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The Creation Of The Stereotypical Arab

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Robert Entman, professor of media and public affairs, published an excellent study in  1993 in which he explained the inner workings of framing. Framing is a well-known concept within communication sciences and the study of mass communication, and concerns according to Entman both selection and promotion. He describes it as:

“The selection of some aspects of a perceived reality to make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation and/or treatment recommendation for the item described”. (Entman 1993)

A typical frame consists therefore of four qualities. It selects a specific problem by considering and checking the related actors, with which resources they act and observed from their own cultural framework. Then, the greater forces behind the problem are identified, i.e. the broader context. Subsequently, ethical questions are raised that interpret and evaluate the effects and actions of what is taking place. Eventually, solutions and treatments are offered.

Entman illustrates this by giving the example of the Cold War. According to him, American media made during that time frame extensive use of the so-called “Cold War frame”. This frame selected for example the Vietnamese Civil War as a specific problem. It then identified the actors and greater forces behind that war, usually Communist rebels supported by the Soviet-Union and China. Subsequently, these media ethically appraised the whole situation, interpreting the war as instances of severe Atheist agression. This frame could then eventually lead to the promotion of specific solutions being presented to the common man, among which support of the United Stated to the opponents of Communism, and military intervention.

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The caption of the Looney Tunes show Ali-Baba Bound reads: “Ali Baba, the mad dog of the desert.”

Framing is a means used by mass media to transmit specific messages to the audience. This is accomplished by using the classic transmission model, i.e. the sender who sends a message to the receiver through a channel/medium. However, Entman adds culture as an additional element for the transmission of a frame. Professor mass communication, writer and expert on racial and ethnical stereotypes in the media, Jack Shaheen, expands on this theory. After all, the framing phenomenon can not be completely understood when detached from the social and cultural context in which the message is transmitted to the audience. The era of Communism and the “Cold War frame” may be over, traditional mass media keep using frames to promote specific images among their audience.

Images that would certainly have a hard time to take root where it not for it adaption to existing and established cultural convictions. Convictions that were built up and developed through decades-long illustrations and representations within cultural productions, most notably in the movie industry.

Hollywood

Shaheen did some extensive research on the cultural depiction of Arabs in the Hollywood society. The results of his observations were brought together in the documentary Reel Bad Arabs (2006), one I’d recommend everyone interested in this subject. “Arabs are the most malign group in the history of Hollywood. They’re portrayed basically as sub-humans,” says Jack Shaheen to open his argument. “These images have been with us for more than a century.”

During no less than thirty years he watched thousands of movies, from the oldest ones to modern blockbusters, to observe and analyse the depiction of Arabs en Muslims in Western cinema. He subsequently discerns a dangerous and systematic pattern of hateful and racist stereotypes that strip a whole people of its humanity and depicts them as the embodiment of evil, fanaticism, and ignorance. According to Shaheen, this is an established fact from which filmmakers rarely deviate.

The land of the Arabs! An image Hollywood eagerly adopted from long-lost British and French explorers and writers that depicted the Arabs based on their own biased imagination of the Orient, the strange and exotic land that seemingly emanated stories like “One Thousand and One Nights”. The land with its eternal deserts, its threatening roughness, and ominous music. The desolate wilderness littered with palaces of rich and decadent pashas and their harem. The mysterious melodies that guide the movements of voluptuous belly dancers and snake charmers, watched by the all-seeing eyes of the scimitar wearing guards in movies like Invitation to the Dance from 1956.

Even today, such stereotypes are being used, even in children’s movies. Disney’s Alladin (1992) has been watched by millions of children all over the world but recycles nearly every stereotype that had been already used by the silent black-and-white Hollywood past to depict the so-called Arabland. A rough, unfriendly desert landscape where “they cut off your ear when they don’t like your face”, as stated in the opening song of the movie.

In the Looney Tunes animated cartoon Ali-Baba Bound (1940), we see the fairy tale character depicted as a cunning, insidiously grinning Arab with a beard, big nose and evil eye-brows who calls his companions by literally barking at them like a dog. The caption of the show reads: “Ali Baba, the mad dog of the desert.

Not only children, but adults as well see Arabs depicted in movies as hot-headed and impulsive simpletons who deliver some cheap and funny laughs. Take for example the India Jones movie Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), in which Indiana ends up face-to-face with a threatening and completely random armed Arab. The man tries to impress the American hero with his evil smile and some sword tricks, to which Indiana simply shoots him dead and runs off to continue his adventure.

The same Arab that prefers dogs over women. Indeed, an Arab states in The Happy Hooker goes to Washington from 1977 that “dogs are better than sheep. They’re cleaner, I know, I’ve tried dogs.” And if it isn’t dogs or sheep (think of the popular nickname “goatf*#ker” used by Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh to publicly denote Moroccans), than it is blond, American women.

The stereotype of the obtrusive Arab obsessed with white women appears so many times that it becomes ridiculous.Click To Tweet
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Two Lebanese terrorists from “The Delta Force” (Cannon Film) – 1986

 

In the Bond movie Never Say Never Again (1983), Kim Bassinger is being undressed by a filthy  Arab businessman to be sold, with an unintelligible gurgling and crackling (Hollywood Arabic), to a bunch of miserable Bedouins. Arabs are being depicted as primitive and aggressive desert dwellers obsessed with American women as a welcome change to their usual covered and invisible womenfolk hidden in their palaces.

Those Arabs, on the other hand, that do effectively have access to modern society, technology and progress are being imagined as a faceless nuisance to Western society or death and destruction craving terrorists anxious to ruin the West.

Two businessmen in The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) jokingly state that Arabs “don’t go anywhere without their animals.” Note that they were talking about a recent trip by plane!

How was London?” the main character of the movie Chapter Two (1979) is being asked. “Full of Arabs,” he replies. Movies that are in no way related to Arabs or Muslims and aren’t connected to the Middle-East in any way still can’t resist to the urge of making racist and humiliating comments on screen.

Back To The Future

Even in the hugely popular Back to the Future from 1985, the above statement is sadly the case. The movie is a plain, American Sci-Fi picture for teenagers in which stereotypes about Arabs are nevertheless again introduced. Emmett Brown, scientist and the inventor of the time-traveling car is minding his own business when he suddenly gets shot at, without any motive or reason, by a bunch of Libyan terrorists. They shoot him and then focus on the main character Marty McFly. The shooter curses violently when his weapon jams and fails to kill McFly. When he finally resolves the issue with his machine gun, their car breaks down so they again fail in an almost cartoonish way to continue.

The reason for this sudden and random occurrence is completely unknown, and all throughout the rest of the story no reference is made to it. But the fact remains established, a group of inept Arabs killed the beloved professor.

Foreign Policy

Just like the above-mentioned Cold War frame, this frame on Arabs and Muslims is a perfectly suited tool of the mass media and the political establishment to help shape American foreign policy in the Middle-East and North Africa in the minds of the American citizens. Four different events caused Hollywood to radically increase its use of Arab and Muslim stereotypes. Before anything else, the creation and establishment of Israel in 1948 en the subsequent Arab-Israeli wars resulted in a clear positioning of the United States and Hollywood on the side of their Israeli ally. The Arab embargo that hit Europe and the USA during the 1970’s and the Iranian Revolution further contributed to the role of Arabs as thugs and greedy businessmen. The notorious War on Terror could count as the fourth reason for the establishment and representation of the Arab and Muslim as enemy of progress and freedom.

Take for example the plans of a rich Arab oil sheikh to buy his way up through the United States, conquering it in the process. In the movie Network from 1976, it’s insinuated that a group of Arab businessmen threat to almost run over the Unites States financially by buying up several companies and building plots. The character of Howard Beal than calls live on television to rise against these Arabs, that are planning to buy his TV network. A memorable and frightening scene than follows in which the audience can see a mob of angry citizens take to the streets to express their rage, an image of social hatred against a common enemy, the Arab.

The Ultimate Demon

If it’s not an evil, perverse, and decadent Arab businessman, the Arab gets the role of dangerous and hostile terrorist assigned. Reserved for Russians and Cubans during the days of the Cold War, Palestinians would later figure as the antagonists of the hero in American action movies. The terrorist antagonist stripped from any bit of motive and humanity, serving as fleshly embodiment of the ultimate evil.

This image is already used as early as 1960 in the movie Exodus, where the Palestinians are depicted as invisible enemies hiding in the desert who perform appalling acts against the innocent Jewish colonists because of their radical antisemitism. It’s no wonder that this movie was considered a major promotion for Zionist thought and a support for the Israeli cause.

Theologian and writer Roland Boer writes in his 2009 work on Biblical themes that the depiction of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in American cinema still influences American citizens to this day with regard to their opinion on the conflict.

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Palestinian terrorists in “True Lies” – 1994

Over a decade later, we find the same old story in the movie Black Sunday (1977). A Palestinian female terrorist wished to detonate a blimp over a typical American sports stadium during the Super Bowl, with about 80.000 ordinary Americans present. The caption of the movie on its release poster reads: “It could be tomorrow!” Again, a decade later, Arnold Schwarzenegger faces a group of Palestinian terrorists that wishes to destroy American cities with nuclear missiles in True Lies from 1994. Again and again, Arabs and Muslims are being identified with hatred, terror and the ultimate failure of their plans due to the American action hero.

An image that, not unimportantly, was fed extensively by two Israeli producers, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, who created The Cannon Group company. For over twenty years, The Cannon Group produced at least thirty movies in which everything Arab is being mocked and demonized. Yes, the political relationship between the USA and Israel does indeed trickle in the world of cinema. What could be a more effective weapon than a seemingly unending source of full-length movies in which enmity and distrust against a certain people is promoted? A cultural alliance to dismiss these Arabs, “sand n#^*rs”, “goat f*^#rs” and “ragheads”, fed by a billion dollar business.

The most striking example of this would be the movie Rules of Engagement from 2000. The film leads the audience to Yemen, where a mob of dusty Yemenis are protesting loudly in front of the American embassy. American marines are being asked to evacuate the present staff, when they suddenly open fire and mow down every single protester, including women and children. As a result of this event, an investigation is started to examine the decision of the marines to open fire. Towards the end of the movie, however, the audience is revealed a whole other story than initially portrayed. Plot twist, the Arab protesters were armed themselves and they opened fire on the American soldiers.

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“Rules of Engagement” (Paramount Pictures) – 2000

Men and woman wildly brandishing guns and even a little girl that aims her pistol on an American soldier. A little, Arab girl that wasn’t nearly as innocent as she looked. A whole bunch of Arabs that weren’t as innocent as initially thought. They deserved to die! It was their own fault they attacked the mighty American army of the free! The marines had the right to kill them, to protect themselves! Sure, it was a massacre, but a legitimate one against the enemies of the USA. Against faceless, unknown human beings killed like animals.

Debunking Cultural Practices

Such movies present complicated and nuanced conflicts as a caricatural fight between Good and Evil. They polarize the wars in the Middle-East and North Africa by presenting the American cause as the necessary and just fight against demonized and inhuman enemy, an intrinsic evil. A propaganda weapon arises on a massive scale because of popular cultural injections.

Entman also describes culture as the “stock of commonly invoked frames“. In fact, he defines culture as “the empirically demonstrable set of common frames exhibited in the discourse and thinking of most people in a social grouping.” The fact that framing is then used extensively in the mass media, which includes movies, soaps and news reporting, could be explained from this point of view.

Because of the prolonged cultural impact of Hollywood, the frame of the Arab and Muslim is undoubtedly established within those societies that lie within its sphere of influence. The frame is developed as a cultural element within that society and determines how people look at messages and images that fit within that frame. The Arab that appears in the news is usually no individual. He’s a terrorist, a religious extremist, a zealot, a Muslim, a Palestinian, Iraqi, Lebanese, Syrian or Iranian. These are all frames that evoke certain connotations among the traditional receiving audience, developed within a shared consciousness.

It’s a dangerous trend, but the best solution is the simplest one of all: look beyond the message alone. Don’t let popular culture or traditional news reporting decide how you see the world, because there’ll always be agendas being followed to guide and manipulate you. Common sense, an open mind, and sufficient dialogue can debunk the most stubborn cultural prejudices.

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Omer Sayadi (*1993) is a former student of the Catholic University of Leuven with a special love for the Middle East and North Africa. After receiving his Master's degree in Arabic Language and Islamic Studies, he worked with both refugees from the region as well as Arabic-speaking foreigners seeking to learn the Dutch language. He writes columns on Islam in Europe, migration and the depiction of Muslims in mainstream media. He started MENA symbolism as a means of combining everything history, politics, symbolism and society in one place.

1 Comment

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    Ah N

    March 7, 2020 at 6:41 PM

    Very interesting article, there is a no doubt the perception of people is shaped through media exposure and common stereotypes become engrained in their consciousness.

    Only thing I would add is it would be useful to add more contemporary examples from the late 00’s and the 2010’s,as this trend of negative potryal has continued.

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#Current Affairs

Propaganda Kills: Holding China Accountable For Its Role In The Coronavirus Pandemic

The world gave China the benefit of doubt on SARS, but the fact that something similar happened again is inexcusable.

Chinese propaganda
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15 mins read

In a new report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian describes the operating manuals for China’s mass internments and arrests of Uighur Muslims in the occupied territory called Xinjiang (East Turkestan). She describes what the world continues to ignore: China’s ethnic genocide—the destruction of culture, traditions, and mosques— the very fabric of Uighur heritage. 

This is a shocking attempt at reshaping an entire people’s identity. Once reduced to less than animals, it is no surprise that Chinese Communisty Party’s (CCP) evil is now extending to harvesting organs from Uighurs. There is increasing research such as the findings of the China Tribunal led by Sir Geoffrey Nice, QC, a former chief prosecutor of Slobodan Milosevic, that also leads to assertions of physical genocide. 

While the Uighur destruction story has been unfolding for more than a decade and despite courageous reporting to bring it to the attention of the world, the abuse continues unabated. Why?

China’s rampant propaganda machine: Tell China’s story well

The answer lies in China’s propaganda machine, which is unparalleled in its scope and funding. China has committed to spend $6.6 billion on global coverage, emphasizing Chinese power, generosity and centrality to global affairs. While all expenses paid trips, buying airwaves, advertorials, sponsored journalistic coverage and “heavily massaged positive messages from boosters” are no new tactics, unlike other government propaganda machines, China does not accept a plurality of views. The press becomes the eyes, ears, and tongues of the Chinese Communist Party.

The build up of soft power is strategic. A five month investigation by the Guardian reports that, “Beijing has also been patiently increasing its control over the global digital infrastructure through private Chinese companies, which are dominating the switchover from analogue to digital television in parts of Africa, launching television satellites and building networks of fibre-optic cables and data centres – a “digital silk road” – to carry information around the world.Since August 2019.” 10 million of Africa’s 24 million pay-TV subscribers watch low-cost StarTimes, which is CCP-owned. ProPublica has tracked more than 10,000 suspected fake Twitter accounts involved in a coordinated influence campaign with ties to the Chinese government. Remember Twitter is banned in China. A Reuters investigation across four continents found at least 33 radio stations in 14 countries that are part of a global radio web structured in a way that obscures its majority shareholder: state-run China Radio International, or CRI. The carefully scripted content is broadcast worldwide in more than 60 languages and Chinese dialects. 

The 480 CCP funded Confucius Institutes in various universities in six continents are staffed with visiting teachers from China and offer language classes, cultural programming and outreach. They teach that Taiwan, Tibet and East Turkestan are integral parts of China and ignore human rights. However, many see them as a part of the propaganda machine and have been criticized by professors concerned about academic freedom and institutional autonomy. The CCP admits as much, Politburo standing member Li Changchun said. “[Confucius Institute] has made an important contribution toward improving our soft power. The ‘Confucius’ brand has a natural attractiveness. Using the excuse of teaching Chinese language, everything looks reasonable and logical.”

One just needs to look at China’s neighbor Pakistan, home of 4 Confucius Institutes, Xinhua Urdu News channel and a $60 billion CCP investment, to see the effect of wholesale Chinese brainwashing. Like the rest of the Muslim “Ummah”, Pakistanis decry the human rights abuses against Kashmiris, Rohingya,  Palestinians, etc., but when it comes to human rights abuse against Uighur Muslims, a majority of Pakistanis dismiss it as “Western propaganda”.

Much of this is because of a systematic response team run by the China Economic Net, a Beijing-based online news organization, and the Islamabad-based Pakistan China Institute. The system disseminates information to counter “negative” news about the neocolonial Belt and Road initiative. The think tank also runs China-Pakistan Media Forum, and for 5 years has been bringing Pakistani and Chinese journalists together to counter negative news.

Pakistan may be an extreme case, but it is not unique. Most of the world is either unaware or uncertain about the extent of the abuse against Uighurs. 

This reflects the extent to which China has been successful in hiding its dirty secrets.

Will there be another cover-up on COVID19?

More than 23,000 people are dead globally from COVID-19. Since the first Dec. 30 announcement of a new disease in Wuhan, the CCP has spun a narrative.

Recently three lawsuits were filed against the CCP government. In one, attorney Robert Eglet claimed that China’s government should have shared more information about the virus but intimidated doctors, scientists, journalists and lawyers while allowing the COVID-19 respiratory illness to spread.

CCP’s propaganda machine is now attempting to cover-up China’s role in the coronavirus pandemic; it has gone into hyper mode. In a must-watch short documentary on New York Times, reporters identify three dominant themes that China wants to promote to the world: spinning optimism, protecting China’s image, and disputing the origin of the virus:

Spinning optimism and protecting China’s image:

Everyday we are hearing stories of Chinese medical goods and medical teams reaching other countries to provide assistance in fighting the virus. This is certainly laudable, but one must not forget the context of these stories that are glowingly reported by Chinese news sources and officials on Twitter. This is part of the government spin to turn the Chinese government from the creator of the problem to the Good Samaritan. It is akin to setting someone’s house on fire and then sending in the fire trucks. One can acknowledge that the fire-trucks are helpful, but should one forget who started the fire?

The source of the COVID-19:

Despite China’s massive attempts at shifting the virus origins outside China, the overwhelming evidence points to Wuhan as the epicenter of the pandemic.  If there is one video to watch to understand how this virus came into being, then it is this from Vox.

Everyone remembers SARS from 2003, a zoonoses – human infection of animal origin. What most people didn’t know is how SARS came into being. Historically, small farmers in China ate wildlife that they caught on the farms. However, after China designated wildlife as a “natural resource” in the late 1980s, it led to its mass-scale industrialization, worth billions. As it is, China has a poor record in food supply chain controls, and by allowing this unprecedented commercialization of wildlife, it opened the doors for exotic viruses to find their way into humans.

With the breeding industrialization, wildlife markets were established and wildlife started flooding regular wet markets (where meat, fish, and produce is sold) leading to its mixing with staple animals under atrocious conditions. This allowed viruses to move from one animal species to another, eventually leading to the SARS outbreak. The SARS virus was traced to a wet market in Foshan, Guangdong province, most likely passed from masked palm civets and/or bats to humans. This is a wildlife regulation problem.

While China shut down the markets immediately after SARS, it decided to reopen them in a short time. Greed trumped humanity. It was only a matter of time that some new virus would jump species and find its way into humans. And that is exactly what happened. A study found that the novel coronavirus now known as COVID-19 that has been found in patients infected in the outbreak that began in Wuhan, China, is almost totally identical to one that infects bats.

Racism towards people of Chinese heritage

It is important to keep in mind that ordinary Chinese people have faced the brunt of the initial virus outbreak. Their frustrations and anger was captured in tweets by New York Times correspondent Amy Qin from Wuhan. There is no excuse and basis for discriminating against the people of China. They are very much part of the common humanity with the rest of the world who are suffering due to the grave and criminal blunders of the Chinese government. It is important to acknowledge that some individuals are promoting racist tropes against the Chinese, and this must be opposed, while not allowing the Chinese government to get away with a cover-up.

Some of the racist tropes making rounds online are about food choices in China. What Chinese people eat is their choice. People all over the world eat all types of animals. Some folks may find the consumption of camel, kangaroo, and desert lizard disgusting, even while Muslim diet permits all three. We may not like what others eat, but we are not in a position to dictate those choices. What we can emphasize though universally is that the meat industry must provide sanitary conditions to animals, and their slaughter should also be conducted in a humane way. For example, cooking animals alive or clubbing them to death are practices that can be universally condemned, but what cannot be allowed is to engage in racist tropes about what people eat.

One must also note that while the Chinese do have a wider spectrum of animals they will eat, “the majority of the people in China do not eat wildlife animals”. As Peter Li points out in the VOX video, “those people who consume these wildlife animals are the rich and the powerful –a small minority.” 

The cover-up is harmful

Coronavirus has brought the world to its knees. People have lost their lives and livelihoods. Poor countries are even at greater risk of being completely devastated if the virus takes hold, as it did in Wuhan or Italy. 

And it could have been prevented.

A University of Southampton study found that “if interventions in the country [by Beijing] could have been conducted one week, two weeks, or three weeks earlier, cases could have been reduced by 66 percent, 86 percent and 95 percent respectively – significantly limiting the geographical spread of the disease”.

Instead of focusing on controlling the disease, the Chinese government was focused on PR. Instead of managing the disease, President Xi was busy managing WHO’s response, which parroted Chinese government propaganda that “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus.”

So China not only allowed conditions for the rise of the deadly virus, its actions led to a far more severe outbreak than a transparent and controlled prevention program would have allowed. It co-opted the WHO into its propaganda and we must call China out for its actions.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

Despite the clear evidence of China’s role in both the rise and spread of the virus, there is a severe pushback (some from Chinese propaganda and some from “woke” channels) against calling China out on the pandemic. While calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” is very problematic, it is also not helpful to absolve China of its attempted cover-up and then get out of hand.

Concern for ordinary Chinese people is sincerely intentioned. However, holding China accountable is not racism. The world gave China the benefit of doubt on SARS, but the fact that something similar happened again is inexcusable. China has been getting away with abuse within its boundaries, and if it gets away with the coronavirus cover-up, who knows what other abuses and viruses the world will see in the years to come.  

Holding China accountable means that it should not business as usual after this is all over, as Shadi Hamid rightfully points out in an excellent succinct essay, published in The Atlantic.

It means that the abuse of Uighur Muslims must stop. Those in US, here is a call you can make to help close the camps

It means that wildlife industrial operations must be stopped permanently.

It means that China must compensate the world for wreaking havoc, especially funding recovery of poor nations with no strings attached 

Finally, and most importantly, it means that China’s propaganda machine must be checked and countered. Major news outlets must directly and explicitly fact-check Chinese propaganda. CCP’s bizarre attempts at raising concerns about racism, while it is in the middle of destroying an entire race, should be exposed for what it is: an attempted cover-up. It shouldn’t get away with it this time.

 (Hena Zuberi contributed to this piece)

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#Culture

The Summer When Everything Changed – A Middle School Islamic Fiction Novel

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Let’s write a book together.” That is how it all started in the summer of 2016. As two young writers, passionate about our craft, we ventured together to fulfill our shared dream: to write a relatable novel about Muslim youth. 

Nura Fahzy and I had already developed a strong bond with each other in the years since we had first become e-pals. We bonded over our common interests: we both are very passionate about writing, we were both homeschoolers, and we pretty much have the same name! We regularly communicated about our writings, gave honest feedback to each other, and even wrote a few articles together. This new project, however, was a big step forward in our relationship. We now had to brainstorm, develop, and write a novel together. 

I had recently moved to North Carolina, and Nura lived in Texas. We worked through our book entirely through online communication, never having actually met in person. Google Hangouts was our go-to for planning and discussing every detail about our characters, storylines, and potential plot holes . We had countless Google spreadsheets to organize our characters and story. After much back and forth for three years, writing, rewriting, and rewriting some more, we finally published our first novel, “The Summer When Everything Changed” this summer, alhamdulillah.

“The Summer When Everything Changed” is a middle school Islamic fiction novel. Our book is a mixture of all the things we love to read in novels. It has a touch of mystery, halal romance, and lots of drama: sibling drama, friend drama and other day to day dramas of young kids. What makes our story extra special to us is that it incorporates Islamic lessons and practices throughout the book in a subtle way that avoids being very preachy but still gets its point across.

Both Nura and I had grown up avid readers and writers. We had read through all the Islamic fiction books we could get our hands on, but were still left wanting for more. Having grown up in a time when halal entertainment was scarce, Nura and I strongly believe in the importance of Islamic literature for fostering children’s imaginations and strengthening their connections to their Muslim identity.

Living in a time when there is so much divisive rhetoric and hate around us, we believe that we need representation in the media and in literature now more than ever. Children need to read about others like them who are imperfect and have similar daily struggles and joys. Our characters are everyday American Muslim kids with common life experiences and challenges that other kids can relate to, as well. Therefore, our book is targeted towards not only Muslim boys and girls, but also to children who come from all backgrounds. 

We believe that literature is an important tool that can help bring people together. While allowing us to understand and appreciate other cultures, it also shows us just how much we have in common with each other. When we first wrote this book, we thought of our younger siblings, cousins, and family friends and the kinds of books we wanted them to have available to read. We hope that “The Summer When Everything Changed” and future books in our series serve as steps forward, making all Muslim children feel represented and proud to be Muslim.

Story Blurb: 

For Hanaan, the freedom of summer means hours of uninterrupted quality time with her sister and countless sunny days spent writing in her special place. For Ameerah, it means shooting hoops with her friends and working out. 

But unwelcome family circumstances shatter their plans, throwing the two girls with vastly different personalities together. Can they set aside their differences to resolve an important union or will their mutual dislike result in disaster for both of their families?

Amazon Link

Barnes and Noble Link

Author Bios:

Nura Fahzy is the second-born of four siblings. After 5 moves in 5 different states, she is currently settled in Texas. An American-born Malaysian, Nura studied digital art and design at North Lake College, Class of 2019. Her favorite color is pink, and her preferred ice cream flavors are coffee and chocolate. She enjoys drawing and making food. 

Nur Kose is an American-Bengali-Turkish Muslim who is the eldest of five siblings. Nur has roots in upstate New York, Delaware, and North Carolina, where she studied English and Arabic at UNC-Chapel Hill, Class of 2019. Some of her favorite things are reading, snow, and ice cream. Her favorite ice cream flavors are Snickers and banana split. She is also the author of the STAIRS series. 

For updates and more information on our book series, check out our social media pages. We have a facebook page, The Two Lights as well as an instagram account @thetwolights. We also have a blog thetwolights.wordpress.com. We encourage you to follow us on social media to see sneak peeks of our work, new content, and updates about our future projects.

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Muslim Literature: The Pros, The Progress, And The Pitfalls

The burgeoning field of Muslim literature, and Muslim fiction, in particular, is an exciting development for the English-speaking Muslim community. However, it is necessary for Muslim writers to seriously consider the quality of their work.

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Once upon a time, it was extremely difficult for English-speaking Muslims to find good books – fiction and non-fiction alike – that was catered to their demographic. Fiction, in particular, was scarce, for both young children as well as teens. Much of it was poorly written, filled with atrocious spelling and grammar, and stilted from beginning to end.

It was not an enjoyable reading experience.

Alhamdulillah, the Muslim literary scene has evolved significantly since the early 90s. Today, we have award-winning Muslim authors such as Na’ima B. Robert, whose excellent YA novels have been published through mainstream publishers and numerous emerging writers whose debut novels are wonderful contributions to the existing body of modern Muslim literature.

Muslim publishers such as Kube Publishing, Daybreak Press, and Ruqaya’s Bookshelf are taking the lead in producing and distributing stories by and for Muslims. In addition, the publishing company Simon and Schuster launched an entire division dedicated to books by Muslim writers. Hena Khan, S. K. Ali, Karuna Riazi, and Mark Gonzales are just some of the authors whose Muslim-centered stories have been published through Salaam Reads and made accessible to schools, libraries, and the general public. The We Need Diverse Books movement has also played a significant role in promoting multicultural and marginalized voices within mainstream publishing, and the results are wonderful. 

Elevating Standards in Muslim Literature

Within the Muslim community, however, work still needs to be done. Unfortunately, as ever, the tendency to fall short of professional continues to make itself clear, in both self-published works as well as work that is published through Muslim publishers. It is common to find children’s stories that are riddled with typos, run-on sentences, poor plot structure, and nonexistent character development. In the pursuit of promoting Islamic values, too many fall into being overtly preachy and moralizing, with no regard for the fine art of storytelling.

The result is that time, effort, and money are wasted; having a plethora of “Islamic books” does us very little good when the final product is of little benefit and serves to turn children and young adults away from Muslim-focused stories. Parents and educators also find themselves frustrated with these poorly developed books, especially when they are seeking stories more representative of religiously observant Muslims rather than those who take Islam as a cultural identity marker. 

While it is certainly encouraging to see more Muslims actively contributing to the field of Muslim literature, we must recognize the difference between quality and quantity – and the importance of the former over the latter. It is true that traditional publishing is a difficult niche to get into, especially for those with no previous experience with writing or the publishing industry. This is often a motivating factor for many Muslim writers to either go with a Muslim publisher or turn to self-publishing as a means of making their work available.

However, the push to keep costs low comes at a price of its own. The vast majority of the time, it is clear that a qualified, professional editor was not hired to look over the manuscript. While some people may think that it is not a serious issue, especially for children’s books, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Children’s books actually require extra attention; one must be clear on the targeted demographic and tailor the story and language appropriately, and the illustrations and the words alike need to be engaging and lively, regardless of the intended age group. In particular, when the subject matter is religion-focused, it is important that the approach taken is not dry, academic, or presented in a way that young readers cannot connect with personally.

The quality of a book should never be sacrificed in order to keep costs low; as Muslims, we should be even more particular about producing high-quality work that will be a valuable resource to be used both within our own communities as well as to the non-Muslim public. 

Self Publishing Woes

Self-publishing is particularly dangerous when the aspiring author has done little to no research on writing and publishing and has even less experience with writing well. Unfortunately, too many Muslim writers over-estimate their own abilities and rush headlong into self-publishing… with painful, often cringe-inducing results. It is particularly distressing when certain over-confident and under-qualified Muslim writers then exult over unearned praise from readers who, unfortunately, are not always as discerning as they should be – leading said writers to feel secure in their writing abilities and going on to produce even more subpar work.

The importance of having a strong editor cannot be overstated; having a “friend of a friend” with no qualifications to review and ‘edit’ the story simply does not cut it. Choosing the professional way to write and publish will inevitably take more time and effort – and yes, financial cost – to produce a final result, but that investment of energy will be much, much more worth it in the long run (and will also spare readers the agony of seeing “there,” “their,” and “they’re” constantly used the wrong way).

Having higher standards and holding Muslim writers (and publishers) accountable for their work is not meant to be discouraging. Rather, our intention is to encourage their success – in a way that is meaningful, not blindly supportive. We all wish to see our brothers and sisters in Islam succeed and to continue to contribute to an extremely important field. Addressing these weaknesses from the very beginning will ultimately result in long-term success and benefit the writers and the readers alike. 

The burgeoning field of Muslim literature, and Muslim fiction in particular, is an exciting development for the English-speaking Muslim community. However, it is necessary for Muslim writers to seriously consider the quality of their work, and to seek professional and qualified editors and publishers with whom to work and produce their books. The current substandard quality of many Muslim-produced books is counter-productive to the intended goal of providing beneficial resources for Muslim and non-Muslim audiences. It makes parents and educators reluctant to use and share those works with their children and students.

Investing time and energy into improving the quality of our literature will only result in success, for the writers and their readership alike – so let us truly take our work seriously, and be committed to undertaking our efforts with Ihsaan.

Credit to MuslimKidsBookNook for her valuable contributions.

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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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