Ads by Muslim Ad Network

What About Literature for Muslim Children? – Part 2

Click here to read the first part

Given the lack of literature with Islamic elements for them, Muslim children are routinely exposed to books of non-Islamic provenance. This phenomenon results in their poor self-worth.

Premarital Prep Masterclass.. Join the Workshop

The British writer Fawzia Gilani-Williams was once the principal of an Islamic school in Canada. There was a story-writing competition among the students at her school.

Surprisingly, even though all participants were Muslims, none among eighty competitors employed Islamic symbols and traditions as ingredients of their stories. Except for three students, all of them gave their characters non-Muslim names and used settings generally not associated with Islam or Muslims (Gilani-Williams and Bigger, 2011: 3).

The story books Muslim children consume contain predominantly non-Muslim characters and descriptions of non-Muslim people and places. Therefore, in their imagination, Muslims are non-existent in literature, so they cannot be characters in story books.

If Muslim children are to be given a strong sense of belonging to their community and dissuaded from harmful reading materials, the alternative (Islamic) children’s literature must be of superior quality and higher value.

The American writer Uthman Hutchinson’s series of children’s books, Invincible Abdullah (1992), is a good example to show that Muslim names can be characters in stories.

Ads by Muslim Ad Network

Fawzia Gilani-Williams also employs a comparable writing style in her works, such as Cinderella: An Islamic Tale (2010), Snow White: An Islamic Tale (2012), and Sleeping Beauty: An Islamic Tale (2018).

But the number of such writers and the volume of such literary works are far from adequate.

Who to Blame?

If Muslims are reluctant or unable to produce children’s literature of higher quality, do they have the right to complain when their children are drawn to better-written materials whose content does not satisfy their expectations?

What About Literature for Muslim Children? - Part 2 - About Islam

Or do they believe that it is the responsibility of writers of other religious or ideological persuasions to protect Muslim children from negative outcomes emanating from books of wrong contents?

Even if non-Muslim writers of good taste and sincerity seek to cater to the needs of Muslim parents, that may not meet the informational or content needs of Muslim children.

Many Muslim parents keep their children from reading specific books they consider inappropriate for them. But this strategy does not protect their wards from falling prey to their own curiosity. They are drawn to available literature in both print and electronic forms.

It is also true that many literary works produced by non-Muslim authors promote honesty, courage, fairness, discipline, hard work, respect, responsibility, justice, and other Islamic values. But that does not compensate for the need for Muslim writers to produce books for children.

By the way, as opposed to the seemingly inert literary life of today’s Muslims, the Madinan society of the Prophet was full of artistic activities. 

Children’s Literature in Early Islam

Muslims in today’s world may be in need to being persuaded about the importance of children’s literature. However, it was not so in the early days of Islam.

The historic migration of Prophet Muhammad and his followers from Makkah to Madinah opened a flood of happiness for the people of the latter. The pleasure that poured over Madinah upon his entry was reflected in the famous song its children sang to welcome him. The text of its lyrics has remained one of the best pieces of children’s literature.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Untitled-design-2022-08-15T172532.551-1024x576.jpg

Once Madinah became a Muslim city-state and the Prophet its religious and administrative head, it faced military challenges from Makkah. In the first major encounter, the Battle of Badr, the Islamophobes of Makkah suffered a humiliating defeat. Some of them were captured, and the Prophet allowed the prisoners of war to redeem themselves by teaching the art of writing to the children of Madinah.

All these suggest that intellectual exercise and literary work were highly valued in the early days of Islam. As Islam spread to various parts of the world, it inspired and influenced literature in different languages.

However, children’s literature in today’s Muslim societies does not seem to have gained the momentum that it deserves.

Conclusion

It is important that educated Muslims rise to the occasion and produce competitive children’s literature, not only with Muslim names and settings but also with Islamic elements and cultural references.

What About Literature for Muslim Children? - Part 2 - About Islam

A common tendency among many writers of Islamic orientation is to rush to preach and sermonize. Robert A. Williams quotes Uthman Hutchinson, who observes that Islamic children’s books are

preachy and written in poor English and not at all inviting to kids” (90).

The beauty of diction, the refinement of style, and the profundity of thought make a book readable. Conversely, using the wrong writing style gets in the way of conveying ideas and expressing emotions.

Possessing the best knowledge does not necessarily make one a good author.

Employing sophisticated (adult) language in books for children may frustrate the purpose for which they are written. For example, this essay is meant for mature readers and will likely be shunned by children even though it is written about them.

In this essay, I have been mainly concerned with “writers who believe in and are committed to the Islamic world-view” (Williams, 2020: 89). It is primarily their responsibility to produce readable and effective literature for Muslim children.

Conventional children’s literature may not necessarily alienate Muslim children from their religion.

However, exposure to books with wrong contents may lure them to consumerism, hedonism, individualism, selfishness, and materialism. Such reading materials may invite them to seek happiness in senseless pursuits of worldly pleasures and other forms of excess and adverse social trends.

By ignoring the need for children’s literature, the Muslim community as a whole is shrouded in obscurity and in a pall of despondency. The time to take heed of this message is now.

***

References

Fadiman, Clifton. 1976. “The case for a children’s literature.” Children’s Literature, 5(1): 9-21.

Gilani-Williams, Fawzia and Stephen Bigger. 2010. “Muslim Pupils, Children’s Fiction and Personal Understanding.” ALMAS International Research Journal, 12(1):1–9.

Williams, Robert A. 2020. “Passing on religion as identity? Anglo-western Islamic children’s literature and Muslim acculturation.” Journal for Cultural Research, 24(2): 85-100.