“10 Books with Muslim Representation”
by Basma Heda, senior in college, Kellee’s Student from 2012-2018, and Bookstagram Reviewer @BookishBasma (#23 on Buzzfeed’s “24 Bookstagrammers You Need to Follow if Reading is Your Jam 5/6/21)!
Everyone deserves to see themselves in a story. Especially when it comes to Muslims, a group that’s often villainized and misrepresented in the media, readers deserve to see themselves as the hero, as the person falling in love, as the person just living life. In addition to being a massive bookworm and the owner of 200+ books, I’m also a hijab-wearing Muslim woman, and I didn’t see myself on a page until the year 2020. The first time it happened, I cried a minimum of six times during the book, and then an additional 15 minutes after I finished (it was at 1am). I was seeing myself on a page for the first time in my life, and I want to spread that feeling. Here’s ten books with Muslim representation for all ages.
Other Words For Home by Jasmine Warga
Written in verse, Other Words For Home follows Jude who leaves her hometown in Syria due to the conflict and comes to America with her mom, leaving behind her brother and her father. Thrust into a new world and armed only with the English she’s learned from her favorite movies, Jude learns to navigate a society that makes it abundantly clear she’s not welcome. It’s a coming of age story that tackles Islamophobia, the struggles of being an immigrant, and a child who just wants to belong. This was an absolutely beautiful story that made me cry multiple times, and I want to shout about it from the rooftops.
Amina’s Voice & Amina’s Song by Hena Khan
This is a duology follow Amina, a Pakistani-American Muslim girl who loves to sing. In addition to navigating middle school and all its ups and downs, Amina experiences quite a bit of Islamophobia. Her mosque is vandalized and she struggles with her identity as a Pakastani American throughout the series. Even with all these obstacles, Amina continues to grow and find her confidence, and it was wonderful to see! This was an adorable series that’s perfect for any middle grade (or really any age) student!
City of the Plague God by Sarwat Chadda
A part of the Rick Riordan imprint, this book is about Mesopotamian mythology in the modern world with, get this, a MUSLIM main character. The story follows Sik, a witty and determined thirteen year old who’s trying to survive middle school and the grief of losing his brother when he’s suddenly thrust into the world of Mesopotamian mythology. Suddenly Sik is responsible to save not just his parents, but all of Manhattan. Joined by Belet (a fierce warrior and the adopted daughter of Ishtar, the goddess of love and war) and a retired hero named Gilgamesh, Sik faces demons and a fast spreading plague in his rush to save the city. I was originally nervous on how mythology would work with a monotheistic religion, but it was done with grace and respect and I loved every second of it. A must read for any mythology fan!
Once Upon An Eid edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed
Written by multiple authors, this book is a collection of short stories written about the Muslim holiday Eid! The stories are so heartwarming and really showcase a variety of cultures and backgrounds coming together for a joyous holiday. One of my comfort books!
More to the Story by Hena Khan
A modern, Muslim retelling of Little Women, this was the cutest book! Our main character, Jameela, is an aspiring journalist who’s biggest challenge is her strict editor-in-chief. In between the school paper, the new boy at school, and solving problems in between her siblings, Jameela is pretty busy. However, when her father has to take a job overseas and her youngest sister gets sick, Jameela’s world is turned upside down. This is a tear-jerker of a story with the most wholesome moments.
Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali
Remember at the beginning how I mentioned that there was a book that made me cry because it was the first time I saw myself? It’s this one. Love from A to Z is one of those books I feel like everyone needs to read. The hijabi main character, Zayneb, is an outspoken and strong woman, and there is so much of myself that I see in her. While this book is a cute romantic contemporary, it’s also a story of struggling with Islamophobia. Zayneb experiences multiple Islamophobic encounters, with her professors, going to the pool, and just trying to live her life. I remember reading this book for the first time, and I felt so SEEN and so validated. It was a reminder that I wasn’t alone in my struggles, that a hijabi like me could have a story without becoming the villain or the person needing “liberating”. Seeing Zayneb double down on her identity and refuse to budge was so empowering, and seeing myself represented on the page like that meant more to me than words could convey.
Saints & Misfits and Misfit in Love by S.K. Ali
These two books follow Janna Yusuf, an Arab-Indian American hijabi, who’s stubborn, outspoken, and a tad boy-crazy. While the books follow the same characters, they are vastly different in theme.
Saints & Misfits: This is not a cute, fluffy contemporary. The main character, Janna is sexually assaulted by someone well respected in the Muslim community, and the book follows her journey in trying to cope and her struggle in wondering if anyone will believe her. The character development Janna goes through blew me away, and I was crying by the end. My heart still aches just thinking about it and it’s a book that will be staying with me for a while.
Misfit in Love: This book picks up two years later, in the midst of wedding preparations for Janna’s brother. Everybody knows what a drama fest weddings can turn into, and that’s exactly what happens here. In addition to last minute wedding changes, Janna is dealing with drama of her own, as she attempts to understand her feelings about the love square (yes, you heard that right) that seems to be closing in.
Both books have fantastic Muslim rep (although I have some minor issues with the portrayal of hijab in the first book) and I highly recommend both books.
Adult (note: clean, safe for teens)
Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin
A retelling of You’ve Got Mail, this book was a whirlwind of drama, love, gut-wrenching pain, and forgiveness. Hana is a brilliant MC and her perspective was such a great place to read from. Good Muslim representation in all forms of media is often an uphill battle, and we see Hana fighting that battle at her job at the radio station, when they want to run stories on Muslim communities that would actually be harmful. In addition to the fight for proper rep, Hana also deals with quite a bit of Islamophobia. The sensitive subject was written so well and I absolutely bawled. The romance was angsty, adorable, and basically everything I wanted from a halal Muslim enemies-to-lovers.
Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin
A contemporary Muslim retelling of Pride & Prejudice, this story blew me away. The romance was absolutely adorable, and I am in LOVE with our main characters. I see a lot of myself in Ayesha, and Khalid was just so awkward, I couldn’t handle the cuteness! Similarly to Pride & Prejudice, I could not STAND Khalid’s mom (think Mrs. Bennett but so much worse). In addition to the romance, the story also touched on the intricacies of the Muslim community and the importance of our relationships with each other, and how we grow from them. Seeing how our characters navigated their faith and desires in a world that doesn’t always agree with it added so much to the story.
Thank you so much, Basma, for your recommendations!!
(And everyone else: Make sure to go follow Basma on Instagram! You won’t be disappointed!)