When they were younger, my boys enjoyed all kinds of books, from Curious George to books about dinosaurs. When they got a little older, they read Invincible Abdullah. But after that there was almost nothing for them, almost nothing that reinforced the values we taught them at home.
Meanwhile, as a social studies teacher, I often went to the library in search of books to use in my classroom. I found books, fiction and non-fiction, about many different ethnic groups and their unique experiences. But there was nothing about Muslims, except the occasional book that was written by a non-Muslim and was likely to have at least a few errors.
So I started thinking about writing. But I was the mother of six, and a full-time teacher, and there simply wasn’t time to sit down and write a novel. My attitude changed, though, on September 11. Our Islamic school was shut down early that day because of bomb threats and as I watched the news coverage at home I began thinking, Life is too short. Life is too short to defer my dreams.
The following May I quit teaching and that September, after my kids had gone back to school, I sat down to write. My first book had to be about 9/11. I had to get that out before I could write anything else. And when I started writing, I decided my intention would be to write in order to promote Islam.
This is easier said than done. It’s important, crucial really, that books about Islam are not preachy. I’ve worked hard to avoid this. What I want to do is not proselytize, but simply present Muslims as regular people with regular lives, which is exactly what we are.
After that first novel I wrote a series, called The Echoes Series. The main character, Joshua Adams, came to me in a dream, and over the years he became like an eighth son to me–I have many seventh sons, boys who were friends with my sons and spent happy hours at our home. Joshua is very much a normal, everyday American. But he’s curious, and while that curiosity sometimes gets him into trouble, it’s also what led him to Islam.
We want our children to read, starting when they’re very small. Hopefully they will be lifelong readers. There are some good books out there by non-Muslim authors. I read Islamic fiction when I can, but I also enjoy Dean Koontz, Jodi Picoult (sometimes), and even a little Stephen King. And I’ve read wonderful books by lesser known authors–though, at my age, I often forget the names. Orhan Pamuk is one I can recommend.
When our children are young though, in their teens and still learning about the world, we prefer they adopt Muslim role models and identify with Muslim stories. This is why I write. And I hope the number of Muslims who write continues to grow. (I’m especially looking forward to the next book from Maryam Sullivan. And I know of a couple other projects that are in the works.)
Reading is wonderful. We need to help our children grow their imaginations. And hopefully we can guide and teach them also.