I’m a young Muslim woman and I read all the time. Unfortunately, the percentage of books that represent my religious heritage is very low, especially today when I feel having a religious character in a book can illicit very polarizing responses from readers. We all want some form of recognition in the books we read; whether of our identity or the things we believe in. I’m overjoyed when I read a story that is inclusive of my religion and portrays the intricacies and complexities of our spirituality and lifestyle. There’s a deeper connection that I feel when I read a book that represents the Muslim community in some big or small way; and it’s a special feeling every time.
Being a reader from Saudi Arabia makes is complicated for me because access to English fiction is limited. But over the years, I’ve gathered a bunch of books by or about Muslims that I recommend whenever I get the chance. I love them for various reasons, so I hope this list will introduce you to some really good books to read. Literature is one of our best tools for understanding each other, and we need that in our world now more than ever.
A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
It would be an utter mistake to not mention this beautiful, heartwarming new debut novel about an Indian Muslim family in America. Pulled back and forth in time, this novel is about being part of a family and what happens when you feel you’ve strayed too far to have a place at home. I loved the spiritual aspect, and since it represents the Shi’a sect in Islam I actually learned a lot about their traditions and practices. My favorite thing about this book is how accurate the portrayal of the Muslim sibling dynamic is, and the pressure to be good when we’re an inherently flawed species.
TIP: Keep tissues ready for the final section of the book!
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
This was one of my absolute favorite 2017 reads; it’s a Palestinian family saga spanning several generations spread across the continents. It’s rich in terms of writing and representation of the current socio-political reality of the Palestinian community. I loved the modern Palestinian aspect portrayed in this novel and felt it was very realistic and poignant.
Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik
Two serious reads later I’m recommending a Muslim rom-com. A compelling narrative of the contemporary British Muslim woman at the brink of being “too old for marriage”. Sofia Khan writes about her adventures in the world of Muslims dating to get married; the laughs and struggles of being a young woman with a clear idea of what she wants in life. I loved how realistic Sofia felt, especially during the sections of the novel where she struggles with her faith.
The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf by Mohja Kahf
An absolute must-read if you’re looking for a complex and compelling fiction on the modern Arab-American experience. I loved Khadra’s search for identity and the faith-experiences explored in this novel. The author’s intelligence shines throughout.
Coloured Lights by Leila Aboulela
A collection of eleven short stories that explore the Muslim immigrant experience in Britain. Aboulela writes about the community and individuals with a simplicity and an empathetic touch. I loved the glimpses of Sudanese culture in her writing and stories.
The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami
This Pulitzer Prize Finalist is a must-read fictional memoir of Estebanico, a Moroccan slave who survived a disastrous expedition. It’s a novel that, with its own existence and brilliance, empowers the silenced and represents the power of storytelling. Based on the actual Narváez expedition, Lalami imagines the narrative of the slave who was originally silenced by the Spanish survivors.
The Dove’s Necklace by Raja Alem
Alem is one of the few Saudi writers whose work has been published into English. I was not prepared for the labyrinthine quality of her award winning novel, THE DOVE’S NECKLACE. A compelling combination of mystery and magic realism, with a troubled detective, unclaimed dead body and an alley that narrates the chronicles at the heart of the story. This is one of those rare novels that portrays Saudi Arabia, specifically the city of Makkah, with a complex and layered lens. Full of metaphors and imagination, this novel is likely to surprise you but the text will require a bit of your patience before it blossoms.
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
I thought it would be a good idea to end the list with a beautiful YA novel. This was an excellent read that explored the ill-fated partition of India and Pakistan, a historic event that’s massively underrepresented in children’s fiction. Nisha, the observant and innocent narrator, struggles with her identity as a Muslim-Hindu child struggling to grasp the politics of the time. It guarantees a beautiful and emotional experience.