11 Essential Reads By Muslim Women

by Swapna Krishna

Let’s have some real talk for a second: the headlines are frightening right now. Between Donald Trump's temporary refugee ban, religious tests upon entering the United States, and a terrorist attack on a mosque in Quebec by a supporter of the current American president, things are dire (and there’s always the ominous promise of more to come). It can feel like there’s nothing to do but despair. But there’s one thing so many of us know: This isn’t what we stand for. This isn’t who we are. And this isn’t the legacy we will leave.

Quite simply, we refuse.

One of the most important things to remember in this difficult time is the importance of reading. Reading books about people who don’t look, think, or act like us broadens our horizons. It turns them from an “other,” condemned out of fear, to just another neighbor. We have a duty to stand with our Muslim neighbors, to resist any attempts to separate them from the rest of us. Like any other faith or culture, Islam isn’t a monolith; these books by Muslim women show the many different facets of Islam. For those of us who aren’t Muslim, it’s important to read and share these books.


'The Unquiet Dead' by Ausma Zehanat Khan

This first novel in a lush mystery series features a Canadian governmental team — Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty — as they handle cases sensitive to minority communities. Khan has a Ph.D. in International Human Rights Law, and it shows with her deft maneuvering in this book, as the main characters confront a suspect with possible ties to the Srebrenica massacre, the genocide of over 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys. The subject might be heavy, but the novel is gripping, and the third in the series is out this month.

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'When the Moon Is Low' by Nadia Hashimi

Nadia Hashimi has become quite the prolific author, with four novels in the last three years. Hashimi is of Afghani descent living in the United States; her immigrant parents left Afghanistan in the 1970s in pursuit of something wondrous: the American Dream. In this novel, a schoolteacher named Fereiba must flee after the Taliban come to power in Afghanistan and they target and murder her husband. Along with her three children, Fereiba must find a way to survive and protect her family at any cost.

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'Bright Lines' by Tanwi Nandini Islam

Ella lives with her aunt, uncle, and cousin in Brooklyn, but she’s always felt torn between two worlds. Orphaned at a young age after her parents were murdered, Ella left Bangladesh, but she’s never really felt at home with her extended family. Islam writes a beautiful coming-of-age tale for Ella, while bringing Brooklyn to life for the reader. If you’re interested in some further reading, Tanwi Nandini Islam wrote a beautiful piece on Islamaphobia after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

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'Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America' by Firoozeh Dumas

When Firoozeh Dumas was seven years old, she and her family moved from Iran to the United States. She had no idea what to expect, and in this hilarious and moving book of essays, she chronicles her family’s adjustment to American life. It’s a light and humorous read, but it’s also a lovely portrait of the struggle to reconcile two identities, and to forge something entirely new for yourself.

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'Girls of Riyadh' by Rajaa Alsanea

Girls of Riyadh tells the story of four upper-class women living in Saudi Arabia as they come of age. Each of these young women is looking for love and a connection, but they are stymied by the strict rules they live under: they have so little contact with the opposite sex. Told through emails, this novel is a reflection of how modern technology has opened the lives of women in Saudi Arabia who can afford it, how the Internet presents new possibilities but also new challenges.

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'Madras on Rainy Days' by Samina Ali

This gorgeous debut novel features Layla, an Indian-American Muslim woman who has agreed to return to India for an arranged marriage. Ali explores the uncertainty that Layla feels, belonging to neither India nor America. What she wants most of all is to feel like she belongs, and she’s willing to go along with her family’s plans for her, even if she’s not sure of the outcome. But everyone is keeping secrets in order to push this marriage through; Ali deftly writes about inner turmoil and how external forces can pressure and change it.

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'Does My Head Look Big in This?' by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Amal is a rare sixteen-year-old: smart, funny, with a good group of friends. She loves her home country of Australia, but she’s also a proud and devout Muslim Palestinian. When she decides to start wearing a hijab full time, to cover her head, she encounters resistance from people she didn’t expect—but also support from many different corners. This novel does a beautiful job discussing many different types of Muslims, while also being smart, funny, and entertaining.

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'Revolt' by Qaisra Shahraz

Taking place in the (fictional) Pakistani village of Gulistan, Qaisra Shahraz’s novel wonderfully depicts rural life for the reader. The novel takes place surrounding the wedding of one of three daughters of a wealthy family from the village. Many people are flying in for the festivities, from as far away as London and the United States, and old secrets and resentments will be revealed as they proceed with the wedding. This is a delightful novel that has excellent character development and sense of place (and is just a lot of fun to read).

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'Minaret' by Leila Aboulela

This gorgeous story follows Najwa, a young woman who cleans houses for the wealthy in London. But once, she was wealthy, with dreams of her own—at home in Sudan, she had brilliant prospects and was well educated. However, a coup forced Najwa and her family to flee their home and try to make ends meet in a new, foreign country. It’s a beautiful story of loss, classism, and the search for home.

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'Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel' by Sara Farizan

Leila’s Persian heritage makes her stand out from the sea of white faces at her private school; if anyone found out she liked girls, instead of boys, it would be the end of her. But when a transfer student catches Leila’s eye, will she risk everything at the chance for love? This is a hilarious, heartwarming novel — Farizan’s characterization is excellent, and readers will root for Leila to find happiness and acceptance.

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'Secret Son' by Laila Lalami

Youssef El Mekki might have been raised in the slums of Casablanca, but he has dreams and hopes for himself. His father died when he was two years old, or so his mother told him — but as Youssef is about to start college, he learns the truth: his father is alive, and his mother has denied him a chance to make something more of himself. Youssef strikes out on his own, against his mother’s wishes, and must find his own identity and figure out who he is once and for all.

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