Celebrating Muslim Authors in Literature
By Zoe Doyle, Amy Wright and Ana Matute
Ramadan is a time for fasting, compassion and reflection in the Muslim community, culminating on 2 May with Eid al-Fitr when fasting ends. To celebrate, we wanted to highlight Muslim voices and representation in the publishing world. Here are our picks of novels by Muslim authors that feature and amplify Muslim-led stories.
Thorn by Intisar Khanani
The first book in the Dauntless Path series, Thorn is a reimagining of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale ‘The Goose Girl.’ Khanani brings new elements to the story, which follows Princess Alyrra, a quiet girl unloved by her family and betrothed to the prince of a more powerful kingdom. On the way to her new home, her handmaiden steals her identity with the help of a mysterious and dark member of the fae. Alyrra, however, is not all displeased with her newfound life as a Goose Girl, which prompts her journey of discovering who she is, her inner strength and what she stands for.
Khanani writes excellent heroines with depth and vulnerability. Alyrra’s strongest characteristic is not being "kick-ass" like many other young adult protagonists, but rather the kindness she possesses. The heroine of the sequel, Rae, is equally complex, and while she is feisty and proud, she harbours inner wounds due to the way people treat her disfigurement.
We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan
Winner of the #Merky New Writers’ Prize, Zayyan’s debut is definitely one to keep an eye out for. The novel explores the 1972 Ugandan-Asian expulsion, during which thousands of people of South Asian heritage were forced to leave Uganda, covering themes of identity, religion and prejudice across decades in both the former country and England.
The Ugandan thread follows Hasan in the 1960s, who struggles with the loss of his wife and a rise in African nationalism and Indophobia. In present-day London, Sameer is a hot-shot young lawyer and the grandson of Hasan, whose family was exiled to the UK during the expulsion; he grapples with balancing his career and his family’s expectations, and after a violent incident, he visits Uganda to reconnect with and understand his identity, heritage and faith.
Love from A to Z by S. K. Ali
This book tells the story of Zayneb and Adam, two Muslim teenagers from two very different cultural backgrounds. We witness the reality of Zayneb’s everyday life as she suffers discrimination from her teacher, in a swimming pool and on an airplane for being a Muslim girl wearing a hijab. She meets Adam when she travels to Qatar for spring break; despite their varying experiences as Muslim teenagers, they grow closer as they discover mutual interests and share secrets, such as Adam’s multiple sclerosis diagnosis that he is keeping from his father.
Love from A to Z is a beautiful, romantic novel featuring two very real and loveable characters, with Ali exploring important topics including injustice, grief and racism. The chemistry between the protagonists makes this an unputdownable read that will take you on a whirlwind of emotions and leave you thinking about it long after you’ve finished reading.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
In this reworking of a Greek tragedy, we follow a British-Muslim family who face difficult decisions on where their allegiances should lie. Isma and her twin siblings lead very different lives, and their family relationships and identities begin to clash with religious duty.
A retelling of Sophocles’ Antigone, it explores the same theme of a character being torn apart by opposing loyalties within family and religion. Home Fire, a tragedy in itself, is a book that makes you think as Shamsie ponders the meaning of "home" and asks uncomfortable yet imperative questions that can’t be avoided. Whilst devastating, the novel and its unexpected conclusion will certainly teach you something valuable.
The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf by Mohja Kahf
The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf follows the life of Khadra Shamy, a girl whose parents immigrated from Syria to the United States. Throughout the novel, she shares her experiences of living as a Muslim surrounded by American culture, of which her heritage is a subculture, and what it is to be American.
Kahf’s writing allows you to discover the richness of Muslim culture and how different one’s relationship with religion can become over time. Khadra's narrative brings up some of the debates circulating within the Muslim community from an insider’s perspective. This is a novel that will make you see the western world from the outside, and approaching a different culture by viewing the world in another way than usual might just highlight how close they are after all.