REPOST From Zainab bint Younus’ Muslim Matters Article
Announcing the Winners!
The Muslim Bookstagram Awards 2021 has been quite a rollercoaster for the judges! When the Muslim Bookstagram Awards team first announced this initiative back in October, we never dreamed that we would get such an incredible turnout. We received two hundred and fifty fives titles in nominations, spanning almost every category possible. Reading through the books, we were able to make quite a few observations about the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Muslim publishing (you can hear about them in our podcasts with the judges!). Most importantly, we had an amazing time!
Finally, we had to make some difficult decisions – and though it was harder than we ever expected it to be – we did it! We present… the winners of the Muslim Bookstagram Awards 2021!
Best Toddler Book (0-3): The Sleepy Farmer by Shazia Afzal
We noticed that there weren’t many toddler or board books in the offering this year. Of those that were nominated, many contained more complex themes than a three year old could handle, used advanced vocabulary, or were too text heavy to keep the attention of our littlest ones. We definitely need more variety in toddler book topics – so many are about Islamic phrases. We’re ready for authors to switch it up and come up with more unique themes; which is why we loved this year’s winner for the toddler book category!
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The Sleepy Farmer is about a farmer who almost missed Fajr, and all the farm animals tried waking up the farmer by making different sounds. In this engaging tale, young readers have the opportunity to be involved in the reading by repeating the sounds each animal makes on every page. The Sleepy Farmer demonstrates how important it is to do anything to wake up your family for Fajr.
Best Early Picture Book (4-6): The World is Your Masjid by Kate Rafiq
This category had a lot of self published nominations – but what made the winner stand out was that it stayed at the level of the target audience, while providing meaningful content in a fun way. It was new, refreshing, and well-done, with a dose of silliness that made it a hit with one of our judges’ 7 year-olds!
Where can you pray when you can’t get to the masjid? Join Rayan and Amelia as they explore all the places they can pray and just a few places where they can’t. With vibrant illustrations and fun rhyming verses, this book is a reminder for all of us that we can find somewhere to pray wherever we are.
Best Advanced Picture Book (5-7): Halal Hot Dogs by Susannah Aziz
The sheer amount of nominations we received for this category made us think deeply about the quality of what is being produced in the Muslim kidlit scene. Honestly, most of the self-published picture books just weren’t comparable to traditional publishing when it came to standards of writing and editing. The deciding factors for choosing this category’s winner was the high quality of writing and editing, in addition to the unapologetic inclusion of Islam in the text, the vocabulary, and the illustrations. The powerful Islamic representation, and the Muslim joy featured, truly made our hearts sing!
Every Friday after Jumu’ah prayer at the masjid, Musa’s family has a special Jumu’ah treat. They take turns picking out what the treat will be, but recently the choices have been .. . interesting. Week one, Mama made molokhia. It’s perfect for sharing, but gives us molokhia teeth for days! Week two, Baba burned the kufte kebabs on the grill. Week three, Seedi made his favorite riz b’haleeb-creamy rice pudding with pistachio sprinkled on top with an unexpected ingredient. Last week, Maryam brought jellybeans. . . . Finally, it’s Musa’s turn to pick, and he picks his favorite: halal hot dogs! But actually getting to eat this deliciousness turns into a journey riddled with obstacles. Will he ever get his favorite tasty treat?
Best Early Chapter Book (6-9): The Trouble with School (the Story of Halal Money) by Hafsa Ahsan
The Early Chapter Book category was a difficult one for us, and caused us more than a little stress! Some of the well-written books lacked any meaningful Islamic content – barely even a salaam or alhamdulillah. Though we don’t require that every Muslim story center Islam as the story, we want to see Islamic elements of daily life normalized in Muslim childrens’ stories. We encourage Muslim writers to be more thoughtful and intentional in including Islam within stories for this age group!
The winning book for this category took on a topic that is not often seen in early children’s books, made it relatable, funny, and provided strong Islamic lessons, referencing the Qur’an.
When Musa’s teacher asks him what humans need to live, he blurts out the first thing to come to mind – food, drink, air… and money! Hilarity ensues, and young Musa’s entertaining shenanigans turn out to be a great opportunity for hilarious hijinks and thoughtful discussions about the concept of rizq, halal income, sadaqah, and a healthy spiritual relationship with money. This book is unique in that it tackles big ideas in an age-appropriate way for younger Muslim readers.
Best Middle Grade Chapter Book (8-12): Huda & Me by H. Hayek
All the judges were impressed with the Muslim representation and Islamic content of the middle grade selection for this year – including, surprisingly, mainstream published titles. This category’s winner is a book for everyone, but Muslim kids will especially relate to the anxiety of making wudu in a public restroom and mistaking a nun for a hijabi! Hilarious and full of heart from beginning to end, readers will feel a true sense of kinship with the Muslim family featured in this story.
When their parents have to travel to Beirut unexpectedly, twelve-year-old Akeal and his six siblings are horrified to be left behind in Melbourne with the dreaded Aunt Amel. Things do not go well, and Akeal’s naughty little sister, Huda, hatches a bold plan to escape. After stealing Aunt Amel’s credit card to buy plane tickets to Lebanon, Huda persuades her reluctant favourite brother to come with her. So begins Huda and Akeal’s hair-raising and action-packed journey to reunite with their parents half a world away, in a city they’ve grown up dreaming about but have never seen.
A fresh and funny story of sibling love, adventure, and courage, Huda and Me is one of a kind.
Best Middle School Book (12-15): Unsettled by Reem Faruqi
The middle school category blew us away! Both the traditionally published and self-published nominations presented stories and characters that young Muslims can relate to, and be inspired by.
The winning book raised the bar for the whole industry by presenting an authentic ‘Own Voices’, coming-of-age read. The lyricism, hope, and small but genuine details will move readers deeply. No one can help being inspired by Nurah’s success, touched by her hardships, and disappointed in her mistakes.
When Nurah’s family moves from Karachi, Pakistan, to Peachtree City, Georgia, all she really wants is to blend in, but she stands out for all the wrong reasons. Nurah’s accent, floral-print kurtas, and tea-colored skin make her feel excluded, and she’s left to eat lunch alone under the stairwell, until she meets Stahr at swimming tryouts. Stahr covers her body when in the water, just like Nurah, but for very different reasons.
But in the water Nurah doesn’t want to blend in; she wants to stand out. She wants to win medals like her star athlete brother, Owais—who is going through struggles of his own in America—yet, when sibling rivalry gets in the way, she makes a split-second decision of betrayal that changes their fates.
As Nurah slowly begins to sprout wings in the form of strong swimming arms, she gradually gains the courage to stand up to bullies, fight for what she believes in, and find her place.
Best Young Adult Book (16+): Huda F Are You by Huda Fahmy
Over 20 YA books published in 2021 fit our original criteria, but unfortunately, only two ended up being content that we would comfortably recommend for the 16+ age group. Although we recognize that older teenagers can handle more mature themes, we were very disappointed at the lack of clean fiction. We don’t expect perfect Muslim characters, but we also want to see Islam as a lived experience for teenage Muslim characters, instead of just an identity label cast off in order to justify haraam desires.
Huda Fahmy continues to be an outstanding Muslim writer who uses humor as an effective tool for exploring Islamic identity, personal challenges, and learning and growing along the way.
Huda and her family just moved to Dearborn, Michigan, a small town with a big Muslim population. In her old town, Huda knew exactly who she was: she was the hijabi girl. But in Dearborn, everyone is the hijabi girl.
Huda is lost in a sea of hijabis, and she can’t rely on her hijab to define her anymore. She has to define herself. So she tries on a bunch of cliques, but she isn’t a hijabi fashionista or a hijabi athlete or a hijabi gamer. She’s not the one who knows everything about her religion or the one all the guys like. She’s miscellaneous, which makes her feel like no one at all. Until she realizes that it’ll take finding out who she isn’t, to figure out who she is.
Best Adult Book: Tied between Better, Not Bitter by Dr Yusef Salaam and Don’t Forget Us Here by Mansoor Adayfi
Originally, we weren’t sure whether to divide the adult category between fiction and non-fiction or not, but it turned out that we mostly received memoirs! In the end, it was impossible for us to choose one winner, and we settled on a tie between two incredibly powerful books.
Better, Not Bitter and Don’t Forget Us Here are both timely and carry universal messages: the journeys of two innocent Muslim men, mercilessly overpowered by oppressive political systems, and the role of Islam and their connections to Allah in guiding them through the dark path to their final freedom.
We encourage readers to follow and support the ongoing work of both Dr. Yusef Salaam, and brother Mansoor Adayfi, who is affiliated with the organization CAGE.
Better, Not Bitter by Dr. Yusef Salaam is the first time that one of the now Exonerated Five is telling his individual story, in his own words. Yusef writes his narrative: growing up Black in central Harlem in the ’80s, being raised by a strong, fierce mother and grandmother, his years of incarceration, his reentry, and exoneration. He connects these stories to lessons and principles he learned that gave him the power to survive through the worst of life’s experiences. He inspires readers to accept their own path, to understand their own sense of purpose. With his intimate personal insights, Yusef unpacks the systems built and designed for profit and the oppression of Black and Brown people. He inspires readers to channel their fury into action, and through the spiritual, to turn that anger and trauma into a constructive force that lives alongside accountability and mobilizes change.
Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantanamo by Mansoor Adayfi tells us about how a Yemeni teenager on a cultural mission to Afghanistan disappeared and never returned home. Kidnapped by warlords and then sold to the US after 9/11, he was disappeared to Guantánamo Bay, where he spent the next 14 years as Detainee #441. Don’t Forget Us Here tells two coming-of-age stories in parallel: a makeshift island outpost becoming the world’s most notorious prison, and an innocent young man emerging from its darkness. With unexpected warmth and empathy, Mansoor unwinds a narrative of fighting for hope and survival in unimaginable circumstances, illuminating the limitlessness of the human spirit.
Best Children’s Non-Fiction Book: Stories of 20 Mighty Muslim Heroes by Tamara Haque
Self-published books did exceptionally well in this category! We loved seeing the unique takes and creativity represented in children’s non-fiction books. It was a little hit-and-miss at times, with the good books being incredible, while the others struggled in execution. Remember: any non-fiction, no matter how basic, must be fact-checked, age-appropriate in content, and with engaging illustrations.
Tamara Haque’s winning Stories of 20 Mighty Muslim Heroes won our hearts with its inclusion of both men and women, and its emphasis on Islam being the primary distinguishing quality of each person chosen! This book is an inspirational resource for readers young and old alike.
Do you know the story of the first nurse? The man who developed the first antiseptics? The woman in charge of the royal library? The female navy commander who defeated the Dutch army…twice! The man who travelled to nearly 40 countries in the 14th century? They all had two things in common – they were Muslim, and they wanted to make a difference.
These are just some examples of thousands of Muslim heroes who helped change the world over the centuries. This book hopes to inspire you with the stories of 20 such Muslim heroes from the 7th-19th Century.
Best Holiday Book: There was an Old Auntie Who Swallowed a Samosa by Asmaa Hussein
This category is meant to highlight all books Ramadan, Hajj/ Umrah, and Eid related! We were delighted at the variety of titles, and we may have spent a lot more time debating on this category than any of the others combined! After weeks of trying to persuade each other, and often ourselves, we went with a book that really just made us smile, and that our children ask for over and over, all year round.
This winner is an original, clever, laugh-out-loud story for preschool to early elementary, and one that parents and caregivers won’t dread reading over and over again! With its funny rhymes, expressive illustrations, religious framework, and hilarious conclusion, this book’s universal appeal will make it a firm favorite.
Auntie Sophia is making her special out-of-this-world samosas for the mosque iftar. But what this samosa pro doesn’t know is that her kitty, Serrano, has some sneaky plans to alter her recipe! What will happen when she accidentally swallows a far too spicy pastry WHOLE?
Most Unique Book: Around the World with Alif and Jeem: An Islamic Scratch Book
Some books were so unique that we had to create a special category just for them, including personalized titles. However, this special book became a quick favorite with all the judges – and more importantly, our kids, who made it hard for us to wrestle the book away from! Scratch art, stickers, and education, all rolled into one – what else could a parent (or a kid!) ask for?
The world’s first Islamic scratch book is crammed with Islamic pictures that you scratch at to reveal a burst of colour, comes with stickers, multiple activity sheets, and educational tidbits about Makkah, Madinah, Al-Aqsa, Zam-Zam, Salah, Quran and Jannah.
The Reader’s Choice Awards: ‘Tis the Night Before Eid, by Yasmin Rashidi
To make the awards a little more exciting, we decided to give readers a voice! In a bid to control the chaos, we had them vote on the handful of titles that the judges were busy trying to convince each other of. With a little (or a lot…) of competitiveness, and much laughter, a victor was declared!
‘Tis the Night Before Eid by Yasmin Rashidi is a delightful, visually rich gem that celebrates the excitement and bittersweet-ness of the night before Eid. The sweet rhymes and detailed illustrations – which show a mixed-race Muslim family, blending together East and West, in a diverse masjid – even featuring a female Qur’an teacher (who incidentally looks a lot like Shaykha Haifaa Younis!) -, creates a joyful reading experience. The book perfectly captures the love for Ramadan, the anticipation of Eid, and the many beautiful acts of worship and traditions involving both.
Judges’ Final Thoughts!
After sifting through over two hundred titles by Muslim authors, we were able to recognize recurring patterns, themes, and issues in Muslim publishing. One observation that really stood out to all of us was how well traditional publishing has stepped up with Muslim content. In both picture books and middle grade categories, we were amazed by the unapologetic Muslim rep – what a beautiful sight to see!
However, there is still quite a ways to go in terms of internalized Islamophobia towards conservative Muslims/Islam, and problematic vs. clean content in the YA/Adult fiction books. For self-published and Muslim-published titles, we urge authors and publishers to invest in producing high-quality content with attention paid to editing, writing quality, and story development. There is so much talent in the Ummah, and we want to elevate the standards of literature that we produce! Ultimately, our goal is to celebrate the field of Muslim literature, in all its genres.
Finally, we strongly encourage readers to check out the Instagram pages of each Muslim Bookstagram Awards judge! You will find detailed reviews of the winning titles, to ensure which books are the right fit for you and your family. Don’t forget to stay tuned for upcoming interviews with the rest of the Muslim Bookstagram Awards judges, where we’ll be talking all things Muslim bookish!
If you are a writer interested in nominating your book for the Muslim Bookstagram Awards 2022, please reach out to @MuslimBookReviewers!
Muslim Kids Book Nook: @muslimkidsbooknook
Islamic School Librarian: @islamicschoollibrarian
Shifa Saltagi Safadi: @muslimmommyblog
Zainab bint Younus: @bintyounus