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Putting the Middle East on the Map: Hafsah Faizal

By Yumna Iqbal, Leanne Francis, Michelle Ye and Ho Jia Wen


In this article, we are talking all about Hafsah Faizal, an author whose books should be at the top of your to-be-read list. Arguably the most well-known, mainstream Muslim author at the moment, Hafsah Faizal is back again with a new book coming out in February 2024! Breaking barriers in the book industry since she began, Faizal’s works often include influences from her own background and religion, intertwining Middle Eastern mythology and Islamic culture, and making it accessible for the Western audience. 


Who is Hafsah Faizal?


Born in Florida, Hafsah Faizal is an American Muslim of Sri Lankan and Arab descent and has written over seven books. Her fantasy duology, We Hunt the Flame, released in 2019, made it into the New York Times bestselling list. Outside of writing, Faizal is also the founder of a website design and crafty merchandise company, Icey Designs. Multi-talented, she learnt coding aged thirteen, after her father gifted her a pink laptop with her name engraved. At age seventeen, she launched a book blog, IceyBooks, and a few years later, she began helping authors design their own websites.


We Hunt the Flame was Faizal’s fifth manuscript, and she had been working on it for four years. Initially, the book had a Eurocentric setting, but as she wrote 30,000 words, the story didn’t feel right. Being a creative visual person, she drew out the map of her novel and realised that the setting looked more like the Middle East. So, she changed the setting and the story clicked into place.  


Faizal is a Forbes 30 under 30 honouree, a position she earned as the first niqabi author to make the New York Times bestseller list. Currently, she resides in North Carolina with her husband, cat and a big stack of unread books. 


Her Books


Today, Faizal is known for her duology, Sands of Arawiya, inspired by Arabian folklore. The first book in the series, We Hunt the Flame, is a New York Times bestseller and inaugural Ignyte Awards winner. Readers are first introduced to Zafira, the Hunter, who provides for her people by disguising herself as a man and successfully venturing into the cursed forest, Arz. We then meet Nasir, the Sultan’s son, but also the royal assassin, a role that leaches him of compassion and love. Brought together by ancient forces, Zafira and Nasir become unlikely allies in the search for an artefact that could banish the Arz and return magic to the land. But just as the Arz falls, Zafira and Nasir unleash an even greater threat, the Lion. 

Their struggles continue in We Free the Stars, with the return of magic, Zafira and Nasir’s challenges only increase. Fear of the Lion’s release ripples through the kingdom and worries are only sharpened by dwindling resources and scarce allies. Despite the external battles they face, Zafira and Nasir’s bond grows stronger, evolving into a love that hangs in the balance with every sacrifice. 


The upcoming novel, A Tempest of Tea

Described by the author as “Peaky Blinders with a dash of King Arthur with vampires and a heist,” the novel follows the character of Arthie Casimir, hailing from a country similar to Sri Lanka. She now resides somewhere similar to England, opening Spin Drift, a tearoom which serves as a bloodhouse for vampires at night (which isn’t entirely legal), and once her business is threatened, she is forced to align with a questionable, yet handsome rival to save it. Filled with magic, vampires and all kinds of fantasy. This novel bears similarities to Faizal’s previous novels containing familiar tropes such as found family, enemies to lovers and more. This book is a 2024 must-read.


Other works


Unbreathable

In 2013, Hafsah self-published her first novel, Unbreathable. Written under the pen name ‘Hafsah Laziaf,’ Unbreathable is a tale of love, sacrifice, survival, and one girl's struggle to find her place in a world where she doesn't belong. The novel takes place on the dusty red planet of Jutaire, which humans fled to when Earth was destroyed 150 years ago. The novel focuses on two central characters who can breathe the toxic air. When Lissa’s father is killed for discovering that Earth still exists, there is nothing left for Lissa to do but escape, before her ability is discovered and the race for Earth begins.


Anthologies


Eternally Yours

Published in 2022, Eternally Yours is an irresistible supernatural romance anthology featuring fifteen of today’s bestselling authors. Hafsah’s short story ‘Banes and Blessings’ features here, alongside writers like Kalynn Bayron’s Cinderella is Dead and Kat Cho’s Wicked Fox.


At Midnight

In this diverse Young Adult short story collection, published in 2022, Faizal and fourteen other acclaimed authors use their talents to reimagine classic fairy tales. In  At Midnight Faizal retells the story of Little Red Riding Hood through a different lens.


The Grimoire of Grave Fates

The 2023 anthology, The Grimoire of Grave Fates, follows eighteen students as they try to solve the murder of their professor. With each chapter told through the perspective of a different character, Faizal’s literary talents are given the chance to shine.


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