These Women Work for Better Depiction of Muslims in School Books

Starting their publishing house seven years ago, Tamara Gray and Najiyah Maxfield had a dream of offering a better selection of books that can help end misconceptions about Islam.

Today, they are having a bigger dream that go beyond challenging the stereotypes; they aim to broaden the depiction of Muslims in Minneapolis school books.

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“We have a goal of making fiction, have real characters, people who struggle, people who have room to grow,” said Maxfield, the head of Daybreak Press and author of Sophia’s Journal, a novel about a Muslim teenager sent back to the 19th century, Sahan Journal reported.

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Starting work in 2014, the press has published books from a variety of Muslim authors, and its collection ranges from textbooks to creative nonfiction. The press has a focus on uplifting work that is specifically created by Muslim women. 

While the representation of Muslim communities in Minnesota curriculums has changed for the better over the last decade, Gray believes there is still a lot of work to be done. 

“It’s really hard to actually work through the system to get books into the curriculum. Teachers and admin are positive and want to help, but actually following through and changing the system is hard,” Gray said.

Since it falls to teachers to find materials that represent their students, Gray plans to meet with school teachers in the fall to advocate for materials written about Muslim communities.

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With many publishing houses catering to Muslim children, the lack of proper material that focus on Muslim communities is no longer a challenge.

“Initially the argument used to be that there aren’t enough texts out there that are written by Muslim authors,” Deqa Muhidin, who works in the Multilingual department in Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) said.

“I’d like to think that that’s not the case, there are enough books or texts that were written by Muslim authors.”

Optimism

Muhidin Warfa, the executive director for English learners and global education for the multilingual department in MPS, is also optimistic about Muslim representation.

“The representation is growing, and not as much as we would like,” Muhidin said, whose department oversees English language learners and students taking World Languages courses.

“I think representation is key and students should be able to see themselves in the books that they read and the text that they’re accessing in their classrooms.” Deqa said. “We don’t have enough; we’d like to do more.” 

Maxfield is the award-winning author of many articles, poems and short stories. Her young adult novel, Sophia’s Journal, explores themes of inclusion and identity and is being taught in several middle and high schools across North America. She taught secondary level English and history in the States and university level English in Syria.

Dr. Tamara works as Executive Director for Rabata, building and sustaining its many and varied educational projects.

She is also a community faculty member at Metropolitan State University in the Ethics and Religious Studies department, and Associate Chaplain at the University of St. Thomas.

In recent years, Muslim writers have published several books to support diversity and counter racism.

In July 2019, Hamana, a certified life coach from Edmonton, published her first children’s book to help children and their parents counter bullying.

At that time, Hamana said she found herself compelled to publish her book after hearing the role bullying played in the suicide of a young Syrian refugee in Calgary.

In addition, Hudda Ibrahim from St Cloud, Minnesota, wrote a book in September 2019 to empower young Muslim girls and normalize the hijab.