Tag Archives: muslims in the illustrations

I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib

I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib


I was hesitant to read the book, afraid it would pit the author’s two cultures (Egyptian and Filipino) and faiths (Catholic and Muslim) that her parents identified with against each other.  Raised as the daughter of immigrants from very different backgrounds in California I was very pleasantly surprised that the book leads with heart and positivity for the unique, yet universal feelings she experienced in her life.  The short 156 page red, white, and blue filled pages are funny, poignant, and reflective, that I think high school readers and up will enjoy spending time in Cerritos and Egypt through the eyes of Malaka.  It is easy to say that you can’t be Muslim and Catholic, but she doesn’t opine on the right or wrong of it in large terms, she discusses her life and her own situation.  As a teacher I would see students that would attend Islamic school five days a week and then go to church on Sundays, whether you agree with the choices this author/character makes is not what I intend to review, it is her life, but rather the manner in which it is shared.  There are many kids out there from “conflicting” backgrounds, and to see someone take the love and benefits offered to forge their own path in creating their own American dream, was a nice twist on the immigrant identity finding narrative.


The book starts with introductions to the characters, her family members that influence her, and then begins the tales of what brought her Filipino mother and Egyptian father to America, how they met, married, started a family, and divorced. Malaka exists outside her family in school, balancing her heritage and coming of age.  Raised during the school year by her mother and extended Filipino family, she spends summers in Egypt where her father resides with his new wife and children.  Coming of age as an immigrant, balancing cultures, religions, school, and dreams, the book concludes with her marrying a white Southerner and adding to the mix.


Even though she identifies more as Filipino American and goes to Catholic school, there is a fair amount of Islam and Egyptian culture included in the book.  I love that she loves her step mom and step siblings and finds beauty in Islam, learns to pray, read Quran, and mentions her love of Prophet Muhammad saw.  Sure as an Islamic school librarian, I wish she chose Islam, lived it and centered it in her life, but this is not a character, this is a real person, and to see her lovingly showing the goodness in Islam and how it has positively influenced her, is nice to see nonetheless.  There are a few storylines I didn’t quite understand, the skateboarding in Egypt a big one, but the quick pace of her narrative life-story flows well and is easily consumable.  Often stories like this are overly dragged down by dated pop cultural references and over criticizing “othering” paradigms, but this book contains enough to keep it grounded without it alienating contemporary readers.


Stereotypes, lying, relationships, periods, music, dancing, nothing really stands out, there might have been some language, I read it a few days ago and honestly don’t recall anything overly problematic, but content wise it is a mature teenage read with retrospection and marriage being a part of the narrative.

I don’t know that I would shelve or teach this book, but I think it is one to file away in my head for people I might encounter looking for a book about blended faiths and cultures benefitting from the many worlds they have one foot in and one foot out of, and those ultimately looking for a place to see their experiences mirrored.

I found my copy of this book at my local public library and it is also available here from Amazon.

My Dad is Always Working by Hafsah Dabiri illustrated by Arwa Salameh

My Dad is Always Working by Hafsah Dabiri illustrated by Arwa Salameh

This sweet 26 page story addresses a universal feeling with Islamic flavor.  The Black Muslim family in the illustrations is adorable, the sprinkling in of Islamic terms is lovely, and the concept of dad working unseen for the benefit of his child is touching, (I hope a Mom book is forthcoming).  The text size changing for no reason bothered me though, as did some of the wordiness and possible contradictions.  Ultimately the story will resonate with many children and mirror a common feeling that is not often addressed for young children, and I’m glad I have it on my bookshelf.

The book starts with Abdullah waking up for class and noticing his clothes laid out on his bed, and his dad with a dirty shirt rushing off to work.  He misses his dad and muses that his dad is “always working,” As he eats his favorite strawberry and chocolate pancakes.  He then jumps on his bike with his clean cleats and heads off to Sunday class with his friend Khalid.

In class they learn about “JazakhAllah Khair,” and homework is to make a card for a person who deserves our thanks.  When Abdullah’s mom, not dad, picks him up he decides to make a card for his mom who has woken him up, set out his clothes, made him breakfast and picked him up for class.

At dinner however, when he discusses class with his mom and the homework the mualimah has assigned, Abdullah’s mom shares with him all that his dad has done and Abdullah reconsiders why his dad is “always working.”

I don’t quite get why the next night when dad is cooking the food is burned, nor am I sure why it said Arabic school, when it seems it is Islamic school, or why he rode his bike to class but then his mom picks him up.  I do like that in the praising of the dad, the mom is not diminished, but rather both are elevated.  An important book, but as I often say, I just wish it was edited better, or more.   It has a lot of potential, the story idea is great, but the writing isn’t polished and it makes it hard to share repeatedly or with a wider audience because of it.

Purchased at Crescent Moon Store also available on Amazon