Choosing a Career – Why Writing is Bottom of a Muslim’s List

Do you know of someone who has made a career out of being a writer? Maybe you know of a young person who wants to become an author or poet? In the winter edition of the Islamic Writers Alliance’s magazine, Amina Malik asks whether parents discourage their children from pursing what she calls ‘non-traditional’ careers such as in being a writer.

Here is the thought-provoking article reprinted with the kind permission of the author and the IWA magazine.

Choosing a Career – Why Writing is Bottom of a Muslim’s List

 © 2010 Amina Malik

“When I grow up” my niece announced proudly to me when she was three years old, “I want to be a Barbie Girl”. Years later (and potential self-esteem crisis averted), I am pleased to report she is focused on more important goals. But what do Muslim parents say when their child suggests a career that is not traditional?

Within the Muslim community, there are pockets of definite cultural influences that shape the career advice parents give to their children. In the Muslim Asian community for example, the emphasis has always been on attending higher education courses in business, medicine, law and mathematics rather than courses in the arts, journalism or philosophy. So where does that leave Muslim writers?

The earliest memory I have of writing is when I was aged 9, writing short stories. By the time I was 11, and in the fourth year of middle school, my teachers were sending me to the first years to read my stories to them. At 15 I began writing for a newspaper, publishing my first journalism article and I also became editor in chief of the school newspaper. By 18 I was writing my first novel and taking a year out before university to complete an internship with a publisher, working on three magazines. 

Given my love for writing, and how I spent my spare time, the natural assumption is that I would become a writer of some sort. But I did not follow a career in creative writing or journalism. I went into law. Why? Because my dear mother (may Allah SWT reward her inshallah), with my best interests at heart, advised me that I would “never make any money in writing”. So I chose law (one of the typical subjects yes, but also one I was interested in). I know mum really did have my best interests at heart so I don’t blame her in the slightest that I did not become the next JK Rowling. Ironically, JK Rowling’s writing has made her more money than the Queen of England, but I can see that mum was right– there is never a guaranteed income when you are starting out. Besides, there is still time to become a best-selling author, and I have continued to write.

WHY PARENTS DO NOT ENCOURAGE WRITING

Where in my case the advice I was given was to think about my financial future, I know that other parents are advising their children against writing because of how a career in writing is perceived. There is no doubt that being ‘a writer’ is seen in some communities as a fluff career – intangible, without structure and without merit, in addition to yielding a low income. Sometimes, the reasons are less about the child and more about parents themselves. We would assume that everyone wants what is best for their children but this does not always happen. The best advice for parents is to consider; if you base your child’s future on cultural traditions, living vicariously through your children, competing with your neighbor and so on, you stand to lose sight of what will really benefit your child not to mention what your child actually wants.

ISLAM AND WRITING

So what does Islam say about writing? The Prophet Muhammad SAAS was reported in a hadith to have said “the ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr.” Whilst I do not compare being an Islamic scholar to being a writer, author or journalist, I do think the hadith inspires gaining accurate Islamic knowledge and teaching it. Writing can be about presenting useful information (on any topic, not just Islam) that will benefit others, helping them to improve themselves and the world. If done correctly, and for the sake of Allah SWT, it can also be an act of faith. If a novel, an article, or a poem inspires, teaches and encourages towards good, then surely being a writer has a greater status than many other professions. As with most things, the intention is extremely important, as long as you also understand that you are responsible for your words.

BENEFITS OF BEING A WRITER

As stated above, the benefits of being a writer may outweigh the benefits of a number of other professions, if you consider the impact words and ideas can have on people. A writer can influence the reader to visualize an event – in the way the writer wants them to see it. A writer can portray a situation in a negative, positive or neutral way. A writer can inspire or educate. A writer actually has more power than people give them credit for.

There are other important benefits to being a writer. Writing is about communication – and Muslims ought be communicating with society as much as other groups; voicing opinions, presenting ideas, and working in areas that may not be traditional but are valid and halal career options.

Media interest in Muslims is greater now than ever before – but the world does not usually see a positive or balanced view, as the religion is usually presented entwined with politics. So where is the Muslim perspective to give the other side of the story? Whilst we continue to encourage the youth to go into more traditional roles, the media is still missing notable Muslim voices. Society needs a cross-section of professions (ideally undertaken by a microcosm of the society so as to achieve the best balance) in order to flourish, and creative writing and journalism have traditionally been under-represented by Muslims.

It is foolish to complain about imbalance or prejudice in the media, which is an often-echoed gripe these days, but to then tell our children “I want you to become a doctor”. How many of us say “I want you to become a writer?”

Not only are Muslims under-represented in the media, but Islamic fiction books are still too few and far between. This means many Muslim children, whilst being able to enjoy mainstream fiction, may never pick up a book and see a character a lot like themselves, perhaps with the same name or the same beliefs. Literature needs to reflect society, making people feel like they belong, and society needs diverse literature to enrich it and promote understanding.

The good news is the new generation seems interested in writing. A new wave of Muslim writers, specializing in Islamic fiction is emerging, with a few novels tentatively breaking into the mainstream. There are also more young people turning to journalism. The interest amongst the new generation is definitely there – but is the support? And how much influence should Muslim parents exert?

 TAKE A BALANCED VIEW

It would be wrong of me to say that parents should be encouraging young Muslims to write simply for the sake of balancing the bias that exists. It would be of no benefit to encourage a disinterested person to write simply because there is a shortage, or because there is a need to fill the creative writing void. As with any career, one must consider the pros and cons.

The purpose of this article was simply to point out – writing is a valid career option, even if it is not a traditional role. Whilst it does not suit everyone, it should not be dismissed without any consideration. For those who are able to write a little in their spare time, as well as pursuing other careers, this is still excellent. Whether it is balancing the media portrayal of Muslims, writing children’s books that teach morals and character based on the Sunnah, or writing an article based on an Islamic teaching (checked by a scholar preferably for accuracy), all of this involves Muslim writing. If any work has a purpose which will benefit not only the reader but also their community, then arguably the work has merit.

Ultimately, whatever is best for the child is the path they should be encouraged to follow, remembering to discourage children from harm (unlawful) jobs and to encourage towards the good. But I hope that those who want to pursue careers in writing – literature, poetry, journalism, editing, publishing and more – will not be discouraged from following their dreams without good cause.

For those young people who are unsure of what career to follow if they are presented with writing as a career option, in addition to other careers, clearly more people will choose this career. They cannot choose a career they do not know exists. We do need more young Muslims writing, expressing opinions, having a voice – be that an Islamic issue or more general issue – we need to ensure that society is well represented by Muslims in all areas, as this promotes better understanding for everyone and integration. So, let us remove the stigma and look at the benefits of being a writer. Let us present this as an option and let us encourage those who want to pursue this career.

I also believe we should be careful to safeguard the ‘traditional’ roles – we need scholars, doctors and lawyers (otherwise I would be out of a job!) but we need to remove the strange perception that those Muslims who are writers (journalists, authors and so on) are not contributing to society or do not have ‘real’ careers. I sincerely hope the stigma of writing being a ‘fluff’ career subsides as generations’ progress; I think it is the only way Muslims move forward as a people, and the only way to safeguard the ‘ink’.

Amina Malik holds a law degree and post-graduate qualification in law. She works full time as a legal professional. Writing has always been Amina’s passion and the earliest records of this are short stories written when she was 9 years old. Amina writes freelance in her spare time, writing for newspapers, magazines and online publications. She is working on her first novel and lives in London, England. Her work has been published in: Internet Monthly, The Advertiser Newspaper, Net News Daily, Iqra Newspaper, Fit Muslimah, www.TheTechnoGeeks.co.uk, Screen Jabber, Booklore, The Voice Newspaper, Poetry.com and soon to be published in The Muslim Paper. www.aminamalik.co.uk

To learn more about the Islamic Writers Alliance (IWA) visit their website. More information about Islamic Fiction can be found here.

It would be wonderful to hear your thoughts or questions on this topic. Please leave them in the comment box below and of course, please share a link using any of the options below.

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Guest Blog Post by Na’ima B. Robert

As promised (apologies for the delayed post), here is the guest blog post by Muslim author Na’ima B. Robert; part of the blog tour to promote her latest young adult novel, Boy vs. Girl

  

Bismillah 

Ever since I was a young girl, I have loved stories. My father, a stage actor and director, was an amazing storyteller, acting out all the different parts, lowering and raising his voice in time with the ebb and flow of the story, totally recreating the words on the page with his voice. His storytelling style stayed with me. 

And his love for and respect for books and stories stayed with me. Just as he read to us, so he bought us books, plenty of them. My mother took us to the library. My aunt always sent books and old copies of Cricket, a literary magazine for children, as gifts. And my grandmother subscribed to ‘Storyteller’, a fantastic set of audio tapes accompanied by full-colour illustrated magazines, a set that I believe was a deciding factor in my ability to write stories. Through these wonderful books, magazines and tapes, I met the wonderful characters that fired my imagination for years to come: Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, Cinderella, Snow White, Ali Baba, the wicked Snow Queen and a whole world of other characters. 

My father believed in good literature. He believed in its power to inform, to entertain, to enlighten and to enchant. When we had learned how to read and were reading independently, he introduced a system by which we earned points for the books we read and were awarded a prize when we reached 100. Shorter, less challenging books  received fewer points; longer, more mature work earned more. I will never forget my excitement at finally reaching 100 after having read a ton of books one summer – and my annoyance at seeing my brother jump ahead of me, simply because he had earned a massive 50 points for reading The Hobbit! 

It was due to this grooming in seeking out good literature that I read Tolstoy, Chekhov, Walker, Salinger, Brecht, Paton, Achebe and Austen in my spare time as a high school student. And through those books, those sometimes baffling classical texts, those plays full of obscure language, those adventures in far-flung places, I grew. My mind opened up and I looked at the world with new eyes, with eyes imbued with the experiences of the characters in the books I had read. 

I still believe in the power of the story today. Alhamdulillah, as a Muslim, I am grateful for the criterion that Islam offers me, when filtering what I read, and a reminder of the important truths of this life and this world. 

And yet, I am still taken by surprise by the ability of a story to touch me, to delight me, to reduce me to tears, to hurt me, to teach me. It is this power that I hope to harness in my stories. For what are stories but records of the human experience, reflections of life, ways to understand ourselves and each other a little better? 

I am still delighted every time I hear from a reader that they recognised themselves or a family member in my latest book for teens, ‘Boy vs. Girl’; that they recognised the dilemmas, the mistakes, the challenges – that the story rings true and speaks to them at the level of their lived experience. That is so precious to me. 

So, if you manage to get your hands on a copy of ‘Boy vs. Girl’, I hope you will one day think to get in touch with me and let me know whether any of the characters resonated with you, whether you learned anything from the story, whether it reminded you about your life’s purpose, whether it helped you grow. 

For, if it did any of these things, I will have done my job. 

And I do hope that my father would have given ‘Boy vs. Girl’ at least 10 points 🙂 What would you give it? 

photo source: amazon.co.uk

JazakumAllahu khairan wasalaam 

Na’ima B. Robert

 

– Watch the trailer for ‘Boy vs. Girl’ here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wk6ATHZb3_M 

Na’ima B. Robert is descended from Scottish Highlanders on her father’s side and the Zulu people on her mother’s side. She was born in Leeds, grew up in Zimbabwe and went to university in London. At high school, her loves included performing arts, public speaking and writing stories that shocked her teachers! She has written several multicultural books for children including ‘The Swirling Hijaab’, ‘Journey through Islamic art’ and the acclaimed ‘Ramadan Moon’. She is also the author of the popular ‘From my sisters’ lips’, a celebration of Muslim womanhood and editor-in-chief of SISTERS, the magazine for fabulous Muslim women. She also wrote ‘From Somalia, with love’, a novel for young adults and ‘Boy vs Girl’, her second books for teens, is due out in July 2010. She divides her time between London and Cairo and dreams of living on a farm with her own horses. Until then, she is happy to be a mum to her four children and keep reading and writing books that take her to a different world each time.