Adventure Into Islam: Children’s Books on the Muslim Life

By Cynthia Mosher

calligraphy from the KoranThe events of September 11, 2001 , thrust Muslims and the Islamic world into the forefront of our national consciousness. The media have flooded us with pictures and words that speak of violence, hate, suspicion, and fear. The resulting covert and overt prejudice has shamed many of us into questioning just where our society is headed. The beauty of Islam is veiled as children and adults alike are manipulated in the effort to support and sustain the “war against terrorism.” Have our children become victims of that war?

Islam is the second largest religion in the world, with approximately 1.9 billion followers, but few of us can say that our children have Muslim friends or know what “Islam” means. While we may pride ourselves on raising our children with foundations of peace, tolerance, and understanding for all people, many parents have been misled by the media to negatively perceive a people and religion about which they know little. Both for ourselves and for our children, we need to take a more careful and compassionate look at just who Muslims are.

Books

The books listed here portray the lives of Muslims in different cultures. Most of the authors are Muslims themselves, which adds personal knowledge, experience, and emotion to their work.

Daughters of Another Path: Experiences of American Women Choosing Islam by Carol L. Anway describes the lives of 53 American-born women who embraced Islam, including the author’s own daughter. Their accounts detail lifestyle changes as well as the challenges of practicing Islam in a Western society. Ages 14 to adult. (Yawna Publications, 1995)

Zaki’s Ramadhan Fast by Ann P. El-Moslimany is about a young boy participating in the Muslim fast of Ramadhan for the first time. Zaki and his sister, Sarah, are American Muslims, children of a cross-cultural marriage–their mother is African-American, their father is from the Indian subcontinent. Illustrations by Erica L. Butler bring the tale to life, depicting Muslim dress and customs as well as American culture and habits. Ages 5 to 9 . (Amica Publishing House, 1994)

In Cheng Ho’s Voyage by Clyde-Ahmad Winters, Cheng Ho, a Chinese Muslim, is entrusted by his father to deliver a gold-leafed Qur-an to Abdullah Khang Ching. Sailing on his father’s boat to deliver this special treasure, Cheng Ho’s love for butterflies leads him to stray from his path along the river. The tests and trials he meets as a result, and the outcome of his adventure teach Cheng Ho many lessons-particularly that of honoring his responsibilities and the guiding words of his parents. Noura Durkee’s imaginative pen-and-ink drawings are a visual gateway to another culture. Ages 7 to 12 . (American Trust Publications, 1981)

In Doha Ya Doha, Halla bint Khalid translates a traditional Arabic lullaby mothers still sing to their babies today. It speaks of many things Muslims hold dear, such as Zam Zam water and the Ka’bah in Mecca . Colorfully illustrated by the author, this board book is sure to delight even the youngest readers. Ages 1 to 3. (Al-Farazdak Publishing [ Saudi Arabia ], 2000)

Kareem and Fatimah by Zeba Siddiqui is a collection of 13 stories about a contemporary Muslim family of no particular nationality. The author explores Islam’s role in the relationship between husband, wife, and children, especially through pregnancy and childbirth. In these sensitive narratives, we see Kareem lovingly guided by Mama and Baba through several key experiences: accepting and loving his newborn sister, Fatimah; going to school; and fasting. The introduction provides a helpful “Note to Parents” for those unfamiliar with Islam and Muslims. Ages 4 to 10 . (American Trust Publications, 1994)

In Aisha and the Turtle by Barbara Steinbauer, important environmental issues are addressed through the tale of a little Arab girl. Aisha lives in an Arabian Gulf village “where the oceans and mountains almost touch.” One day she falls asleep on the beach and dreamily ventures into the ocean on the back of a huge turtle, Um Sulhufa (“Mother Turtle” in Arabic). While on their ocean adventure, they encounter fishing nets and plastic bags, ever-present dangers to turtles in today’s polluted oceans. The book concludes with the words of Dr. Saif Al Ghais, who works with the Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency in the United Arab Emirates to protect turtles. Ages 4 to 10 . (Motivate Publishing, 2000)

Dahling, If You Luv Me, Would You Please, Please Smile by Rukhsana Khan tells the story of a Canadian girl who, as the only Muslim in her class, has almost no friends. Zainab is a devout child who is forced to face not only the exclusion of her peers, but also questions about her faith. Through her older sister, Layla, she learns to understand who she is, and who she can be. Winner of the Manitoba Young Reader’s Choice Honour Award, this book depicts the difficulty of remaining true to one’s own values and beliefs. Ages 12 and up. (Stoddart Kids, 1999)

Also by Rukhsana Khan, The Roses in My Carpets is based on the life of Kareem, the refugee child the author sponsors. Simply yet powerfully, Kahn writes of a nameless young boy’s painful life in war-torn Afghanistan : “It’s always the same. The jets scream overhead.” Living in poverty, dirt, and dust, the boy finds solace in weaving an array of roses into the carpets he makes to sell. With tender watercolors by Ronald Himler, this beautifully written book shows us that the human spirit can, indeed, be healed. Ages 7 to 12 . (Holiday House, 1998)

Isabella: A Girl of Muslim Spain by Yahiya John Emerick is based on M. Saeed Dehlvi’s classic tale a young girl in medieval Spain , who finds herself drawn to Islam. As she struggles with her father’s passionate Christian beliefs and her own curiosity about another religion, Isabella discovers inner strength and a sense of conviction. Ages 9 and up. (International Books & Tapes Supply, 1998)

In What Everyone Should Know about Islam and Muslims, Suzanne Haneef, an American who embraced Islam more than 30 years ago, answers the most common questions about the religion and its practice. It covers the basic teachings; beliefs about society, government, women, family, and morals; and how Western Muslims practice their faith. For a free copy, log onto www.discoverislam.net/what_everyone_should_know_about_Islam_and_Muslims.htm. Ages 15 to adult. (Library of Islam, 1996)

Music

A is for Allah by Yusuf Islam is a collection of children’s melodies by the former Cat Stevens, who converted to Islam in 1977. With rich sound effects and the voices of several other prominent Muslim artists, this album uses the 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet to portray the beauty of Islam as a faith and Muslims as a people. As in his other work, Yusuf Islam sings mainly a capella, the only accompaniment being touches of the “duff,” an open-ended Arabian drum. All ages. ( Mountain of Light , 2001)

Video

Adam’s World, produced by Abdul Malik Mujahid launched the children’s series of the same name and offers a more visual and active representation of Muslim children. The star is a puppet named Adam, who befriends children and teaches them about being a Muslim in faraway parts of the world. Lessons about the Arabic alphabet, lovely examples of Islamic art, and depictions of basic Muslim acts of worship, such as ablutions for prayer, are featured throughout. Ages 2 to 9 . (Sound Vision)

Cynthia Mosher is an American who has lived almost half her life in Arabia. She has studied Arabic language and Islamic culture. Cynthia serves as Mothering’s Webmaster and is also the editor and publisher of VegFamily.com.