Category Archives: islamic fiction

Hassan and Aneesa Go To a Nikaah by Yasmeen Rahim illustrated by Rakaiya Azzouz

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Hassan and Aneesa Go To a Nikaah by Yasmeen Rahim illustrated by Rakaiya Azzouz

hassan and aneesa

The latest installment in the Hassan and Aneesa series caught my attention because there just aren’t a lot of books about an Islamic marriage process (it is Desi tinged).  Cultural weddings you often see, but despite the misleading title of them just attending a Nikaah, they actually walk the reader through the steps from wanting to get married, to getting to know someone, praying Salatul-Istikhara,  agreeing on a mahr, signing contracts, and a walima.  The idea and premise is brilliant and greatly needed, the finished product, not so much.  Somehow I had forgotten how tiny in size the books in the series are (6.5×7.5), making it all visually cluttered and the text often hard to see over the illustrations.  And while I love how the concepts and terms are defined, the point of view of having it witnessed and detailed by the brother sister duo is often awkward and wordy.  I wish the author would have ditched the familiar characters, and just written a book about the marriage process for kids.  The vacillating between a fictionalized story, factual requirements, kids witnessing their parents helping their cousin get married, makes for a tangled book that fails to connect to readers seven and up, let alone two and up like the book claims. If you’re kids are asking about how Muslims marry or seem curious about a halal way it can be done, I suppose this book would provide a way to understand some of the key facets in broad strokes, but it needs editing, and more space to show joy and excitement in a book about families and a couple coming together.

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The very first page set the tone for me, the overly dressed girl at a barbecue and the way her name seems to be so formally introduced.  Perhaps it is a difference of culture, but the book never bounced back from the heavy handed tone.  Aisha wants to get married and asks her parents to help her find someone.  They ask her what she is looking for and she tells them.  I like what she includes kindness, love of Allah, funny, etc.  I wish it would have suggested that she had given it a lot of thought before answering though.

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Aneesa and Hassan’s mom and their aunt are discussing Aisha’s want to marry at their painting class and a friend over hears and suggests her son Uthman.  The families agree to have the two meet in a cafe with Aneesa and Hassan’s dad and uncle so that her mahram is nearby.  Uthman and Aisha both enjoy sports and Uthman interacts with a baby at another table impressing Aisha.  They both pray istikhara and decide that the families should all meet.

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It is then time to pick out a dress and hand out invitations, which at least involves Hassan and Aneesa, but the pages are so cringe and awkward from the phrasing, to the structure of the concepts.  The spread is disjointed and you’ll catch yourself shaking your head and making a face every time you read it.

Mehndi is next and I’m not sure why it focuses on Aneesa not sitting still and looking sad when her design is ruined.  It seems like an odd inclusion in what should be a joyous book.  Hassan is entrusted with gift to hold on to by Uthman for Aisha, and the Imam gives a khutbah about marriage.

Contracts are then signed with Aisha her wali, uthman and the imam and each party is asked if they agree.  They have already decided on the mahr and then Hassan hands over the gift.  The walima feast is delicious and the reader is encouraged to go back and find the cat in the illustrations.

As for illustrations I do like that the main females are shown out of hijab at home, and in hijab while out.  At the wedding there are different shades of brown, different loves of covering and not covering, there is a guest in a wheel chair and the couple and their families seem happy.  I found it odd that it says they are in love, since there isn’t a lot of emotion mentioned before the last page and I wish the text on numerous pages wasn’t mixed in with the pictures.

The book concludes with a glossary of terms.

The Maliks Ramadan Mayhem by Zanib Mian

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The Maliks Ramadan Mayhem by Zanib Mian

This 93 page Islam centered, action packed, humor filled book was written as a gift by the fabulous Zanib Mian for her readers. The book was to be free, all you had to do was pay shipping. Well, if you lived outside of the UK, that would make the book pretty expensive, so like any entitled book lover, I started annoying the author, my friend Noura the owner of Crescent Moon Store, and any and all connections I could muster to get the book during Ramadan. I wasn’t trying to get it for free, I just really wanted it in my hands. So, when the author did a second printing for purchasing, and my US stockist was on the list, I was giddy. Then I went out of town to be able to spend Eid with family and the lovely book sat on my neighbors dining table until the blessed month and the festivities of Eid, had come and gone. But guess what, it is ok. This book is fun, no matter what time of year you read it. It is as silly and informative and relatable as all the Omar books, and the characters just as delightful, the mystery just as teasing, and the quirkiness just as charming for readers 7 to 100. Thank you for this gift, thank you dear friend for stocking it at an incredibly affordable price and getting it to me with such speed and love. And dear readers, don’t wait until next Ramadan to get your copy, you and your children will enjoy the book now, repeatedly, and as they get excited for Ramadan next year (and the year after, and the one after that too), inshaAllah.

SYNOPSIS:

Maysa Malik is often misunderstood, and crossing lines at school, with friends, and at madrassah that get her in trouble, even while making others laugh. Her twin brother Musa doesn’t have Maysa’s penchant for getting in trouble, and so their parents are letting him go on the school trip, but not her. Maysa is determined to prove to her parents that she isn’t a class clown and can stay out of trouble. With help from Musa and their neighbor Norman, a cookie tower competition might be just the thing to raise money for charity and get in her parents’ good graces. But, a little lie to avoid teasing has big consequences and destroyed cookie towers mean her plan to go on her residential trip is failing. And no, I’m not going to spoil the plan b the kids come up with, or reveal the snowballing implications of the lie, I wouldn’t want to ruin it for you.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the Islamic tidbits are woven in and made a part of the story. It doesn’t pull out to give facts about Ramadan, salat, and charity, it is all part of the story and works well for both Muslims and non Muslims without compromising or watering down important aspects of our faith. I absolutely love that Norman makes wudu before doing anything and everything related to Islam, and is very aware that farting is a wudu popping act.

There is a “moral” about honesty and self confidence, but it doesn’t come off preachy, and as I’ve grown to expect from the author, her voice reads very genuine and true. The lessons from one character to another and from within internal reflection of a character, feels organic and age appropriate.

The only thing that bothered me initially, but perhaps not so much at the end (I’m going to try not to spoil anything here). Is that the one character that speaks “broken” English is painted as being strict, mean, and short tempered. There is redemption for him, but I wish the characters were more aware of their own impressions of Mr Saleh, and that the stereotype wasn’t perpetuated.

FLAGS:

Lying, accusations, some retaliation against a bully, gossip, gambling is mentioned, butt jokes, fart and bathroom mentions. Nothing offensive, but it is funny.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I won’t do this as a book club selection, but I am hoping to read it aloud to 2-4th grade next year before or during Ramadan. It would probably just take a few library sessions and I think the kids will love it.

My Baba’s House: A Poem of Hope by Dr. Amani Mugasa illustrated by Eman Salem

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My Baba’s House: A Poem of Hope by Dr. Amani Mugasa illustrated by Eman Salem

my babas house

I wanted to love this Islamic centered children’s book about grief, but I found it a bit problematic and misleading.  I am by no means an expert in Islamic matters of death or in psychological bereavement, but the note at the beginning of the book- if I wasn’t already going to look at it critically- really raised some warning flags.  It says that the book is not an instructional book on Aqeedah, that even though the title and whole story is about a house being built that “the book only expresses the idea that we hope and pray that Baba’s good deeds will lead him to Jannah, that that the rest of the family will meet him there one day, not that he is there already.” So, before you even start the story, it seems that the disclaimer is making it clear that this book is not religiously accurate, and that it is just meant to soothe and provided hope.  After taking all that in to consideration, and reading the 26 pages of text over a dozen times, I think I finally pinpointed why the book further reads problematic for me.  It is the repeating phrase, “Your Baba has been building a beautiful house for you,”  because he hasn’t right? He has built a house for himself through his good deeds in this duniya, he benefited HIS parents by being a righteous Muslim.  The words “for you” completely take the book in my head from being a slight suspension of timing where the deceased are, in to be misleading.  So if the book is not accurately framed and only to be taken as something “to open the discussion,” what is the point? Why fill it with Islamic references and concepts, if they will then have to be clarified, corrected, and re taught?  Sigh, I’m happy to listen to those that want to change my mind, truly I am.

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The rhyming book starts out with a mom and two kids being consoled by the text that their Baba has been building a house for them with Allah’s help.  That it is amongst the flowers, made with Allah’s powers. That with every good deed he did, their Baba becomes a builder, that there are pure rivers and trees, and that the house is hidden through Allah’s gate.

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To find their Baba’s house they will walk with Prophets, and see ripe fruits, and smell sweet musk.  There will be rivers of milk and he will carry them above his head.  The illustrations on this page are a little off in my opinion the shadows of a person elevating and even the girl looks a little concerned.

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I like that the next spread addresses that only Allah knows when the day will come that we reunite. And then the next pages tell how the children can help decorate their Baba’s house by calling adhaan, reading Qur’an, being kind, giving charity, and making duas.

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The book concludes with encouraging patience and finding reassurance in knowing we belong to Allah and to Him we return.

With the exception of the one page, the illustrations are adequate and show a mixed racial family.  The rhyming lines are rather weak, and ultimately there are just better books out there about grief that don’t have to be so qualified for accuracy.

It’s Springtime! by Rabia Bashir illustrated by Azra Momin

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It’s Springtime! by Rabia Bashir illustrated by Azra Momin

spring time

This sweet 18 page board book introduces seasons to our littlest Muslims through rhyming lines, Islamic gratitude and activities enjoyed during certain times of the year.  It even has a “spot and talk” activity at the back and a way to explain “Alhumdulillah” to children.  The text is simple and the illustrations engaging for ages infant to pre-k.

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The book starts with spring and dedicates four pages to praising Allah swt by appreciating the flowers and baby animals before looking forward to summer, that is on its way.

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Summer is also four pages of saying Alhumdulillah for the sunshine, ice cream, the beach, and sandcastles, before heading off to autumn.

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The book covers all four seasons and mentions that after winter is spring again.  The book’s size and the thickness of the pages makes it great for toting around for little ones, and the flowing lines make it a quick read that you don’t mind reading over and over again, Alhumdulillah.

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Songs and activities available at www.preciousbees.com

Rapunzel: An Islamic Tale by Fawzia Gilani illustrated by Sarah Nesti Willard

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Rapunzel: An Islamic Tale by Fawzia Gilani illustrated by Sarah Nesti Willard

rapunzel

Having read the other “princess” retellings by Fawzia Gilani I didn’t rush out to acquire this book, but when a friend said it was available at the public library, I was surprised and admittedly curious.  This book just like the others in the series are very much in my eyes “Islamic fiction” for how centered Islam is for the characters and how it is used to frame the story toward a religious message.  The fact that a small city library in a Southern state purchased and shelves it, is pretty impressive.  As for the story, well it is really long, and wordy, and every page is filled with tiny text filled lines that I doubt most kids will be able to sit through.  The Islamic content is very present, the Uyghur setting appreciated, but wow do the 41 pages pack a lot of text in to a fairytale re-telling. There is a lot of Islam and Quran and at times it fits well, at other times incredibly forced.  The book claims it is for ages 5-8, but truthfully I don’t know that any age would be able to sit through it and be engaged.

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In a tangled forest lives a wife and her husband, a clockmaker and a woodcutter.  Before they married, the wealthy and cold Shuna Leng had hoped to marry the woodcutter, but he never asked, and she never forgot.  As a result seeing her neighbors happy keeps her jealous heart plotting and conniving to bring the couple misery and pain.

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One day, while pregnant, the wife has a strong craving for rapunzel greens.  Some just happen to grow on Shuna Leng’s property.  The husband is nervous to ask, but when his wife falls weak he makes an effort.  She doesn’t answer, so he picks some growing along the path and leaves coin for payment.  This wife regains her strength and then begins craving them again.  He decides to do what he did last time, but is caught.  The evil woman agrees that he can have all the rapunzel greens he wants but if the baby is a girl she shall be given in payment.

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Once born the baby is taken and kept hidden from her parents.  Various governesses are employed over the years to tend to Rapunzel and who teach her Islam and kindness.  Ever so often they have to up and move and abandon their routine when people start asking questions, but the lessons learned from the Quran stay with Rapunzel and she endures what she must.

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Eventually she ends up in a tower, she offers to help a stray boy recite Quran, and the evil plot of keeping her locked up unravels.  Yes SPOILER she is returned to her parents.

It is a decent retelling in theory, it just is really long, and there isn’t quality character building to invest the reader to the side stories being presented.

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After Iftar Tales arranged by Bismillah Buddies

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After Iftar Tales arranged by Bismillah Buddies

after iftar tales

This book’s beautiful dark blue cover with sparkly stars feels good in your hands and looks lovely on the shelf.  It is a collection of 10 short stories presumably to be read by an adult to a child or children during Ramadan and has its highs and lows.  As often is the case in anthologies, some are written better than others and while I particularly liked two of the stories contained, I couldn’t help wishing that the entire collection would have been better edited.  I don’t know any of the authors, or their ages, and there is not an intro or conclusion detailing how the stories were selected or compiled, but as a whole, the grammar errors (spaces before and after commas and periods), failure to spell out numbers less than ten, and the overall plot holes in so many of the stories, makes it hard to love this book.  Something about judging a book by it’s cover would seemingly apply here, the illustrations are decent, the topics and themes covered are important, but the finishing is lacking, and the book really had a lot of potential.

SYNOPSIS:
The ten stories cover Ramadan in different ways, and do not get repetitive.  With different authors and illustrators and pictures on every other page at a minimum, the books presents well.  Many of the stories are adequate, but largely forgettable as the plot holes just made me and my kids dismiss them.  A few are too lengthy and wandering, but there are two that even despite writing obstacles, thematically were memorable:  “A Ramadan Surprise” by Malika Kahn and “Iftar in Space” by Tayyaba Anwar.

“A Ramadan Surprise” is written in rhyming verse and discusses the need for wheelchair accessibility at masjids.  Focusing on a young girl it also hints on the importance of accessibility for the elderly.  This is such a needed and important reminder and I love that it is present in a book that is positioned to be read and thus hopefully discussed.

“Iftar in Space” similarly opens itself up to be discussed and marveled at between a child(ren) and an adult: how would you fast and pray if you were on the International Space Station. This connection could then be made for people that live near the poles, and how science is valued in Islam and so much more.  I love that Islamic information is seemingly sourced, but I would have loved a line or two at the end clearly articulating that in fact this is what this scholar or these scholars have declared.

WHY I LIKE IT:

At first it didn’t bother me that the text was so small, but mid way through, it started to because the pictures are so inviting and regular.  If a child is snuggled up with a reader looking at the pictures it is impossible for them to follow along. I get that that is kind of the point, but with huge margins, the text size can easily be increased.

I don’t know why the book doesn’t seem to have been edited.  The cover and illustrations and binding are all decent to high quality, the cost of the book for consumers is high, so I don’t know why an editor was not (seemingly) involved in the process.  Sure I am picky, but it isn’t one or two grammar errors, it is a lot, and when it is a regular concern, it ruins the flow and feeling of the book.

Overall, honestly there is also very little Islam present in most stories except for the timing of Ramadan, and many of the stories seem to have gaps.  In the first story, a boy is found by a stranger and gifted a lamp, and the family never even tries to find the person who saved their son to thank him? They live in a small village?  In one of the stories where a little girls is fasting for the first time she is also making a salad independently and pulling a cooked tray of lasagna out of a hot oven. A child in one story eats moldy candy, and in a contemporary story kids donate their money to an orphanage.  Are there still orphanages? In one story it opens with a banner being made that is crooked, but the accompanying illustration does not match.  One error or two is easy to overlook, but again, when it is every single story, it is incredibly disappointing.

FLAGS:

Clean

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think while reading it you would find plenty to discuss with your children.  On stories where your children seem bored you could skip them, if sentences don’t make sense you can alter them.  I doubt children will read the book independently, so there is some wiggle room to add or subtract from the text to make the points you want to make and keep the stories engaging.  There are a few stories that discuss Covid and the frustration that it has caused to daily activities, which might help add another layer of connection to the text.

Wake Up! It’s the Ramadan Drummer by Mariam Hakim and Dalia Awad

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Wake Up! It’s the Ramadan Drummer by Mariam Hakim and Dalia Awad

wake up

The beautiful shimmering cover of this new Ramadan book drew me in from the first few pages with the emotional impact of the father in the story losing his job.  Unfortunately the fun illustrations and overall story are not quite enough to make the book an enjoyable read over multiple readings.  By the time you read the book a second time, the missing punctuation, the assumptions and continuity holes, make the book unravel.  It has merit and highlights, I just really hope that an editor is brought in before a second printing takes place to clean up the sentences, patch the holes, and polish it to make it shine.  It has so much potential, but it is disappointing especially if you have been waiting, perhaps a bit impatiently, to share this with children to get them excited for Ramadan.  Even more so if you had hopes of reading it again and again throughout the month.

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The book summarizes Ramadan on the first page, presumably making the ideal reader a Muslim already familiar with Ramadan significance, and then jumps into revealing that the Baba has lost his job.  The optimistic mama isn’t deterred and sends the Baba and kids to the store so she can cook up something special.

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While at the store an elderly woman greets the kids and their father as, “Abu Tabla.” The son dismisses it until later that night when Baba has gone to the mosque and Mama surprises Adam and Anisa with the story of their Baba’s baba walking the streets before dawn to wake people up for suhoor.  She even digs out an old photograph, and with that, Adam is determined to get his father to revive the tradition.

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I love that Adam and his Baba work together to figure out lyrics and a beat.  I also like that it isn’t an instant success, but rather takes some grit, determination, and perseverance.  I also like that the whole family and eventually neighborhood come together, and that men and women go to the masjid for fajr.

There are some concerns I have though as well.  There are a lot of missing commas, the text uses mosque instead of masjid which reads inauthentic, and the whole old lady character, Hannah, is all sorts of underdeveloped.  She has to introduce herself, yet she knows where Abu Tabla lives, a drum magically appears in her hands, and her prodding is based on the premise that she knows what is going on inside people’s homes, what they are thinking, and what their intentions are.  I get that it is a kid’s story, but by the second or third reading it is hard to unsee how erroneous the logic is.  Especially when fasting like so many acts in Islam, are between a person and Allah swt, not for everyone else to judge.

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Presumably the story takes place in an Islamic majority setting and the neighbors are all Muslim, which offers a great discussion starter for readers in non Muslim majority places to find ways to maybe share Ramadan or to imagine living where everyone is fasting.

I feel like the last few pages about the drummer going viral is unnecessary, and the story could have, and probably should have, ended with the family and parade entering the masjid.  I particularly found it odd that a line reads, “News of the Ramadan drummer tradition starting up again reached as far as Pakistan, Egypt, Somalia, Turkey and even Indonesia,” why is Indonesia called out like that? Seems off putting somehow, not inclusive. The book concludes by circling back to the Baba getting paid to wake people up and finding jobs through the people also coming to fajr, which seems a bit raw for a children’s book.  A simpler, “even though Baba found another job, being the drummer was still the one he loved most,” would have tied everything up a little better for the demographic.  I’m hoping to include this story during one of my weekly Ramadan story times in my local community, and will probably skip the last few pages and just read the hadith at the end about waking up for suhoor.

Zahra’s Trip to Misr by Sufiya Ahmed

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Zahra’s Trip to Misr by Sufiya Ahmed

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This middle grade series has been highly recommend to me numerous times over the years, and I finally found a copy to read and review.  It is book three in the series, and I have not read the first two, so I may be missing something, but the book didn’t wow me honestly.  The 147 page story published in 2011 has a lot of potential, but I felt like it didn’t know who the audience would be, and thus often felt cumbersome and disjointed to read.  At times it uses Islamic terms (muezzin), other times the Urdu words (namaz), and way too often the english meanings (ablution, peace be upon you, mosque), often all three in a single paragraph.  It is Islamic fiction and stays adventurous, without getting overly preachy and didactic, but there are some cruel life threatening antics by the girls, and some heavy themes of child trafficking, revenge, kidnapping, lying, bullying, gender treatment in Islamic spaces, finance and micro loans, but to its credit, it stays on level and, while as a mom some of the adventure needs adult intervention, I think young readers would support the young girls handling so much on their own.

SYNOPSIS:

Twelve year old Zahra and her classmates from her Islamic boarding school are headed on a class trip from England to Egypt.  For ten days they will be learning about the history, the culture, and connecting to Islam.  A group of first year girls and their chaperones in a foreign country meet with former students, another girls school from the UK, and some of their chaperone’s husbands giving this short book a lot of characters to get to know briefly, and only in passing.

The adventure starts right away as bully Saira locks a claustrophobic girl in the airplane lavatory in revenge of being locked in a freezer and forced to eat spiders earlier in the school year, and the foreshadowing that these battles are not over is set.  Once in Egypt, the girls muddle through worksheets sharing what they have learned, stopping to pray, and enjoying the experience.  Every so often at the hotel however, they see a girl they have dubbed, “sad girl” and the mystery to figure out what is making her so sad will ultimately make this a trip that brings the girls close to danger, and if successful will make them heroes. Toss in a nasheed concert, a runaway camel, and it is going to be a busy week and a half for them all.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The book presents a lot of Islam, and I think most readers will learn something and see Islam practiced authentically.  There is praying, and wearing hijabs, and halal meat, and Islamic history, and the 99 names of Allah all present in the characters naturally.

The book starts with Zahra and her mom and aunt rushing to the airport, they are running late.  Zahra’s aunt is not Muslim and presumably her mom is a convert, there is some really awkward dialogue before the family leaves, and it is called out as being awkward, but it just didn’t seem to fit either.  Why would a girl’s brother tell a non Muslim to wear a scarf? A character that is just in the first scene? I’m hoping there is more to her as a character in the first two books, and maybe this is a reference to something, but it just reads really weird and unrealistic (I hope).

Similarly, I am sure the first two books cover the forcing a bully to eat spiders and why she was locked in a freezer, but to just see that this is the level of the pranks, is a little disturbing.  The book acknowledges that locking a girl in a bathroom who has claustrophobia is dangerous, and that triggering the camel to run-off was similarly potentially deadly, but what about the other cruelties? It doesn’t even hint that there is more there, and I would have liked to see some context to recognize that these aren’t benign pranks, they are pretty big acts.

The child trafficking and kidnapping plot really had me wishing that the girls at least talked to Anu Apa. Having preteens take on such a dangerous situation so haphazardly was a little stressful for me, and I need to find some middle grade readers to help me see the actions through their eyes.

The randomness of the nasheed concert didn’t seem to fit for me, the song she wrote wasn’t that good, the whole thing came together too easily, and then some of the girls taking off their hijabs in wildness seemed such an odd tangent to me.

The biggest obstacle for me was the terminology and diction.  I don’t think it matters if the readers are Muslim or not, use the Islamic terms.  The teachers and students go to an Islamic school, it isn’t a stretch to have them use the proper term of salat instead of namaz, they can remark on the athan, not azan, they can say Assalamualaikum, they don’t need to say in english peace be upon you, and upon you when they greet, it seems so halting to the authenticity of the characters and flow of the story.

I think part of the difficulty in getting these books in the US is they just had one edition printed, and I genuinely hope that at some point the author will revisit the books especially now that she has been published mainstream for her other works, and hopefully grown as an author.  There is a lot of good in the book, it just could use some polishing and updating.

FLAGS:

Child trafficking, revenge, kidnapping, lying, bullying, cruel pranks, physical assault.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I wouldn’t go out of my way to get these books on a classroom shelf based on this one book.  If a classroom or library already has them, I wouldn’t remove them.  Utlimately, I don’t know that many readers will stick with the sorting out of all the characters in the beginning of the book, and those that do I think would probably be slightly disappointed, not with the presentation of Islam, but in the side story building details.

Moonlight Hope: A Muslim American Coming of Age Story by Nora Salam

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Moonlight Hope: A Muslim American Coming of Age Story by Nora Salam

moonlight hope

This 354 page New Adult read is truly Islamic fiction, and as long as you know what you are getting in to, you probably will thoroughly enjoy it.  It is Islamic centered, it is preachy, it is idyllic, it counters many stereotypes about Muslims and various cultures, while simultaneously falling into other tropes that define the genre, it has mature framing that is not suitable for younger readers, but doesn’t detail anything that is super “haram.”  If you are looking for a potentially halal romance between YA and Adult ages with Islamic messaging this book is a solid choice.  If however, you will be annoyed by any of the aforementioned labels, this book will not hold your attention or beg to be finished.  It reminds me a lot of Umm Zakiyyah’s If I Should Speak and A Voice books where the story has its own twists and character arcs but it spends a lot of time preaching and setting itself up to tout an Islamic perspective, or concept as well.  I wanted to read two books in the “New Adult” category and see if I could spread my reviews to include them, and with this being the second,  I think I should resist the temptation, and stick to what my library background familiarized me with.

SYNOPSIS:

Told in alternating voices of Intisar and Majed, two individuals in New York City, at different places in their life, but finding that when they hit rock bottom, Islam is the answer.

Intisar is graduating nursing school when the story opens and has only one goal in mind, get married.  She has strict Sudanese parents and has put all of her dreams on finding freedom in the perfect spouse.  She meets a guy at a friend’s house and they secretly date, kiss, and hold hands.  When he ghosts her, she is devastated and reluctantly finds herself agreeing to marry a much older man of her parent’s choosing.  Loosing herself in the idea of marriage, she finds herself heartbroken, ostracized and falling apart.  She starts to put herself back together slowly by finding Islam, her confidence, and some much needed perspective.

Majed has a famous family: his mother a model, his father and siblings singers, and he manages their careers.  After passing out from drugs and alcohol more than once he really starts to examine his life and the road he is on.  He sneaks away to rehab and in the process stumbles on to Islam.  He is Egyptian, but the family is not religious at all, and infact stop talking to him when he converts.  The trials of being a Muslim in New York with no family are not easy, but he feels it is worth it and his journey to Hajj and through loss brings him closer to Allah (swt).

The two stories are parallel and collide slightly in the periphery, but the book ends with them finally coming together and the ever dreaded words of “to be continued,” leaving the reader hanging.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I do like that the story shows struggles when one comes (back) to Islam, it isn’t always a walk in the park, it has challenges and stresses.  The book starts each chapter with a verse from the Quran and is very open about what it is.  So, while at times, the preachiness did get to me, it was very clear what type of book it was from the beginning and I kept reading.

Some of the side characters I felt needed to be fleshed out a bit.  I didn’t understand many of the random friends, how they affected the main character often seemed off, or completely underdeveloped in what was revealed about them: particularly Izzedine, Parita, the girl that married Mansour, the uncle at the Masjid that thought Majed was a spy, etc..  I also really struggled with the presentation of Uncle Munir and his calling Majed, baby, and how he just happened to bump in to him outside the bar, and the kisses.  I’m guessing it was meant to show him as over the top affectionate, but it just read as odd.

I like that the book addresses hypocrisy, mental health, and expectations.  It doesn’t paint all Muslims as good or bad, nor society at large.  The book reads as a journey, and many characters are given a chance to correct their errors and be seen in a new light.

The majority of the book is written well, but right away the book gave me pause as Intisar and her friends chat all through the Jummah khutbah, I get that it is trying to show her disregard for intentional practice of her faith and her “boy crazy/marriage” obsession, but you cannot speak during the khutbah, it isn’t just dirty looks, you truly cannot talk for it to count, and it isn’t even remarked upon, and it made me skeptical of the book for a while.  There is a word missing from a sentence on page 161 and at one point a brother in the prayer hall aims a shoe to throw.  But you wouldn’t be wearing shoes in the room where you pray, and the mosque has hallways and a glassed off section for women, so this seemed like an obvious oversight that should be fixed.

FLAGS:

Drugs, alcohol, lying, overdose, sneaking out, kissing, hooking up, physical affection, violence, temptation, sexual predatory behavior, it is an adult book, so I’m not going to continue listing everything. Nothing haram is overtly detailed or glorified. Ages 17 and up, could handle it.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
Too mature for my book club crew, but I wouldn’t mind it on a shelf in the school library.

Jamal the Giant and the Largest Lesson by Mariam Hakim illustrated by Nesba Yoosef

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Jamal the Giant and the Largest Lesson by Mariam Hakim illustrated by Nesba Yoosef

jamal

My initial thoughts of this 32 page Islamic fiction, fable-style book, is that it needed to be tested on children, lots and lots of children.  It should have been read aloud to catch all the grammar, syntax, and diction errors, and young readers and listeners should have been asked what they learned or understood from the story, BEFORE, being published.  The message is sweet, the illustrations cute, but it feels unrefined and reads underdeveloped: pictures and concepts are not enough to carry a book if the writing is poor.

I have looked forward to obtaining the book since its launch, so as soon as it was available from a US stockist (@crescentmoonstore), I didn’t even hesitate to purchase it.  I knew the book was available for free online as a read aloud on YouTube, but because I truly love supporting Muslim authors and publishers, I wanted to wait until I had a physical copy in my hand.  These opinions are my own, all my reviews are.  I mean no malicious will to anyone, I’ve spent my money on something, and once I’ve done so, I am completely justified to have an opinion.  You don’t have to like it, or agree with it, but it isn’t personal.  I’ve given reasonings for my opinions, and I stand by them.

Jamal the Giant isn’t necessarily mean, but he is careless, young, and selfish.  He scares the animals in the woods, destroys their homes, ruins farmers’ crops, and steals from the village.  One night, he wants to steal some juice and in the process overhears the community members discussing how different he is from his kind parents, and that he must be forced to leave.  He tries to mend his ways before he is driven from his home, but to no avail.  Unsure how to fix things, it is the advice of a tiny mouse that sets his reform in motion and conveys the message from the Quran, surah 11 ayat 114, “Good deeds cancel out bad deeds.  This is a reminder for the mindful.” He learns he must apologize, make amends and be kind.

The message is accurate, but I have some concerns at how it is conveyed.  Why was the responsibility on the giant to learn how to behave.  Yes if he knew better, he should do better, but it is made clear that he is the last of his kind and his parents died when he was really young.  If the villagers aren’t going to try and teach him, who is?  It isn’t necessarily victim blaming, but if you don’t know better, and have no one to teach you, you definitely are a victim of neglect in some ways.  To have them going from enabling him out of a promise to his parents to threatening to kick him out from his home, is a little abrupt.

Story-wise there are some points that gave me pause.  Why is there an owl flying off in the daytime, sure there are some diurnal owls, but most kids are taught owls are nocturnal, why not change it to a woodland bird that is active in the day, don’t confuse kids.  It doesn’t specify a timeframe that the story takes place in, but it feels like a fable with talking animals a giant and a clear message.  There is a baker, a farmer, an imam, a greengrocery, it is all very quaint, but then the imam is holding a cell-phone, wait what? I do appreciate that the farmer is female though, and that some of the women cover and some do not, it seems representative.

I’m curious who taught the giant to read, and how come he writes his “s” backwards, there seems to be a bit of disjointedness to the upbringing of the giant, his age, even in giant terms.  A lot it seems the author assumes the reader knows about giants or their stereotypes perhaps, because the book doesn’t address them, and the result isn’t a fun moral story, but one that seems to miss things.

The little mouse teaching the big giant, carries some Lion and the Mouse-Aesop fable vibes, but really it is the proof-reading of the book that is disappointing.  When you read it aloud, commas are abundantly missing (even in the online reading pauses are placed where commas are not written).  Why is the B in Baker capitalized, and if it is the Baker’s house, as in last name is Baker, then an apostrophe is missing.  Many of the lines are just awkward and halting, even if not particularly erroneous.  The diction is questionable at times, Jamal “always” thinks about that day at the lake, woah, doesn’t reflect on it, but it haunts him “always.”  Jamal “‘really’ didn’t have to steal,” seems to imply he was justified in stealing a little, this should be a black and white issue in a children’s book, no?

There are questions at the end of the book, and a whole page of information about the author and illustrator as well.  In a case like this I don’t know if the publisher didn’t do justice to the author’s work, or if the author should have refined it more, before coming to the publisher, but it is unfortunate because clearly a lot of effort went in to the illustrations and promoting of the book.