He just looked
at me condescendingly with that sort of smile that indicates a feeling of pity for the
passion of idealism and said, "The Muslim community has other needs right now. You
should get involved in the political struggle which I'm a part of." Then he proceeded
to try and convince me to be a part of his little project. I left without committing to
anything (with all the usual salaams and other platitudes). Here was another influential
person who refused to share a common vision among Muslims educated and raised here.
Everyday Muslims and non-Muslims ask questions about Islam. Some want light reading and
others want in-depth studies. Many seek spiritual solace or an increase in their
Taqwa and Eman. I know, as a former Christian, that bookstores are full of inspirational Christian
books and stories. When I first entered Islam eight years ago, I literally devoured book
after book after in my thirst for knowledge. After a while, however, I began to feel that
most for knowledge. After a while, however, I began to feel that most books were very
mechanical in nature. They talked about law or the five pillars or presented the beliefs
in a very rote way. The only reading that gave me solace was the Qur'an, hadith and a few
books by Muhammad Asad and other miscellaneous writers.
As my knowledge increased, as I
knew more and more, I wanted to delve deeper into the realms of spirituality and
practicality. How should I live as a Muslim today? How do I relate my faith to others?
What lessons can life teach the concerned Muslim? How does the Qur'an guide my hunger for
truth in this society? I looked avidly for pleasure reading that would help me in these
and other areas. But nearly every book, new and old, that I encountered still stressed the
same mechanical themes. Truly inspirational writing remained elusive.
And what of leisure reading
selections? I love science-fiction, historical fiction, classical autobiographies and
great literature. Where can I find, as Muslim, such things that would satisfy my tastes
and reflect my Islamic way of life? There's really not that much out there in these
categories. The situation is even more bleak if you talk about good youth stories for
teenagers and college-age Muslims. Sure there are lots of books in print, but most of them
are, again, boring, written poorly or simply not interesting enough to capture our young
When I walk through Borders
Books, Barnes & Noble or any other books store, I see that shelves come alive in the
religion section with colorful, interesting and inspirational books on Christianity,
Judaism, Hinduism and even Buddhism. But when I see the Islam section, most of the books
are basic-style technical manuals on Islam at best, or shirk-inducing, Sufi-style mystical
works that are totally outside the pale of Islamic teachings.
Where are the good, solid
inspirational books which show an accurate portrait of Islam as a beautiful pattern for
life? Where are the biographies of practical, everyday Muslim trying to make it through
Perhaps my own experience can
help in the understanding of this shortage. I have literally had a dozen influential men
tell me to give up writing because Muslims don't read. These men were doctors, school
administrators, Imams and political activists. When you hear you vision dashed by men you
normally would look up to, it can be very hard.
Also, some Muslims really don't
read or buy books seemingly on principle. My brother-in-law and myself sometimes hold book
tables at conventions. Many people come and get our books because they've never seen
anything like them. But a few people seem to walk by with a vacant stare on their faces.
Even if their children drag them to our table and beg to get one of our youth adventures,
this type of parent will say no and ask their children if they wouldn't want like a
sticker or poster instead from another table.
It's amazing the reasons which
have stunted the growth of our own writing industry are many and varied. We have
publishers who seek to suck the best deal of starving Muslim authors; we have wealthy
patrons shelling out thousands to print books that are boring, poorly written but they
like. This floods the market and lowers prices artificially so that genuine struggling
writers have to actually lose money in order to stay competitive. We also have booksellers
and stores who will only carry a book if some Sheikh or Maulana wrote it. (This is an
exaggeration, of course, but you get the point.)
In addition, Muslim immigrants
are oftentimes simply not aware of the wide choices available in reading because writing
styles in their home countries were limited. Can you imagine a man from Cairo reading
science fiction, poetic-prose, great plays, youth adventures, mysteries and such in his
youth? So when his American-raised child begs from an Ahmad Deen adventure or a
Muslim-oriented novella, he doesn't see it as valuable reading. Instead he may try to
steer his child towards reading he sees as worthwhile, like a boring technical manual on
Luckily, like situation is
beginning to improve. More native-born and second-generation Muslim authors are trying
their hands at writing and some true gems are beginning to shine forth. But in order for
this growth to be sustained, Muslims must take another look at the books being offered.
Some are boring, of course, but a lot of new books are interesting. Also, Muslim parents
are beginning to get fed up with their children reading Babysitter's Club, Goosebumps,
Fear Street and Sweet Valley High. These youth stories promote dating, lying, disrespect
for authority and many other poor values. Parents want a Muslim-based alternative that are
just as good as secular offering and written just as well.
I remember a conversation I had a
few years ago with an elderly, Indo-Pak doctor. He told me that when he was young so
exciting that you imam became strong and your enthusiasm for Islam was peaked. He lamented
that there were no such books for Muslim youth in English. Now the situations are
changing. All the well-meaning brothers could not discourage me and other Muslims like me
from using the pen for the service of Allah. I personally am working book number 14.
Uthman Hutchinson is on book number 30 or something like that. And many others are pushing
the bounds of the market ever further so we can provide for the needs of all Muslim
audiences right here in North America.
How can you help? Well, there's
an obvious answer and a not so obvious answer. Of course, be more willing to buy
Muslim-written books. But widen your horizon. Patronize new authors whose writing styles
interest you. Encourage you children to read Muslim-fiction and even buy the books for
them before hand. If there is an author you like particularly, follow up on them and see
what new things they've produced. Order from Muslim booksellers at least once or twice a
month. For you, it will only be a few dollars here and there. For them, it is an
encouragement to try new products and take a chance on new authors.
Together we can build a viable
alternative of good, inspirational and insightful Muslim-oriented writing that we can all
enjoy. May Allah help us to succeed with the pen in this society as we have succeeded in