Support literacy in the Muslim community – Be a Muslim champion!

I’ve been a member of the Islamic Writers’ Alliance (IWA) for about a year now and have found the support and resources of this group to be extremely valuable. The IWA networks members through its online group (or egroup).

I’ve come into contact with many talented and hard-working Muslims from around the globe: poets, writers, publishers, editors, journalists, newcomers to writing and those who love just love reading. I’ve learnt more about the world of publishing and writing than I had ever known before. What’s more I’m happy to work with Muslims who value and advocate literacy in the Muslim community. 

That is why I want to tell you about the IWA’s campaign, Be a Muslim Champion, because it is an opportunity to support a unique Muslim organisation that is working toward a worthy goal.

Here are some of the activities and accomplishments of the IWA:

  • Grants book awards to Muslim schools.
  • Conduct annual poetry and writing competitions.
  • Publishes a quarterly online magazine
  • Published two anthologies that feature the works of members

If your child is a student in an Islamic school, it’s possible he may have access to books in his/her school library through a school award given by the IWA. Maybe your teenage child or a friend or even you would like to enter a Muslim run writing/poetry competition, then you can with the IWA. Maybe you’ve read some of the Islamic stories or poems you liked in the IWA’s magazine and anthology. 

The IWA is a non-profit organisation based in the U.S. that would love to have your support. You can join the IWA and/or give a donation.

- To find out more about the IWA or how to become a member visit the website

- To make a donation and for more information on how to Be a Muslim Champion visit here

Give your support to a Muslim non-profit organization that works to benefit our Muslim children and teens!

Don’t forget to say Bismillah! (Book Review)

Today, I take a look at an interactive book Don’t forget to say Bismillah! by Farzana Rahman. It’s a book that demonstrates how basic dua is incorporated into the daily life of a Muslim family using a combination of text and sound. I don’t think I’ve come across any Islamic children’s book like this to date. I’m excited about this book because not only is it an engaging story that seamlessly incorporates aspects of Muslim manners, but it is, from the illustrations to the design, a product that is professionally produced.

It’s Safiyya’s first day at nursery today,” says Mum.

“And I have a spelling test today,” says Sara.

“And I have a big football match today,” says Ali

“Everything will go well, Insha’Allah,” reassures Mum, “but don’t forget to say Bismillah before beginning anything you do.”

“I’m done, Al-Hamdulillah,” says Ali. “Your pancakes are the best Mum!”

Jazakallahu Khairan,” says Mum.

Don’t forget to say Bismillah! has a battery operated panel located on the side that allows the reader to press a button to listen to the sound of keywords that appear in the story (such as the coloured words in the excerpt you see above). The slider at the top of the sound panel makes it easy for the reader to move from the Arabic pronunciation of a word to its meaning in English and vice versa. This provides English-speaking children with the opportunity to know the meaning of the Arabic phrases they say, something which is not always the case as the Arabic is learnt and repeated by custom.

The story is simple; a look at a day in the life of a Muslim family from morning as they set off to work and school to the evening as they sit together for dinner. The youngest member of the family, Safiyya, is off to her first day of nursery. Just as she is nervous about it, Mom is nervous about returning to workplace after being away for a long time. Through the entire book Islamic duas are said by members of the household as they eat, talk of plans for the day, are at school or the park.

Young children will delight in seeing Safiyya attempt to say the duas. She wants to say the duas just as her big brother and sister do. So Safiyya says “Hum Lala” when she hears her brother Ali say “Al-Hamdulillah” after eating breakfast or “Yah-Lala” when her mother and sister respond to Ali’s “Al-Hamdulillah” when he sneezes.

I really enjoyed the illustrations in this book as they were realistic. The details make the characters seem like they’re from a Muslim family you know. The book is larger than the average book, but its size is suitable for a child to hold in his lap or place on the table or on the ground in front of him. The sturdy covers protect the glossy pages. Text on the page is clearly printed in a font that is easy to read and does not crowd the page.

A glossary at the back of the book provides the meaning of the basic dua and briefly explains when they are used. A simple match game ends the book as readers are invited to match the dua to the context which it should be said. This activity is good for slightly older readers.

Don’t forget to say Bismillah! is a book that a child three years to six years can read with an adult or on his/her own. It provides an entertaining way of learning duas for the first-time learner or of reinforcing those duas that a child may already be learning at home or at school. I think children heading off to school for the first time would enjoy reading this book as well.  

Title: Don’t forget to say Bismillah!

Author: Farzana Rahman

Publisher: Desi Doll Company

ISBN: 9780956586001

Reading Level: 3 – 7 years

Specifications: Interactive Sound book

Q & A with author Fawzia Gilani-Williams

I’m sure somewhere on your bookshelf at home or at school you can find at least one book, if not several, written by Fawzia Gilani-Williams. Many of her books are stories based on one of the two Eids Muslims celebrate; Eid Kareem Ameer Saab and The Lost Ring: An Eid Story  are good examples. The Adventures of Musab and Nabeel’s New Pants are some other books she has written. Her newest book is Cinderella: An Islamic Tale. She also has adaptations of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty in the process of being published.

Today I am excited to share with you my interview with Fawzia Gilani-Williams. Sit back and read about the moment when she knew she had to write stories for children. Her poignant words I am sure will not only touch hearts but make readers aware more than ever of  the need to have books about Muslims and by Muslims available on the shelves of bookstores and libraries. 
 
{And I am excited to tell you that Fawzia has very generously offered a copy of her book, Cinderella, for a giveaway! See details below.}

 

UmmahReads [UR]: Welcome Fawzia! It’s so wonderful of you to be here.

Fawzia Gilani-Williams [FGW]: Asalaamu alaikum. Thank you so much for the invitation.  It’s a pleasure to be here.                                                                              

UR: Please tell us a little about yourself.

FGW: I’m of Punjabi heritage. I was born in England. I currently live in Ohio with my husband and daughter. I became a teacher in 1993 and since that time have worked mostly in Islamic schools in the UK, USA and Canada. I also worked as a librarian for over 3 years.

UR: Did you always want to be a writer? How long have you been writing?

FGW: I didn’t know I was going to be a published writer. However, I do remember I liked to write as a child. My father always encouraged me to write but it was for higher education not children. My father didn’t live long enough to see my first book. But he was a very powerful, encouraging force in my life and a strong proponent of women’s rights. He is still my inspiration. In fact I wrote his childhood story last year; it includes how he lost his father in the Indo-Pak partition of the 40s. It’s called My Father’s Hand. It remains unpublished.

 UR: How do you come up with ideas for your stories? What inspires you?

FGW: I mostly write Eid stories. I do a lot of adaptations. I’m motivated as a teacher to give visibility to my students. Eid is a celebration that is generally shadowed – even Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize the word Eid. I like to think that my stories are useful resources for parents and teachers.

UR: Of all your books which of your books did you enjoy writing most?

FGW: It’s not quite like that. As a teacher, I find trying to get time to write is a challenge. I suppose I like Eid Kareem Ameer Saab and The Jilbab Maker’s Eid Gifts.

UR: Many of your books are centred on or around Eid, either Eid ul Fitr or Eid ul Adha. What makes you chose Eid as the focus for your stories?

FGW: I had cancer in 2002. The only place I would frequent twice a month was the children’s department of the public library. In December of that year, it was also Eid. The children’s area was filled with displays of Christmas and Hanukkah books and even Kwanzaa. But there was nothing on Eid. Not one book. It was very sad and embarrassing that my child’s religious celebration – the second largest in the world – was not acknowledged in any shape, way or form. It was at that moment that I made a silent prayer to address the gap.  When I was hired at the library I contacted all English-speaking national libraries (USA, Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Wales, Jamaica etc.) and provided them with a bibliography of Eid Stories so that they could improve their collection. At one workshop on storytelling for children’s librarians, I asked if anyone knew what Eid was. No one did. Yet these librarians had been in service for over 30 years. I believe that as educators and parents we need to follow the example of the Jews and make Eid as visible as Hanukkah is today.

UR: How important are stories and books with Islamic themes and Muslim characters?

FGW: Children need a sense of belonging and a sense of place. Mainstream publishers are only now including multicultural characters but from my recent experience I see that Muslim children in Islamic schools and public schools do not use Islamic names in their own creative writing. I recognize this as a flaw of the educational system because I also suffered from it in the 70s and 80s. Books need to give children visibility. If they are not visible they will always feel inferior and apologetic. It’s a sad point that over the past 40 years there has not been much progress.

UR: From your experience working in libraries do you think there are enough books available out there about Islam and Muslims?

FGW: No I don’t. And because of that there is a lot of wrong information or no information. I recall Dorling Kindersley publishing a book on world celebrations for younger grades. They included obscure festivals but omitting Eid. I wrote to ask them why they had seen fit to omit Islamic celebrations. I received no reply. Imagine a Muslim child reading through that book, how would the child feel seeing that his or her festival does not exist in the USA? I review books for the School Library Journal on Islam on a regular basis; I find books written by non-Muslim authors have mistakes, omissions and generalizations. Moreover public libraries tend to select books from websites controlled by select publishers. It’s important that Muslims have their own publishing companies and their own writers to respond to this problem.                            

UR: How can Muslim writers, illustrators and poets change this when getting into mainstream publishing is so difficult?

FGW: Yes there is gate keeping but this is why we need to develop our own publishers.  It’s an eyebrow raiser that Muslim countries source their books from British and American publishers.

UR: Are you working on a book right now? Any hints what it might be about?

FGW:  I’m not working on any writing project just now but I am visiting schools in Canada and the USA to share my stories. I’m also quite busy with my grade 4 students who participated in Studentreasures last term and so I’m getting their work ready. Studentreasures is a company that publishes children’s books. Lots of schools participate in it. 
 
In terms of my recent published work Cinderella – An Islamic Tale was released in November 2010. I have two titles – Salaam the Selfish Merchant and Little Red Kufi, which is a Ramadan story based on Little Red Riding Hood that were recently accepted for publication. I also have Eid Mubarak Meetah Sahib and Jihad Bin Taye and the Jar of Gold coming out later this year, insha’Allah. Last year, Nabeel’s New Pants was published by Marshall Cavendish. Islamic Book Service published A Grave Trial and Baba Salaam and the Bag of Gold

UR: Are there any last comments you would like to add?

FGW: I would like to encourage more Muslims to write. There’s a pool that needs to be filled with children’s Islamic stories. We need to encourage more people to write.

UR: Shukran (thank you) very much for generously sharing your experience and thoughts. It’s been wonderful!

FGW: Jazak Allahu khairan. It’s been a delight. Thank you!

For a more information about Fawzia Gilani-William’s newest book visit this page

 

Book Giveaway

You can have an opportunity to win Cinderella!

All you have to do is leave a comment about the interview OR comment about one of Fawzia’s books you’ve read (please state the title of the book) and why you liked it.

Only one entry per person please.

Please use your name or kunya (no anonymous comments).

Post comments using your email (so that I can contact you if you’re the winner).

This book giveaway ends on Tuesday 5 April 2011.

The winner will be announced the day after, insha Allah.

You are more than welcome to link this post to your blog so that your readers could participate in this giveaway.

This Book Giveaway Contest is now closed. Thank you to participants. Please see results in the comments below.

 

Do Muslims need stories?, New Books and Interesting Weblinks: An Ummah Reads Roundup

image source: photol

Almost every other day somewhere in the world there are people talking about and actively seeking ways to promote literacy and encourage reading. Today I share with you some of the news and buzz taking place as well as some interesting sites and new books.

Muslims Reading Fiction

An article by author Umm Zakiyyah explores the issue of whether writing fiction is something allowed in Islam. She shows that if it’s acceptable to write stories for children then it should be acceptable to write stories for teenagers and young people as well. I particularly like when she said:

“… if Muslim children need books ‘for a purpose,’ Muslim teens and adults need them even more so…

As the latter group are further away from the pure fitrah of childhood and thus need more “emaan boosters” to keep going.”

Read more from the article “Is Writing Fiction Allowed? What’s Your Proof?” here.

Children’s Book Site

The Guardian (U.K) newspaper recently launched a book site dedicated to children’s literature. This site is for general kids lit but it is attractively  designed and teeming with content on general fiction children’s literature. I really like the fact that children are the ones who are doing some of the interviews (you can read some or listen to some) as well as the reviews. YOu can search by age or type of books. Check out the site here.

New Islamic Children’s Book

The publisher StoneFaruq recently brought out their newest books for younger children titled ‘One.’ according to the publisher:

“A rhyming picture book to teach children about Tawhid and other important aspects of Islam in a simple way.”

This publisher has produced some other high-quality picture-book type books for young readers such as “Time for Isha’a ” as well as “The Jolly Jamaat ” which I reviewed here.

A Smart Library

This video from Library Ireland Week showcases the smart library. Does your library look like this? Libraries are down-sizing and even closing all around the world, but especially in developed countries such as U.K. ans U.S. Yet this video shows the uniqueness of libraries and their users. A fun part was the books falling down, domino style.