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 It remains unpublished.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.

 

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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.

Libraries, author visits and some other things…

A collection of some interesting things (news articles, blog posts) that I’ve found over the few days that I wanted to share with you:

A mother, Muslim American resident in Saudi Arabia for several decades reminisces about growing up in the U.S. and spending lots of time reading at the local public library. Why is it she asks, do libraries not exist in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia? Read more here. My own thoughts and experience with Arab culture tells me that there is simple a lack of a ‘reading culture.’ That is, the Saudi society displays an absence of a collective desire to read not just to improve the mind but for enjoyment. Today’s generation of children and youth prefer to relax with the television, gaming systems etc. You might say that this is no different than youth anywhere else in the world. But the fact is there are few libraries available to the public (academic libraries don’t count). 

Would you like an author to visit your classroom to talk about their books, do some activities, and get your children excited about books and reading? Author visits to schools are normal in many parts of the world (see this news article). I just wished children in Islamic schools can experience the same. On another note it was uplifting to read of a bookstore in the U.S. having an author visit, read stories and sign books earlier this year! See here.

I was happy to read about a new selection of books  about Islam and Muslims living in Europe being produced by a German publisher. Salam Verlag is a German publishing house that focuses on Islamic oriented literature for children. According to the founder of the publishign company:

No real reading material exists in the Islamic communities in Germany which promotes children’s self-confidence…

The language of publication is German but there are plans in the future for publishing in other languages. Read more here.

And that’s about what I wanted to share.

Have you seen/read anything in the news or elsewhere pertaining to reading, books and literacy? Please share. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Add a comment below or use the contact form or email muslimkidsbooks (at) gmail (dot) com.

On reading, books and libraries

Libraries and books are undergoing rapid changes. The former are being downsized, some are even being closed; while the latter are predicted to go extinct in the future.

In such a light I thought it might be good to remind ourselves of the power of books, reading and libraries through these inspirational quotations:

On Reading:

“Read in the name of our Lord who created, who taught to write with the pen, who taught man what he knew not” — The Quran (Chapter 96)

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” — Emilie Buchwald

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” — Dr. Seuss, “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!” (1978)

“You may have tangible wealth untold. Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be – I had a mother who read to me.” — Strickland Gillilan

“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.” Margaret Fuller 

 

On Books:

“Just the sight of the book takes away the sadness of the heart.” Moroccan proverb

“The best conversation companion in our time are books.” Abu al-Tayib Mutannabi

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”— G. K. Chesterton

“So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, Go throw your TV set away, And in its place you can install, A lovely bookshelf on the wall.” — Roald Dahl, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”

“There is no substitute for books in the life of a child.”May Ellen Chase 

“Never judge a book by its movie.” J. W. Eagan

“A book is the only orchard I have ever seen which can be put in one’s sleeve and the only park which accompanies a man as he goes. The book is the tongue of the dead and the voice of the living. He is an evening visitor who never sleeps until you sleep and never utters a word except what pleases you, never reveals a secret or abuses a deposit. He is the most faithful neighbour, just friend, obedient companion, submissive professor, expert and useful comrade with no desire to argue to or weary of his owner.” — Ibn al-Arabi, Muslim philosopher

“The book is the tongue of the dead and the voice of the living.” — Arabic saying

“Buy books, and write down knowledge, for weather is transitory, but knowledge is lasting.” — Arabic saying

 

A reminder of what libraries (local public and school) represent:

“Libraries are time portals. They can take us back into the past and into the future. They can take us to different worlds, worlds we wouldn’t know, people we wouldn’t understand.” — M.T. Anderson

“We’ve got lots of books to open lots of windows that will let you use your imaginations in lots of ways.” — James H. Billington (Librarian of Congress) at the opening of the Young Readers Center, 2009

“The best of my education has come from the public library… my tuition fee is a bus fare and once in a while, five cents a day for an overdue book.  You don’t need to know very much to start with, if you know the way to the public library.” — Lesley Conger

“As a child, my number one best friend was the librarian in my grade school.  I actually believed all those books belonged to her.” — Erma Bombeck

“The richest person in the world – in fact all the riches in the world – couldn’t provide you with anything like the endless, incredible loot available at your local library.” — Malcolm Forbes

 

I hope these quotations made you reflect about all that we have been given when it comes to our access to reading material and to value those who teach/support us in reading.  And may we think about those who do not have the opportunities and privileges we have.

But more than this I hope you smiled a little, maybe laughed a little too, as reading these quotations made me do.