Since this month is Ramadan, I wanted to highlight the books with Muslim representation that I’ve read and loved.
I’ll be giving you 10 recommendations, but I also wanted to shout out my current read (which I haven’t included in the list because I haven’t finished it yet): the Once Upon an Eid anthology, edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed, which has 15 stories by Muslim authors about Eid celebrations.
Please note that I’m not Muslim myself. I wanted to highlight some books I’ve loved with Muslim representation, but I do urge you to look up reviews of these books by Own Voices reviewers, as I can’t personally judge the representation. I do believe most of these are Own Voices!
S.K. Ali – Love From A to Z
A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.
An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.
But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.
When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.
Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.
Then her path crosses with Adam’s.
Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.
Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.
Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.
Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…
Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.
Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.
I actually just finished this book on Friday, but I had to include it because it’s SO GOOD. So many people recommended this to me, and they were all right. This is exactly my brand of contemporary: incredibly well written and with a meandering sort of story-telling that’s more slice of life than anything else and tackles various different subjects.
Adiba Jaigirdar – The Henna Wars
When Dimple Met Rishi meets Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda in this rom com about two teen girls with rival henna businesses.
When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.
Flávia is beautiful and charismatic and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat choose to do henna, even though Flávia is appropriating Nishat’s culture. Amidst sabotage and school stress, their lives get more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush on Flávia, and realizes there might be more to her than she realized.
Of course I had to include this amazing contemporary as well. This is a recent read as well, and it only recently came out. This book deals with Nishat, who comes out to her parents and has to deal with them struggling to accept her, as well as cultural appropriation at her school, when she starts a henna design business for a school assignment but one of her classmates does too. It’s a book that deals with heavy themes but isn’t in itself a very heavy book – it actually has a lot of cute moments.
Samira Ahmed – Internment
Rebellions are built on hope.
Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.
With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.
Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.
Onto a book that I think is a must read because of how relevant it is. This is a book that should be a scary dystopian, but is actually way closer to reality than is comfortable. It’s a really powerful story, by an author I really admire.
Hena Khan – Amina’s Voice
Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.
After a somewhat heavier read, I always find myself craving something cute, and so I often end up picking up a middlegrade contemporary. And this is such a heartwarming middlegrade on family, friendship, religion and community. The atmosphere of the cover matches the atmosphere of the book exactly.
S.A. Chakraborty – The City of Brass
Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.
But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.
In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.
After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for…
I try to be somewhat coherent in my book recommendations, but I just can’t with this book, I’m sorry. This is the start to one of my favourite adult fantasy series of all time. The third book in the Daevabad trilogy, The Empire of Gold, is set to come out in June, so this is the perfect time to start reading this wonderfully gripping and atmospheric fantasy! It’s full of badass and morally grey characters, which makes it such an intriguing read.
Jasmine Warga – Other Words For Home
I am learning how to be
at the same time.
Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.
At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US—and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before. But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.
Actually, I think this cover speaks for itself. This is again a middlegrade, and it’s a beautiful, evocative verse novel, dealing with immigration. It’s a very emotional book at times, but it’s also very hopeful, and I would honestly recommend this book to anyone.
Aminah Mae Safi – Tell Me How You Really Feel
Sana Khan is a cheerleader and a straight A student. She’s the classic (somewhat obnoxious) overachiever determined to win.
Rachel Recht is a wannabe director who’s obsesssed with movies and ready to make her own masterpiece. As she’s casting her senior film project, she knows she’s found the perfect lead – Sana.
There’s only one problem. Rachel hates Sana. Rachel was the first girl Sana ever asked out, but Rachel thought it was a cruel prank and has detested Sana ever since.
Told in alternative viewpoints and inspired by classic romantic comedies, this engaging and edgy YA novel follows two strongwilled young women falling for each other despite themselves.
I wouldn’t be on brand if I didn’t recommend you multiple LGBTQ+ books, so here’s to the second of three sapphic books on this list! I thoroughly enjoyed this hate-to-love YA contemporary which was heavily inspired by Gilmore Girls (because what if Rory and Paris fell in love?).
Sabina Khan – The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali
Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali tries her hardest to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, but lately she’s finding that harder and harder to do. She rolls her eyes instead of screaming when they blatantly favor her brother and she dresses conservatively at home, saving her crop tops and makeup for parties her parents don’t know about. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life in Seattle and her new life at Caltech, where she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer.
But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, all of Rukhsana’s plans fall apart. Her parents are devastated; being gay may as well be a death sentence in the Bengali community. They immediately whisk Rukhsana off to Bangladesh, where she is thrown headfirst into a world of arranged marriages and tradition. Only through reading her grandmother’s old diary is Rukhsana able to gain some much needed perspective.
Rukhsana realizes she must find the courage to fight for her love, but can she do so without losing everyone and everything in her life?
The third sapphic book I’m recommending is also the heaviest of all these books. This book was very difficult to read at times, and it made me feel so much. Mostly anger and frustration, but hope as well. Sabina Khan didn’t hold back at all. And rightfully so. I think that makes this a must read.
Tahereh Mafi – A Very Large Expanse of Sea
It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.
Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments – even the physical violence – she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.
But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her – they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds – and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.
How could I write this list without including the one and only Tahereh Mafi? This is such a personal, honest and heartfelt story. I really loved the main character, and it was heartbreaking to see how she was impacted by the world around her in so many ways. That makes it a very raw and very important story. And while this book is very different from Tahereh Mafi’s other books, her writing was beautiful as always.
G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona – Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal
Marvel Comics presents the new Ms. Marvel, the groundbreaking heroine that has become an international sensation!
Kamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City — until she’s suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. But who truly is the new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm! When Kamala discovers the dangers of her newfound powers, she unlocks a secret behind them, as well. Is Kamala ready to wield these immense new gifts? Or will the weight of the legacy before her be too much to bear? Kamala has no idea, either. But she’s comin’ for you, Jersey!
It’s history in the making from acclaimed writer G. Willow Wilson (Air, Cairo) and beloved artist Adrian Alphona (RUNAWAYS)! Collecting MS. MARVEL (2014) #1-5 and material from ALL-NEW MARVEL NOW! POINT ONE #1.
Let’s wrap up this recommendations list with my favourite superhero: Ms. Marvel! This was my first Marvel comic, and it’s such a fun series, with a wonderful main character and a great focus on family and friendship.
Have you read any of these books? What are your favourite books with Muslim representation and/or by Muslim authors?
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