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!

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.

 

Thinking of those for whom reading and writing is not a reality…

Do you know what it is to not be able to read and write? Many of you may answer in the negative. But stop and think about it for a minute.

What would you miss most if you were unable to read and write?

We take for granted our ability to read and write yet there are millions of people (adults and children) around the world who are unable to read and write.

“Across the globe nearly 171 million children could be lifted out of poverty if they left school with basic reading and writing skills. Quality literacy education is the difference between life and death, prosperity and despair. This is literacy for survival.” (source)

To make the world aware of this, World Read Aloud Day (March 9, 2011) was started by LitWorld. It is a pledge to read 774 million minutes in support of the 774 million people around the world who cannot read or write.

 

Between now and March 9 celebrate the power of words by:

  1. Reading aloud to those children around you; at home, in the classroom, at weekend school or the community centre (create more excitement by logging the minutes spent reading – see Reading Tally sheet). Or host a read-a-thon.
  2. Making a donation to a charity, especially one that support education
  3. Using social media to promote awareness, get others to read-aloud and to think about what it means to be able to read and write 
  4. Adding the World Read Aloud Day button to your website or blog and put up a flyer (see here)
  5. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with your family and friends about what it means to be literate, ask students to write about it in class etc. (More ideas for activities can be found here.)

So, what would you miss most if you could not read or write?

Looking forward to reading your thoughts and feelings in the comments below!

 

A mailbox in your home? A fun way to encourage reading and writing.

Have you ever thought about having a mailbox in your home or classroom? It can be the start of a fun and easy way to get your children involved in writing, and reading too!   

image source hownowdesign (Flickr - Creative Commons)

Adults and children are spending longer hours on the computer (and sadly also in front of the television) and less time with books and papers and pens. Writing anything, especially if it’s beside assigned school work, has become a chore to many children. While we enjoy the convenience of email; we should also take time to show children how good it feels to write a letter/greeting card. Encourage them to send post cards and greeting cards to their family and friends and I am sure they will enjoy receiving a reply. This simple activity on a regular basis will encourage children to express their thoughts and write them down. Younger children can draw and colour as their way of input. 

But what about a mailbox in your home? How would that work? I’ve had one in my home off and on for the last year and a half. It adds another dimension to communication between my child and my hubby and I. Basically all it involves is writing letters to each other using the mailbox as the central point for holding and collecting the mail. The mailbox is easy to make; a shoe box or cereal box can work (children would have fun decorating it).  

Here is how the mailbox works. Write a letter to your child and put it in the box. He collects the ‘mail’ and reads it; for younger children the parent can read the letter out loud to them. Then your child writes a reply and put it in the mailbox. Now it’s the parent’s turn to check the mail. He/she reads the letter (alternatively you can have your child read your letter to you). you can also use the mailbox to share artwork, memos, jokes, quotations and even comics clipped from the newspapers. The mailbox idea works well with older children and even teenagers. It provides the opportunity for each person to express their thoughts and feelings in a way they may not when speaking directly to each other.  

Through this mailbox activity you have automatically involved your child in the process of both reading and writing. In addition, not only is this ongoing activity fun, it provides you and your children with the opportunity to grow closer through spending time together and in sharing your thoughts and ideas. 

So is the mailbox idea something you’d try in your home to get your children reading and writing? Maybe you’ve done something similar. Please share your ideas and experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!