Ramadan Mubarak! Whilst we are all spending this month very differently to how we usually would, I hope you’re all continuing to experience, and take advantage of, the countless blessings that still reside within it.
When it comes to reading during Ramadan, I’ve found that people take different approaches: some choose to skip reading for pleasure altogether, others continue reading as normal, perhaps being a little more conscious of subject matter, and others, like myself, see Ramadan as the perfect time to concentrate their reading on Muslim authors specifically.
This is something I’ve been doing for the last couple of years and I’ve found that it provides the perfect opportunity to hone in on what’s out there.
Whilst books by Muslim authors, centering Muslim characters are not a new thing, it feels as though they have been making particularly strong waves in the publishing world over the last few years.
It was always going to be hard to choose just a small number of these books to share with you, however, after much umming and ahing, I’ve narrowed it down to three recommendations from three of my favourite genres.
The Poetry Collection: Sisters’ Entrance by Emtithal ‘Emi’ Mahmoud
Emtithal Mahmoud is a Sudanese poet and activist, winner of the 2015 Individual World Poetry Slam and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador.
Sisters’ Entrance is her first book and the poems in this collection explore a number of themes and experiences, including war and genocide, immigration, particularly in the context of seeking refuge, racism and Islamophobia.
Alongside these there are also poems on first loves, first kisses, girlhood and womanhood- both the joys and the burdens of.
I fell hard for the poem, ‘Why I Haven’t Told You Yet’, in particular the comically blunt line, ‘You stupid, stupid man child’, used to describe a man who has failed to notice the woman who is just waiting for him to notice her.
This poem is a call to arms, questioning why women are raised to silently wait and men so often allowed to stake their claim as and when it suits them, whether they are welcome or not.
The poems on a young girl’s experience of war are heartbreaking as Emtithal Mahmoud describes the things no eyes should see, the losses too many to count. However, she also clearly illustrates the pride she has in her country, its people and their accomplishments.
These poems are sharp and frank, and so often they lull you into a false sense of security before swiftly bringing you back down to earth with a huge, painful bump. I imagine I’ll want to pick this one up time and time again.
The Memoir: My Past is a Foreign Country by Zeba Talkhani
In her memoir, ‘My Past is a Foreign Country’, Zeba Talkhani documents her upbringing in Saudi Arabia and her journey towards forging a new unexpected path.
In doing so she considers a number of different issues: patriarchy, mainstream vs. Intersectional Feminism, colourism, racism, Islamophobia, societal standards of beauty and desirability, and so much more. Whilst these may feel like weighty topics, they are handled deftly and her experiences are shared with an openness and vulnerability that can only be admired.
We all have a unique vantage point, one that influences how we move in the world and Zeba Talkhani’s perspective as a twenty-eight year old Indian Muslim woman raised in Saudi Arabia, before furthering her education in Germany and the UK, is a fascinating one indeed.
Her experiences also draw attention to something I think Muslim women are all too aware of: people aren’t always going to appreciate you, or agree with who you are and what you represent, however, if you can learn to love yourself and surround yourself with people who remind you of your value, the noise is easier to deal with.
The Short Story Collection: Elsewhere, Home by Leila Aboulela
Leila Aboulela is a novelist and playwright who was born in Khartoum, Sudan and now resides in Aberdeen, Scotland- a cross -cultural existence that is very much reflected in this collection.
Set in a number of different cities, including Khartoum, London, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Cairo, these stories depict the immigrant experience, often within the context of those frequently occurring, yet completely life changing events: births, marriages and deaths.
These stories are focused on the concept of ‘home’ and, as various characters move from place to place, Aboulela demonstrates the fragility of the heart that doesn’t feel at home and the mind that cannot easily navigate its surroundings with the ease we take for granted when in familiar lands, with familiar people.
Leila Aboulela has a wonderful way of highlighting the detail in the every day, as though she has spent her life observing the most subtle details of the most ordinary, and the most meaningful, of interactions and the result is a collection of beautifully empathetic stories.
These books, like so many others, demonstrate how Muslim authors, across every genre, are offering more intimate, more recognisable, more relatable and, perhaps, more contentious depictions of Muslim life in its various guises.
Whether during Ramadan or beyond, I hope you’ll be inspired to explore some of these works for yourself.