Books to Deepen Our Understanding of the Countries on the #MuslimBan List


In order to understand something, I read, read, read. For I believe that in order to understand the dignity, the passions, the humanity of others, we have to imagine ourselves in their skin. It is my hope that sharing these books will encourage others to deepen their understandings of other people and cultures. I breathe books, so this is my method for deepening my own understanding, but please share other approaches that have worked for you.

1. Iran

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

This stunning text tells the story of two teenaged girls who are in love in Iran. I was mesmerized by its beauty and couldn’t wait to share it with others.

2. Iraq

Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers

This is an incredibly powerful book about a young man from Harlem who goes to war in Iraq. Initially, when I created this list, I intended to feature characters and authors who are from each of the countries on the #MuslimBan list, but this particular book vividly features the country and is a wonderful read.

3. Libya

In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar

This is a difficult text to read because it features complicated issues. It is told from the perspective of Suleiman, a 9-year-old boy who lives in 1979 Libya.

4. Somalia

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

I have not read this book, but it is coming my way through the Interlibrary Loan! An excerpt: “Infidel shows the coming of age of this distinguished political superstar and champion of free speech as well as the development of her beliefs, iron will, and extraordinary determination to fight injustice.” I can’t wait to read it!

5. Syria

In Praise of Hatred by Khaled Khalifa

This is a second book that I have on Interlibrary Loan, and it looks fantastic. The reviews note that it is dark, gritty, and eye-opening. I will report back after I’ve read it!

6. Sudan

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Many of the readers of this blog know this book quite well. It is This book is based on the true story of Salva Dut, a Lost Boy of Sudan. I know several teachers who do Water for South Sudan challenge with their students. This sort of advocacy is incredibly empowering.

7. Yemen

I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali

A friend told me about this book. She said it changed her. I have asked her to borrow her copy. In the meantime, I will share an excerpt: “I’m a simple village girl who has always obeyed the orders of my father and brothers. Since forever, I have learned to say yes to everything. Today I have decided to say no.”

I have read four out of seven of these books, and I am looking forward to diving into them all. I will never claim to be an expert, and I don’t believe that reading books that feature other countries will make me an expert. It will, however, help me better understand humanity. If you’ve read any of the books above, please comment, as I hope this can be a place for us to share books with each other. I would love any suggestions of other texts featuring these countries!

With the exception of Walter Dean Myers (who writes about an American who goes to Iraq), I intentionally chose texts that are written by authors who are from the countries they write about. This list is in no way exhaustive—reading one book set in one country most obviously will not help us understand the experiences of all (or even most) of the people who live there. It will, however, give us one snapshot of one life.


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