his car, Omar navigated his way out of the airport parking lot. He noticed several other cars with shattered windows. Useless airport security officers walked around making notes, and two cars were being lifted onto tow trucks.

Corredor Sur, Panama

Corredor Sur, Panama

He headed home along the Corredor Sur, the express toll highway that led along the Pacific waterfront. The area bordering the highway had once been an expanse of impenetrable mangrove swamps, but now it was Costa del Este, the most expensive seaside neighborhood in all of Panama. Two-hundred meter skyscrapers glittered in the tropical sunshine, their glass sides reflecting sky and sea, while construction cranes marked the sites of future towers.

These million dollar apartments were occupied by business people, wealthy expatriates and even crime cartel bosses, mostly hailing from neighboring (and less stable) countries like Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. And, of course, by Fuad, who – pushed by his Cuban beauty queen – had purchased an apartment he really could not afford.

The mangroves that had been drained and filled to make Costa del Este possible had been one of the richest wetland habitats in Panama, home to dozens of endemic species. Such was the way of his country. No one valued nature, nor even old things of human make. It was all about what was new and sleek.

At least people like Naris Muhammad were out there fighting to protect what was left. Naris, the serious-minded member of the Muhammad triplets, was one of the most prominent environmental activists in Panama.

He exited the freeway into the leafy district of San Francisco. It was an upper middle class neighborhood with tree-lined streets, mostly consisting of gated homes, all bordering Parque Omar, the largest urban park in Panama.

Passing by Parque Omar, he eyed the spot where, last year, he’d intervened to stop a man from beating a woman. He’d been out for a morning jog and had seen a tall, thin man with hollow eyes punching a young woman in the face.

For a good portion of his childhood he had been the one beaten while the person who should have protected him stood by helplessly. He’d always promised himself that he would not be that impotent bystander, allowing someone to be abused before his eyes.

So when he saw the man punching the woman, he instantly ran forward, wrapped the man’s neck from behind and pulled him off the woman. The woman, instead of thanking him, screamed, “Leave my boyfriend alone!” She picked up a broken tree branch and struck Omar on the head, and the pair of them dashed off. Omar went home with his scalp bleeding, expecting a tongue lashing from his wife. But she cleaned the wound, kissed him and made him one of his favorite foods: an apam balik pancake filled with banana slices, sesame and sugar.

He returned his eyes to the road. He couldn’t be responsible for the choices people made. But he could do the right thing.

As he approached a large, sky-blue home fronted by a high brick wall and a steel gate, he hit a remote control and the gate slid open. The house had a circular front driveway that curved around a bubbling Islamic style fountain shaped like an eight-pointed star, covered in green tiles. The crisp water sparkled as it poured out of an upper bowl and into the larger basin below.

Nur liked to play in this pool, while Omar’s wife enjoyed sitting beside it after sunset, listening to the Quran on a little cassette player. Omar had offered to buy her a portable CD player, but she said she couldn’t tell one side of a CD from the other.

Tall trees flanked the front yard, with a pair of mango trees anchoring east and west. Around them grew passionfruit trees, guava and berry bushes. Nur often came out here with his mother and ate the berries straight from the bushes, until his cheeks and chin were red from the juices.

Something For Everyone

When he opened the door, Nur came running. Omar dropped to one knee to catch the boy. He was a handsome tyke, with sturdy limbs, a strong nose and square face. His eyes were dark and his black hair was straight, like his mother’s. Omar’s love for him was a deep river that would never run dry.

He found his wife in the kitchen standing at the stove, garnishing a red snapper for the oven. The split AC in the corner hummed, its cool air circulating the scents of lemon and parsley. The space was large and comfortable, with a cooking island in the center, and teak cabinetry all around. A matching rustic teak table occupied one side, beside a low, molded concrete bench that extruded from the wall and was covered with cushions. The family spent a lot of time here.

His heart surged at seeing his wife again. Her face was dewed with perspiration from the heat of the stove. Even so, she looked beautiful, with a slender, strong form, and her long black hair tied back in a ponytail. He went to her and she turned to embrace him, saying, “Careful of the stove.”

Putting his arms around her, he could feel the muscles in her shoulders and arms. The two of them ran five kilometers every morning in Parque Omar, and two evenings a week he taught her karate in an upstairs bedroom they’d turned into a training studio.

Labrador retriever He felt something cold touch his hand and looked down to see the dog, Berlina, nuzzling him with her wet nose. She was a young labrador retriever, well trained as a guide dog. She was a gentle creature, intelligent and good with Nur as well.

He reached down to scratch Berlina’s head. Her tail thumped happily against the kitchen cabinet. Nur grabbed his other hand. “What did you bring me, Papá?”

Standing in the middle of the family mob, Omar laughed. “I have something for everyone, okay?”

They sat at the kitchen table and Omar parceled out the gifts: for his wife, a pair of silver earrings shaped like crescent moons and fashioned in the uniquely Colombian “momposina” style, with finely woven silver threads. For Nur, a set of coloring pencils with a small leather carrying case.

“What about Berlina?” Nur wanted to know.

In answer, Omar stood, grabbed the plastic jar of beef jerky sticks from the top of the refrigerator, and tossed one to the dog. Berlina caught it in mid-air, settled down and went to work, her wagging tail brushing the floor.


Later that evening Omar sat at the kitchen table with his son, watching the boy draw. He could hear the shower running upstairs.

Papers were scattered across the table, covered with drawings of ocean waves, leaping dolphins, a squid brandishing a scepter, and a mermaid wearing a crown. Nur had always been fascinated by the ocean and all its creatures.

Nur held up a picture of a tsunami arching over a small town. He’d even drawn tiny cars on the roads and stick figures of people. “Do you like it, Papá?”

Omar raised his eyebrows. “It’s drawn very well.” He leaned close to his son’s ear. “But let’s not tell Mama that story. We don’t want her to be sad for the people.” Nur’s mother could not see the drawings, so normally Nur would describe them to her in detail, telling the drawing’s story.

Nodding, Nur tucked the sketch beneath a pile of others as his mother came down the steps, tying a towel around her hair. Omar was always amazed at how confidently she moved. A stranger would never guess she was blind, at least not here inside the house, where everything was laid out precisely in its place. Though her vision was not 100% gone. She could sometimes make out broad outlines and colors.

“Sad for what people?” she asked.

“Nothing, just drawings.”

Omar’s wife sat on his lap, resting an arm around his shoulders. She ran a hand through his hair, playing with the curls, taking care to stay away from his mangled ear, as he was sensitive about that. He kissed her on the cheek, happy to be home with the loveliest woman he knew. He was blessed, alhamdulillah.

A Scarcity of Friends

“I missed you,” his wife said. “But I’m glad you found your friend Hani. You don’t have many friends.”

It was true. He had Mahmood, Fuad, and Nadia. That was about it. Nadia’s sister Naris could have been a friend if she weren’t so engrossed in her work as an environmental activist. As for Nabila, she’d moved to Los Angeles to capitalize on her Youtube stardom, and ended up becoming a documentary filmmaker.

Was this scarcity of friends the reason he’d been so excited to see Hani again? And why he had overlooked the brother’s disconcerting negativity?

“What’s his wife’s name, by the way?”

“He never told me. She works as a house cleaner.”

“Do you think it’s wise to invest with him? He sounds unstable.”

Omar pulled her hand out of his hair. It was too close to his ear, and was making him nervous. “Does he?”

“The way you describe him.”


She ran a hand over his face – her way of reading his expression. “You’ve already decided to give him the money, haven’t you?”

“I guess.”

“Then why make him write a business plan?”

“For his own benefit. To help him succeed.”

“I think you just wanted a reason to see him again.”

As a reply, Omar pulled his wife close and kissed the side of her head. Her black hair smelled of the papaya shampoo she favored. She knew him too well, and never failed to let him know it.

He watched his son working on a new drawing of a squadron of flying fish. Each fish wore a beret and had a cigar in its mouth. As the boy drew, he chewed on his upper lip.

Nur was an intense child, but was he happy? Omar thought back to his own early childhood, training in martial arts with his father, watching football games, attending the masjid for Jumah prayer; and going on hikes with his mother, or visiting that amazing ice cream shop on Avenida Central that sold a giant scoop of mango sorbet for a quarter. They had been poor, but Omar had been happy because he was loved by his parents, and what more did a child need?

That’s all we have to do, he thought. Love him. He reached out and stroked the back of Nur’s neck. The boy did not even look up. “All we have to do,” Omar said out loud.

“Do what?” his wife asked.

“All we have to do is love each other.”

His wife settled into him, resting her back against his chest. “Yes. That’s all we have to do.”

Put Your Hand Down

Karate class “I KNOW YOU WANT TO EARN A BLACK BELT ONE DAY,” Omar said as he strode up and down in front of the line of kids. One girl – an especially enthusiastic eleven year old green belt named Tabina who was always asking when she’d get her next promotion – raised her hand frantically. Some of the kids nodded their heads.

“Put your hand down, Tabina. It wasn’t a question. Fix your stances.” His own son Nur was leaning too far forward in his horse stance, and Omar showed him by giving him a slight push, which nearly toppled him. Technically Nur was not old enough for this class; it was for kids aged six to twelve, but being the instructor’s son had privileges. Not that Omar went easy on the boy. Just the opposite. He demanded much from him.

Omar loved these kids at the Centro Islamico, which everyone called the Centro. He volunteered twice a week, teaching this class and another for teens.

“There are three things you must do,” he went on, “if you want a black belt. One, come to class. Two, practice at home. Three, don’t quit. If you do these things, week after week, month after month, year after year, I guarantee you will get your black belt eventually, inshaAllah.”

He cast a glance at the clock on the wall. It had been a month since his return from Bogotá. Hani and his wife were supposed to arrive today. In three hours, actually.

“Line up,” he ordered the class. “Respect Allah, your parents and yourselves.” With a command of, “Sensei ni rei!” he bowed the class out. “Domo arigato gozaimusu,” all the kids intoned in Japanese.

His own wife was teaching a Quran memorization class in one of the upstairs rooms. He called Nur over and kneeled to give the boy a hug. “Run upstairs and tell Mamá we have to go.”


As the three of them exited into the audacious Panama sun, unmitigated by any trace of cloud, they saw a scene unfolding in the empty lot across the street. A group of refugees – Venezeuelans no doubt – were camped in a large weed-ridden field, which was muddy and spotted with litter.

One family hunkered in the shade of a patched-up tent, while a thin woman with frizzy hair in a ponytail sat beneath two pieces of corrugated metal that had been leaned against each other and covered first in cardboard, and then with a tarpaulin. Her two small children kicked a deflated soccer ball in front of the shelter. A toothless old man with a cane sat on a plastic milk crate, out in the open, with only a gray baseball cap to shield his face from the sun. There were about a dozen people altogether, mostly women and children. They were a doleful, dejected group. It broke Omar’s heart to see such scenes, but Venezuelan refugees were everywhere in Panama these days.

Now, however, a group of young Panamanian men and women – in their late teens or early twenties, perhaps – had pulled up to the lot in two tricked-out Japanese cars. They began shouting at the refugees, telling them to go home, and calling them leeches and scum. The well dressed youths, consisting of five boys and two girls, exited their cars and began throwing stones at the refugees.

Omar had witnessed scenes like this before. With over one hundred thousand Venezuelans in Panama, resentment was rising among those who chose to scapegoat the refugees for all of Panama’s problems – like the taxi driver.

The little boys who’d been kicking the soccer ball ran to their mother in the lean-to. The old man with the cane yelled at the youths, who shouted insults in return.

“Papá,” Nur said in alarm, “why are they doing that?”

“What?” Omar’s wife wanted to know. “What’s going on?”

Omar gave his wife’s shoulder a squeeze. “Kids misbehaving. Go back inside the Centro with Nur.” She did not have Berlina with her, as dogs were not welcome in the Centro, not even guide dogs. It was a bad policy, but one that Omar had not succeeded in changing. But she had her cane, and of course she had Nur.

He strode across the street, mindful that if these youths chose to fight he’d be badly outnumbered. An idea came to him. Taking out his wallet, he opened it and held it above his head. “Stop!” he commanded loudly. “Policia Nacional! You’re all under arrest.” He did not have a badge of course, but the kids were several meters away and probably would not notice.

Indeed, the youths scattered, dashing back to their cars, jumping in and peeling out, tires squealing.

Omar strode across the muddy field to the refugees, who all looked frightened. “Easy,” he told them, making a calming motion with his hand. “Are you okay?”

A woman in her forties, her brown face weatherbeaten and lined, stepped forward. “It’s nothing new,” she replied bitterly. “But thank you anyway.”

Omar looked the group over. He wanted to do something, say something, but what? In the end all he said was, “Do you have enough food?”

“No,” the woman replied bluntly.

Omar’s wallet was still in his hand. He took out $60, which was all the cash he had on hand, and held it out to the woman.

Her eyes flicked to the money, then to Omar’s face. Her mouth was a grim line. “We did not ask for anything.”

“I know. But you’re my neighbors. Maybe Panama will be in trouble one day, then I’ll come to your country and need your help.”

The woman’s mouth quirked upwards into a smile. “I don’t think so. You are rich, and you don’t know it.” But she took the money.

When Omar went back across the street, his wife and child were still there, to his consternation. “I told you to go inside,” he said.

“Excuse me?” She was annoyed. “Number one” – counting on her fingers – “Nur wanted to see. Number two, you don’t tell me to go inside like I’m a child.”

Omar wasn’t the type to give orders, and he knew it was her blindness that brought out the protectiveness in him. But sometimes his wife had to trust him to lead. He tried to explain this, and saw her growing angry. It might have turned into an argument, but Nur spoke up.

“Papá,” the boy said solemnly. “You lied.”

Omar twisted his mouth to one side in embarrassment. “Yeah,” he started to say, “I know, but-”

“It was cool!” Nur broke in. “Did you see how those bad kids ran away?” He held up one hand, pretending to be Omar holding up his wallet, then marched in a circle. “You went, ‘Policia!’ and they went, ‘Oh no!’”

“Okay, okay.” They walked to where their car was parked a half a block down the street. As they drove home, his wife patted his knee. “You did good, mashaAllah. I’m proud of you.”

Next: Day of the Dogs, Chapter 10:  The Girl With the Goldie Gum

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.


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

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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Day of the Dogs, Part 8: Rich and Poor

A security guard – a long-faced, muscular man – stared at him disconcertingly. Omar frowned. Why would the security staff be suspicious of him?



Click Clack Hotel, Bogotá, Colombia

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

This is chapter 6 in a multi-chapter novella.  Chapters:  Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7

“Cold. Hard. You put it in drinks.” – Omar

A Small Price to Pay

Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal
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Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal

After high school, Omar attended Florida State University’s Panama campus, on the northern edge of the city near the Miraflores Locks. From the library’s second floor you could watch the ships rising and falling in the canal. It reminded him of his childhood, when his mother used to take him to the locks, then to Avenida Central for a snowcone.

What would he say now if his mother wanted to do that? Not that she would. No longer a battered widow, she was now the CEO of a successful company, and had little free time. Omar lived on campus, and rarely saw her.

He encountered old friends, made new ones, and founded the karate club. After graduating with a B.S. in international affairs, he went to work for his mother’s company, which had forty five employees by that time. He started in shipping, and rotated to other entry level positions, as his mother wanted him to learn the day-to-day operations.

Word came that Nemesio had been imprisoned for murder. He’d lost his temper and killed a prostitute who tried to steal his wallet. Omar thought he should feel satisfied at this news, but he only felt sad for the man, which surprised him.

He fell in love and married an extraordinary woman. Fuad was a witness at his wedding. No one who knew Fuad from high school would have recognized him that day. Gone were the inch-thick glasses, replaced by contacts. His formerly shaggy hair was expensively cut, and his beard neatly trimmed, and he wore a beautiful blue suit that made him look like a Bollywood celebrity. He’d attended medical school in Cuba, then returned to Panama and joined a major medical group specializing in brain disorders.

Unfortunately, from Omar’s perspective, Fuad brought something back with him from Cuba: a beauty queen. He’d met and married the former Miss Cuba, of all things. Ivana was certainly beautiful, with flawless mahogany skin and flowing raven tresses that spilled over her shoulders; but she had the personality of a vampire bat. Greedy and materialistic, Omar watched helplessly as the woman pushed Fuad to spend money he did not have on luxuries he could not afford.

The other witness was Mahmood, a Palestinian brother Omar had met at Florida State, and who now taught history and English literature at IIAP, Omar’s old school. The Muhammad triplets were there as well, and even Mahboob came, as he and Omar had long since patched things up. Though Mahboob still joked that the only way they’d truly be even was if Omar went headfirst into a trashcan. To which Omar would reply, “Save that for the politicians,” or, “My name is Omar not Oscar,” and once, concocting an admittedly awful English-Spanish pun, “That would be an interesting sucio-logical experiment.”

Omar was eventually promoted to executive vice president of Puro Panameño. He bought a house, and his wife gave birth to a son. At some point, the nightmares that had plagued him after the dog attack stopped coming. He realized this only later, and could not pinpoint exactly when they had stopped, though he thought maybe the turning point had been his marriage.

He taught karate to kids at the Muslim community center, and ran three times a week at Parque Omar – something the doctors had told him he would never do again.

Fuad was always calling to complain about his psychotic wife. Okay, not psychotic, but Ivana wore a pound of gold to the grocery store, insulted Fuad in public, and had a vicious temper. Omar had once seen her lift an ice cream making machine over her head and throw it against a wall hard enough to crack the plaster. Aside from that, she spent Fuad’s money like it was her life’s purpose, and neither worked nor cared for the house. Spent all her time at the Coronado beach club, or out with her friends at night, doing nobody knew what. Though she had not converted to Islam, she’d promised to give up drinking when she married Fuad. But she would stumble home at 3 am so drunk she had to be carried to bed.

Fuad wanted Omar to talk to her, guide her, help her change. Omar tried one time to talk to Ivana about at least moderating the drinking, and she threw a table lamp at him. Omar suggested to Fuad that he and Ivana were simply not compatible.

But Fuad would have none of it. The woman had flawless dark skin, curves like a ripe peach, and a face that might have been molded by angels. Fuad could not give her up.

Not Omar’s problem, he decided.

Overall, life was good, and he was grateful. If his body was sometimes stiff in the morning, if the old wounds still ached when he ran or practiced karate – especially his left leg – so be it. It was a small price to pay for the life he lived. Alhamdulillah.


Bogotá, Colombia WHY WAS THE SECURITY GUARD STARING AT HIM? Omar was in Bogotá, Colombia, for a business conference where experts presented seminars on subjects ranging from marketing in China, to label design, to ensuring ethical treatment of laborers.

Now it was the morning of the second day of the conference, and as he approached the rotating doors at the building entrance, a security guard – a long-faced, muscular man – stared at him disconcertingly.

Omar frowned. He knew security was always a concern in Colombia, so it was not surprising that this event was staffed by a score of burly red-jacketed security guards. But why would they be suspicious of him? In his tan-colored bespoke Panama suit, light blue shirt and navy tie, he was just another businessman. Maybe the man wanted to search the leather laptop case he had slung over one shoulder?

The guard half-reached toward him with one meaty hand, pointed to the copper bracelet Omar still wore on his right wrist, and blurted, “Omar? Omar Bayano?”

Tipping his head, Omar studied the man. There was something familiar about that elongated face and nose. SubhanAllah! It was Hani. He would have walked right past him. Gone was the acne and the long, greasy hair. Hani was the same height he’d been in high school, but his complexion was a clear, burnished olive, and his hair was shorn to a crewcut and receding at the temples. His shoulders were huge, and he looked like he could lift a horse.

Omar knew that he too looked different. In tenth grade he’d been the shortest boy in his class; but now, at the age of twenty-eight, he was a relatively tall 182 cm. His formerly full head of curly hair was now just long enough to cover the tops of his ears, hiding his disfigurement. The scars on his face were faded, though you could still see the white lines if you stood close. Even his limp had disappeared.

Grinning widely, Omar stepped forward and embraced his old friend. He felt unaccountably excited, as if he’d just found someone he’d spent years searching for, even though the reality was that he’d thought of Hani only now and then in passing.

Hani gave a surprised laugh at Omar’s warm greeting, then beamed like he’d just won the Copa América. They exchanged numbers and arranged to meet that night.

Rich and Poor

Click Clack Hotel, Bogotá, Colombia Omar was staying at the Click Clack, an ultra-modern hotel in Bogotá’s trendy Chico district. When Hani arrived, Omar was already seated in the hotel restaurant, a funky place that served dishes based on famous paintings. The food was actually crafted on the plate to resemble the painting.

Omar steered clear of the Jackson Pollock pollock – would it be chum on a plate? – and instead ordered the Fernando Botero cod, on the theory that even an unconventional place like this would not disrespect a revered Colombian artist like Fernando Botero.

Hani looked at the towering lobby fountain and plants literally growing on the wall, like a vertical garden. “You’ve come up in the world. I don’t know if I can afford to eat here.”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s on the company expense account.”

“Really? Who do you work for?”

“My mom’s company. Puro Panameño, remember? It’s grown.”

“Man. That’s great.” Hani kept shifting in his seat, picking up the menu and putting it down. It occurred to Omar that maybe Hani was uncomfortable having someone else pay for him.

“Hey, you know what?” Omar offered. “We don’t have to eat here. We could go for a pizza or something.”

Hani frowned. “Why? You don’t think I’m good enough for this place?”

Omar was taken aback. “I didn’t mean that at all. I want you to be comfortable.”

“Then don’t patronize me.”

Omar didn’t know what to say. The silence grew, until Hani blurted out, “Why are you being so nice? You’re acting like I’m your best friend.”

“Well… you were, once. You still are my friend.”

“I was mean to you. We used to call you Patacon because your father was a security guard.”

Omar heard the unspoken continuation of the sentence: And now I’m a security guard. How ironic life could be. Did Allah teach lessons on a decade-long scale? Why not? A decade, a century, a millennium, an age, these were nothing to The One with no beginning or end. But Omar had never held a grudge against Hani. He’d never felt the boy – now the man – had anything to atone for.

“That,” Omar said firmly, “was Tameem, not you.”

“I participated. Then I barely talked to you before we moved away, because I couldn’t face you.”

Clearly, Hani had never gotten over the way he’d behaved in high school. And now there was an obvious wealth gap between them. In Latin America that was a big deal. Rich and poor lived in different worlds. The power imbalance between the classes colored every interaction. People were supposed to “know their places.” Omar had to alter that balance, and he had to do it with something true, because you could never achieve an honest rapport with a lie.

Honesty Between Strangers

Omar ran a hand through his hair and chose his words. “I admit, I was hurt by the way you went along with the bullying. That was a terrible time for me. I felt like no one was on my side, no one was helping me. My father was gone, Nemesio used to beat me every day-”


“My so-called tio.”

“He beat you?”

“All the bruises, remember?”

“I thought that was from karate.”

Omar shook his head. “Mostly Nemesio. It went on for years. There were times when I contemplated suicide.” Omar had never said these things out loud to anyone, not even his wife. Why was he sharing them with a man he hadn’t seen in twelve years? Maybe because it was safe, in a way. Hani knew him but did not know him at the same time. A familiar stranger.

“Oh my God. I didn’t know, man. I’m so sorry.” Hani leaned forward impulsively and gripped Omar’s forearm, giving it a squeeze, then settled back into his seat.

Omar was moved by this. “You know, Hani, my most vivid memory of you is during the dog attack, when I saw you standing there with the knife. That little thing would barely cut a mango. You took a huge risk. The dogs could have turned on you.”

Hani shrugged, but Omar could see the words pleased him. “I did what I had to.”

“You could have done nothing.”

Hani shook his head. “You were my friend.”

Omar snapped his fingers and pointed. “Exactly. I could buy you a thousand dinners and it would be nothing. I’m breathing because of you.”

“You’re breathing because of Allah.”

“You were Allah’s instrument. But it must have been terrifying for you.”

“I peed my pants, actually.”

“For real?”

Hani nodded, and suddenly the two of them were laughing, and the tension was gone.

Nobody Uses Ice

They ate and talked. Omar told Hani about his family. His wife worked with him at Puro Panameño. She was his dream wife, and he was crazy about her. Their son Nur was four years old and a quiet child, but very smart ma-sha-Allah.

As for Hani, he’d gotten married nine years ago. Omar did the mental math. Hani had married at nineteen! He tried to ask about this, but Hani skirted the subject. Omar wondered if maybe Hani had an affair with a girl and was forced to marry her.

Hani’s father had early onset dementia, and his mother suffered from depression. His wife worked as a house cleaner. Life was a struggle. They wanted kids, but it hadn’t happened yet.

"Still Life With Fruits" by Fernando Botero

“Still Life With Fruits” by Fernando Botero

As it turned out, Omar was right about the Botero cod. The fish was served with a pear glaze, pea soup, a baguette and a watermelon slice. All items from Botero paintings, but grouped appealingly.

By ten o’clock the table had been cleared and Omar was tired. Hani kept brushing the tablecloth with his fingers. His high forehead was beaded with sweat. Omar flagged a waiter and asked for ice water for Hani.

The waiter stared at him blankly. “Ice?”

Omar made the shape of a square with his fingers. “Cold. Hard. You put it in drinks.”

Hani laughed and waved the water away. “Nobody uses ice in Bogotá, man. We’re at 2,700 meters. We’re cold enough already.”

The thought of living without ice boggled Omar’s mind. In Panama ice was like the blood in your veins. You couldn’t live without it. “It’s just,” he said, “you’re sweating.”

“Oh.” Hani mopped his brow with a napkin. “I want to ask you something.” He went on to say that his security guard salary barely paid a living wage. He was struggling to support his wife and parents, and always on the edge of being broke. He had an idea to start a security business of his own.

“I know I can succeed.” He’d balled the napkin in one hand and kept squeezing it as if trying to wring water from it. “I’ve been a guard for five years. I know everything about the business. But it takes financing. I was wondering if you could loan me the money. I hate to ask, but I don’t know where else to turn.”

Omar nodded slowly. For a split second he thought that maybe Hani had joined him for dinner only to make this request. But he brushed that thought aside. He should give his friend the benefit of the doubt.

He told Hani to write a business proposal. Projected income and expenses, how he intended to acquire clients in a highly competitive market, that kind of thing.

Hani frowned. “Why are you making me do all that, man?”

“It’s for your benefit. You need this kind of analysis if you want to succeed.”

“Fine. So should I email you all that?”

Hani didn’t sound happy, but Omar plowed ahead: “Why don’t you bring it in person? I would love to have you and your wife visit us in Panama. Let me know what date works for you and I’ll reserve the tickets.”


Later that night he sat on a towel laid on the floor of the hotel room, having just prayed Ishaa’, and thought about the encounter with Hani. It occurred to him that Hani had told him almost nothing about his wife, not even her name. That seemed odd, especially since Omar had told Hani everything about his own family. But some Muslim men – especially the Arabs – were secretive like that when it came to their wives. For a long time Omar had not understood this cultural trait, but he’d mentioned it once to Mahmood, his Palestinian friend.

Mahmood was knowledgeable in the deen and said that this type of protective behavior was called gheerah, and that it required a man to ensure that the women of his household wore hijab, did not mingle inappropriately with men, and were shielded from lustful gazes. Not to do this, Mahmood explained, was considered shameful in Arab culture.

Islamic mashrabiya balcony “You see it in architecture,” Mahmood explained, steepling his fingers like a professor giving a lecture. “Islamic mashrabiya balconies allowed women to watch the street without being seen. Islamic Spain adopted the mashrabiyyah, so you see it in Latin America too.”

Gheerah was not about distrusting women, Mahmood said, nor about punishing them. Rather it was about shielding them from those who harbored ill intentions.

In which case it seemed to Omar that it should be a two way street, with husbands and wives both protecting each other. Anyway that was probably the reason for Hani’s silence on the subject of his wife. Hani’s ancestry was Arab and he would have been brought up that way.

Omar stood, stretched, then set about packing his bags. He’d be returning home early in the morning, inshaAllah. He’d spoken to his wife and son on Skype earlier that day, before the dinner with Hani. He was glad the conference was over, not only because he was eager to see his family, but also because if it had not been over, he might run into Hani again. Yes, he’d invited the man to come visit him in Panama, but for some reason he felt uneasy at the idea of seeing him again. Why should that be?

The World School

The world was covered in an unending school building. For a few days he would travel through crumbling, abandoned classrooms and auditoriums, sleeping on the floor when he couldn’t walk anymore. He never knew if it was day or night, since windows and doors opened only onto more hallways and rooms. Once he came to a staircase and climbed it through twenty floors, until he came to a floor in which the ceiling had crumbled, and the sun shone through. The sun! He sat on the dust covered floor and bathed in the warm rays, astounded at how good it felt. Dust had accumulated on the floor until it became soil, and shrubs grew. It was a different world up here.

He tried traveling on the upper floors for a while after that, but some rooms were occupied by masses of birds or bats, and the structure was so heavily rotted and mildewed at that level that he feared he might fall through a hole in the floor. So he returned to the ground level.

Sometimes, as he journeyed through the unending, purgatorial building, he came to sections that were better maintained. Occasionally, class was in session. But when he looked into these rooms, the children were like automatons, staring blankly at a chalkboard on which words and numbers appeared by themselves. When Omar spoke, no one turned to look at him. He was not even sure they were human.

In some places, a stream or river ran through the school, and bridges crossed over it. Omar saw creatures in the water: chimeras with the fins of fish but the tentacles of octopi. Creatures that looked like small, pale children with the tails of dolphins; and immense crocodiles that drifted with the current, turning their unblinking eyes to watch Omar as they passed.

One night (if indeed it was night – in this area most of the lights did not work, and everything was shadows and gloom) he heard a familiar voice. He couldn’t put a name to it, but his heart sped up in excitement. Another human being! Someone he knew. The voice came from a dark classroom.

Dark, abandoned class room

Omar rushed into the room, and found Mr. Suwaylem, his old principal from IIAP, lecturing to a dark and empty room.

He glanced at Omar. “You’re late. As I was saying, the Byzantine empire was a… was a sprawling, tremendously influential nation that could be said… Could be said what? I think, to have been… have been… founded in 330 CE, when Constantine the First…”

As Suwaylem stuttered on, Omar took a seat. He saw now that the man’s normally immaculate suit was dirty and torn, and hung loose on his frame, while his usually well coiffed hair was tangled.

“Who can tell me,” Suwaylem said, looking around as if to a room full of pupils, “something… what was it…” He wrung his hands helplessly, then looked to Omar. “You.”

Before Omar could point out that he didn’t know the question, a terrible moan came from the back of the room. It was a drawn out, tremulous sound, somewhere between a groan of pain and a death rattle, and it made the hair on Omar’s arms instantly stand on end. He spun in his seat and looked behind him.

In the deep shadows at the back of the room, two figures stood. Omar stared, trying to make them out. Finally their forms resolved, and he saw to his horror that they were Tameem and Basem, exactly as they had been in high school, except for one thing: they were dead. Or they should have been. Tameem’s throat was opened from ear to ear. His skin was alabaster pale, and blood stained his clothing down to his bare feet.

As for Hani, his head was half crushed, flattened on one side and broken open, so that his brains were visible.

It had been Tameem who moaned, because he opened his mouth and did it again. The sound sent a shudder all through Omar’s body. The boy was trying to speak, Omar realized. Trying to answer the principal’s non-question, maybe. But he could form no words, because his throat gaped open like a papaya with a wedge cut from it.

Tameem and Basem’s eyes fixed on Omar, and they both stepped forward, their expressions sorrowful and pleading. Omar tried to leap to his feet but the school desk seemed to have shrunk and his legs were stuck. He yelled in terror and panic. The two dead youths took another step forward.

* * *

He woke up shouting. He lay in a strange bed, his legs tangled in the sheets. Looking around in confusion, he realized where he was: the Click Clack Hotel. He was still in Bogotá. The glowing digital clock on the nightstand said 4:16 am. His alarm would go off in an hour. Three and a quarter hours until his flight.

He thought about the dream. He hadn’t had a nightmare in many years. Seeing Hani again must have brought back memories of the bad old days at IIAP, before the Day of the Dogs. Now he almost wished he could cancel the invitation he’d extended. But that wouldn’t be right.

He rose from bed. Time to shower and pray Fajr. Time to go home.

Next: Day of the Dogs, Chapter 9:  All We Have to Do

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.


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

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