Can you tell us about yourself - what do you do? Is writing the only thing u do? Do you have children?
I currently work as a clinical hospital pharmacist, working for the NHS and have a three-year-old daughter. Writing is a hobby of mine; I have always enjoyed writing. Back in my school days, I used to love English literature and writing/reading. In fact, when choosing what I wanted to study at college, I wanted to do creative arts/theatre. As a young Muslim woman who just started to wear hijab, I was unsure of what I could do with creative arts and decided to head into the science field where I studied pharmacy. It is a shame I felt this way, but I do feel that this is still a barrier for young Muslim women today. I decided to study pharmacy because I knew I wanted a career where I could help people, if I could not be on stage! Realistically, I wondered how many women would be chosen for roles in theatre/acting- especially with a hijab on? (I am hoping this narrative is changing, especially in the years to come!)
studied to become a pharmacist, I did not write for such a long time due to
being in a full time science course - and I felt that my creative writing
passion was on hold. When lockdown hit, I wanted to re-ignite my passion and
started writing again in my spare time. I also work part time for the Muslim
Women’s Network, as I knew I wanted to help Muslim women too.
From having the idea to writing and publishing, how long did it take to release this book?
idea about writing a series of children’s books for toddlers about Muslim
female role models was actually years ago. I wrote the series of stories about
a year and a half ago, not thinking I would do anything with it. I did it
mainly so I could read it to my little girl. I then decided to get an
illustrator and work on one of the stories- the process of getting it
illustrated took around 3-4 months as I wanted some of the pictures amended or
I wanted to add something to it. I then self-published on amazon which took
less than a few hours!
Were your family and friends aware of this book that you were working on?
No. I didn’t tell anyone. The reason I didn’t tell anyone, was because firstly, I just wanted to see how it would turn out before telling anyone. I almost didn’t believe I would do it myself and because I was new to the process, I just wanted to make sure the book turned out how I wanted it to, before I told people about it. I did have one friend who is a qualified alimah who I turned to and asked her to review my book to ensure it was all Islamically correct. She checked it all over and gave me the green light. I think I was conscious that I wanted an end product before telling people as the illustrations were taking so long that sometimes I thought it wouldn’t happen! When I did tell them I was so happy to receive such positive comments and feedback- it helped my confidence in moving forward with it!
What was the reason and inspiration behind writing this book?
My daughter inspired me to write this book. When my baby girl was around a year old, I wanted to find some books for her to read about Muslim women. When I was a child, I never had any Muslim female characters to read about. Having this is important as it helps with a sense of identity and representation in society. I could find books about inspirational women that she loved such as Emmeline Pankhurst or Rosa Parks. I could find stories of the Prophets Peace Be Upon Them, but I could not find toddler books about our amazing women in Islamic History, such as Khadija RA, Asiya RA, Maryam etc. I want her to grow up having these books and to be familiar with the amazing women in our Islamic history. I want her to know that she has inspirational role models to look up to in our own religion. Don’t get me wrong, there are more books now about Muslim female role models, but there were no toddler books I could find. I knew there was a gap and that I could potentially fill it!
What was your favourite book as a child?
favourite book as a toddler were the Biff and Chip series! I still remember
enjoying reading this when I was a toddler. When I was around 8, I used to love
reading Jacquiline Wilsons books – The Suit Case Kid was my fave and I must
have read that at last 3 times! I think I loved that because it was based on a
young girl like myself. Then, when I turned around 11, I got into the Harry
potter series. (still a massive fan of that!)
What do you think the reason is behind Muslims female role models being overlooked in books?
think we are overlooked as we are a minority in publishing and writing.
Recently, in the last 10 years, the representation of Muslim women in the media
has grown. For example, we never had models in hijab in major clothing stores
such as H&M or online on ASOS. It is still quite a new phenomenon. I also
think that women tend to be forgotten about in history in general. We always
have so many books about famous men. This is also the same in Muslim
communities. We have stories of the Prophets peace be upon them which is
amazing- as I didn’t even have this as a child. But we definitely need to have
more story books about the famous women in Islam. I also think that there are
many rules about drawing faces in Islam, that the majority of general
illustrators and publishers won’t know about- which could also act as a barrier
for Muslim female role models being overlooked. For example, to draw a face of
Khadija RA, is not encouraged- and we want to protect this. Therefore, it will
take someone who is knowledgeable in this area to be able to overcome this in a
way that is still appealing to young children. Therefore, I sought advice from
a qualified alimah to ensure everything was in accordance to the rules. I
thought of drawing silhouettes and having them colourful so that it is
appealing to children.
What kind of message would you like young Muslim girls to take away from this book?
like young Muslim girls to learn about the amazing qualities that women in Islam
have, and that we can aspire to be like them. I want young Muslim girls to
learn that qualities such as bravery, intelligence, and kindness (and many more
qualities) are such beautiful things to have. In such a superficial society,
where looks and clothes are always commented about- I want young girls to be
reminded of these qualities. I also want them to take away that we are not a part
of a community/religion that oppresses women; I want girls to learn that women
always had a huge part in society- even during the Prophets pbuh time. It is
unfortunate that our cultures limit women and give the impression that they
must stay at home. This was never the case in the Prophets time.
Will you be writing any more editions of this book with further Muslim female role models?
Yes- in total I have written 10 stories. I have written about other women mentioned in the Quran and seerah such as Asiya RA (pharaoh’s wife who stood up against him) or Rufayda Aslamiyyah who was the first female surgeon in Islam (she had a tent outside the Prophet’s pbuh mosque and used to treat people when they were sick). I have also written about Muslim female role models later on in Islamic history, such as Queen Zubaida (part of the Abbasid empire) who built water well stations for pilgrims on the way to Hajj from Iraq (and this is still something that people use and is called the Zubaida trail). There are also some stories of very recent women in history, such as Lady Evelyn Cobbald, who was the first documented Scottish woman revert to travel to Hajj (in the Victorian times). There are some amazing stories about lots of different Muslim women that we have so much to learn from.
Have you read your book to your daughter? If so, what was that like for you and how did she respond to it?
daughter absolutely loves the book! She responded to it by saying “my book” and
she won’t share it with anyone else. She was pointing at the girls in hijab and
smiled. She pretended to read the book and was pointing at all the pictures. My
friend’s kids apparently also pointed to the characters in hijab and said
“mummy”. I also had some feedback that some kids have learnt about Khadija RA
too! For me, this is such a positive experience, seeing my own little one
reading and smiling with it gave me a warm heart!
Do you have any thoughts, message or advice you would like to share with Muslim parents raising young Muslim girls?
don’t really like to give advice to anyone else as I really am just surviving
myself as a parent! I can say that as a parent myself to a young Muslim girl, I
want her to integrate with society and also have confidence in her identity. I
don’t want her to ever apologise for who she is or her religion, but I want her
to feel comfortable enough that she feels British and that is also part of her
identity. Equally, I don’t want her to ever apologise for being western or British.
These are all parts of her identity and Islam is for everyone- not just for the
East. Allah is the creator of the East AND the West- the Quran was sent to the
whole of mankind, not just to one people. I therefore fully believe that Islam
can be practiced by anyone anywhere in the world and we need to accept that
there will be generational and cultural differences with how we raise kids and
that is okay.
Do you hope to encourage others to create more children’s content around Muslim female role models?
Yes! I love the fact that there are more Muslim female authors, and that there are more children’s books about Islam. I really want others to create more about Muslim female role models and to help fill this gap we so evidently need!
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