Hello everyone! So today is Monday June 6 2016. For many of you that means another day of work or another day of summer but, for Muslims around the world, it means the first day of Ramadan aka the month of fasting. Now, of course, you can fast any other day but this is a mandatory month of fasting for Muslims and as such is huge to us! Yes, I’m a Muslim. And with me being a Muslim, and it being the first month of Ramadan, I thought I’d reflect on Muslims in YA…..
The first time I saw a Muslim in a YA book was in fifth grade when I was at the library and saw Does My Head Look Big In This* by Randa Abdel-Fattah on the shelf. I remember asking my mom if I could read this but she said no after reading what it’s about (for reasons I still don’t know tbh). Anyway, it would only be many years later when I actually saw/read about the first Muslim in any book and that was the Ms. Marvel* comics and God, are those comics perfect! They showed a young, Pakistani-American-Muslim woman named Kamala Khan who deals with living in America as a Pakistani and Muslim and superhero and it was all so real. I mean I’m Egyptian and not a superhero so it’s slightly different but essentially the problems are the same and all too real. There are problems like being in high school and being around people who have bfs/gfs, like to drink, have sex and maybe do drugs and how to balance being around all that and still be modest and have fun and stay true to Islam. Believe me, it’s hard: I never went to parties in HS (unless they were birthday parties) bc the next day I’d hear about all the alcohol and drugs and sex….aka all the things not allowed in Islam. Well sex is allowed when your married but you get what I mean. Thankfully, my friends all know I’m a Muslim so they kinda tone it down and understand why I don’t go to these parties and they’re cool with it. Unfortunately, some people aren’t so understanding and used to tease me and make jokes about Muslims and terrorists and, as I remember, Ms. Marvel showed that too. To this day I still think the Ms. Marvel comics are the best representation of Muslims in any sort of genre. Granted I haven’t read the last couple issues so I don’t know if they drastically changed or something but so far they’ve been really good about Muslim representation.
[Related Post: Top Ten Books By/With Muslims]
During this last winter break, I got my second taste of actually reading Muslims in YA fiction and that was through Scarlett Undercover* by Jennifer Latham. Then I read The Tyrant’s Daughter* by J.C. Carleson and in May I read (and DNFed) And I Darken* by Kiersten White. The common theme in all three of these books, other than that they involve Muslim MCs? They’re sooooo unrepresentative of Islam and show things like the Muslims having boyfriends, kissing boys before being married and being a gay Muslim, all of which is discouraged in Islam. The worst thing of all? If you’re not a Muslim, none of these are bad or big things at all and you’ll think this is what Islam is and that it’s all okay or encouraged (hint: it’s not).
Anyways, other than those books, I’d never heard of any other Muslims in YA, misrepresented or not. Count that: 5! 5 books with Muslims! Against the hundreds of thousands out there about literally everything else! That’s a problem, a big problem actually. Even bigger though? The misrepresentation. Misrepresentation is huge – bigger than not having a lot of Muslims in YA – because then your misinforming people about Islam and for people who usually aren’t around Muslims, the only way to learn about Muslims is through the media like books. So if you’re misinforming people about Muslims, you’re influencing a ton of people the wrong way which can lead to bad decisions and bullying and deaths etc etc etc….
So then what do we do? How do we fix this? Because you can write a novel about Muslims and it can sound all fine and dandy to you when really it’s not *cough American Terrorist cough*. Here’s the one-word solution: research. Research Islam/Muslims by reading articles about us, reading translations of the Quran, going to mosques and talking to the people there, and actually asking us! I love love love genuine, curious questions about my religion and am happy to answer! And if I don’t know something or am unsure, I’ll try my hardest to refer you to someone or something that actually does!
So all in all, the point is, we need more Muslims in YA and it needs to be done correctly. It’s not right at all that the only books I can name from my entire life that include Muslims in them are only 5. It’s even worse that 3 or 4 of the 5 novels have misrepresentation in them. So please, write more Muslims into books and research Islam/Muslims so that no misinformation happens. And you can totally ask me any questions you may have; my DMs and comments section is always open! Thanks, have a great day/night and tata for now!
*This is an affiliate link I have with Amazon 🙂