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!

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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.

 

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.

Muslim authors – Recognizing the work they do

It is high time that members of the Ummah recognize the work of creative individuals who produce quality Islamic literature, particularly Islamic fiction. It’s true that we need to read a variety of books, but when children (students, if you are a teacher) are growing up they need to read about and see characters like themselves in the books that they read. Reading books with Muslim children and teenagers solving their problems in an Islamic framework will help build an Islamic identity, improve their thinking and analytical skills and provide positive role models while enjoying a good story that will entertain them. What more can you ask of a good book?

Over the past fifteen years or so there has been a slowly growing presence of Islamic Fiction on the market. Muslims writers who chose to write books about Islam and Muslims have sacrificed and struggled to write and publish books. Who are the people who write these good Islamic books? In order to help you meet and get to know the authors of the Islamic books that our children read I’ve been interviewing Muslim authors here on the blog. To read the interviews go here. Checkout the list of authors and illustrators that I’ve put together here (or see link below the header). Or visit islamicfictionbooks.com for an extensive listing of Muslim authors and their works here.