Twitter followers and book lovers are likely aware of the #OwnVoices movement. One tweet at a time, it’s driving forward authenticity in books, ensuring books reflect the diverse world we live in.
Giving a voice to Muslim authors has also been a win for the movement. In 2009, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explained the dangers of excruciating limited visibility in her famous Ted Talk.
“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
Growing up, I can remember reading every single Enid Blyton and Judy Blume my mobile library had. I loved these books, they triggered my imagination and stirred my emotions.
But there was a consequence to these books. Constant exposure to white girls having the adventures of their lives, reinforced the idea that this would never be me.
This single narrative is partially why I stopped dreaming about being a writer when I was a teenager. Living in South Africa, during Apartheid, a brown girl shouldn’t have these big dreams, so they ceased to be.
Enter #OwnVoices and #WeNeedMoreDiverseBooks
#OwnVoices saw an explosion of diverse books on the market as publishers scrambled to acquire and publish diverse books. But has the Muslim narrative really changed?
On the heels of the #OwnVoices movement, one Muslim woman is putting an end to the dangers of the ‘Single Story’ fail.
Tahirah Folk, student and content creator, doesn’t think so. Folk finally feels that she no longer wants to consume any media, including books that focus on Muslims.
Muslims in Media – The Truth
Just as in film and television, Muslims in books are white-washed, ashamed of their identity. You’ll usually see Muslim women especially as oppressed and docile. Or my least favorite, seeing Muslims who don’t practice and view Islam as a culture rather than a religion.
These depictions are not only hurtful but incredibly dangerous. Muslims aren’t a monolith and we are all on different journeys in regards to spirituality. We all deserve to see versions of ourselves represented in media that we can relate to. ” -Tahirah Folk
Folk explains, “These portrayals of Muslims may be the reality of some, but I would argue that they are not indicative of the overall American Muslim experience.
My biggest problem with the ways that Muslims are portrayed in books is that there are an overwhelming amount of Muslims who have either negative or nonexistent relationships with their faith whose stories are only being pushed so heavily because they satisfy the narratives set by racist Islamophobes.”
Continuing to be complacent with Muslim book representation, Folk says publishers will continue representing us in unacceptable ways. Education is key, but also important is getting the message across, not only to publishers but to mainstream readers.
She elaborates, “If you weren’t Muslim and didn’t know any Muslims personally and every book you read or every movie you watch shows Muslims the exact same way, woudn’t you start believing that this is how Muslims are?
These versions of Muslims are more palatable for white audiences and it’s important that we remember that these stories were not made for us.”
What We Need To See
The danger of the single narrative begs the question, what do we want to see in books? Folk, for one thing, would love more positive narratives of Black Muslims in books.
“Black Muslims are constantly ignored and dismissed in the Muslim community, even though we have always been on the front lines in regards to spearheading the overall conversation on Muslims.”
Black Muslims are continually changing the status quo and are often challenging the stereotypes.
Also troubling is the one dimensional Muslim character. You have certainly seen or read about this in every book, movie and series featuring a Muslim character.
Folk questions where the well rounded Muslim characters are? “The Muslims we see in books are always one dimensional and it’s unrealistic. I want to see more unapologetic Muslim characters who embrace their faith and although they mess up, they still try their best to please Allah.”
…we really need more stories featuring Muslim characters whose storylines are made up of more than just being Muslim. Every story featuring Muslims shouldn’t always have to be about an identity crisis. Yes, we’re Muslim, but that is not all we are.” Tahirah Folk
Start-Up The Iqra Trials Readathon
Don’t believe the myth that no one is writing these stories. There are authors who have authentic voices and represent us in a way we would like Muslims represented. These voices remain buried.
Smaller Muslim publishing houses and independent authors don’t have the marketing budget to compete with the big five publishing houses. Folk wants this to change and wants lesser known Muslim authors to become visble.
Folk has devised the year long readathon, called The Iqra Trials. She is hoping to spread the word, creating a buzz around it with the help of Muslim Booktubers. Folk says, “The goal of The Iqra Trials is to critically analyze the ways that Muslims are being portrayed across all genres.
It is also an opportunity for us as Muslim readers and reviewers to support and uplift Muslim authors who are doing amazing work. I came up with the challenges by assessing which genres were either missing Muslim rep or had an oversaturation of Muslim rep. I wanted us to broaden the type of Muslim literature that we were consuming.”
The Iqra Trials can also create an awareness around Muslim storie, helping Muslims read a broad and diverse range of books. Folk wants to see the readathon grow, expanding to unite the Ummah in knowing each through literature.
Youth Reading The Way
When Muslim children are repeatedly exposed to books in which they do not identify with the characters, the consequenses are tragic.
I grew up with Are you there God? It’s me Margaret, a famous YA book by Judy Blume in the eighties. This book made a profound impression on my 12 year old self’s relationship with God. My hope is that my daughter can see herself in books with characters that look like her and help her to see the subtle nuances of her own identity that other authors might miss or misinterpret.
With movements like The Iqra Trials, Muslims can take back our narratives, becoming the gatekeepers of our own stories.
Please recommend books by messaging Tahirah Folk on Instagram, @SincerelyTahiry. She also has curated a Google Doc that is open to the public with a list of books by Muslim authors broken up into different categories.
Authors contact Folk directly [email protected], with the title of your novels and the genre to be added to the list.