Posted in Blog Posts

Welcome to Hijabi Librarians!

Eid mubarak and welcome to our blog. Please check out the other sections of Hijabi Librarians to see what we currently have up and get a sense of where we are heading, insha’Allah.

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Posted in Reviews

Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes by Hena Khan

Khan, Hena.Cresent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes. Mehrdokht Amin, Illus. Picture Book. Chronicle, 04/2018. 32 pp. $17.99. 978-1452155418. RECOMMENDED. TODDLER – 8.

This review was written and published in June 2018 for The Association of Children’s Librarians of Northern California (ACL) 

“Cone is the tip of the minaret so tall. I hear soft echoes of the prayer call,” begins this charming picture book which explores a variety of everyday shapes and angles, as experienced by Muslims of diverse skin tones, who are depicted living, playing, and worshipping together.

Written and illustrated by the author and illustrator duo responsible for Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors (2012), the colorful and multidimensional images feature mixed media illustrations in deep hues and majestic colors. Amini brings her distinctive style to the work, which includes traditional Islamic geometric patterns and sacred calligraphy. While most of the shapes highlighted are easily detected, a few require a keen eye or re-positioning of the page to see them clearly. Some structures represented within the work are clearly identified, while the architectural style of others suggests that the setting could be in any Muslim community across the globe.

Amini takes care to give detail to demonstrate the ethnic diversity of Muslims: a dark-brown complexioned woman, who appears to be of African descent, has neat cornrows with traditional hair accessories, while some light-brown complexioned women have intricate henna markings on their hands and faces. These subtle cues, as well as the different styles of head coverings worn by the men and women in the book, deftly acknowledge the myriad Muslim cultures that exist.

Every other page of the book features a shape, with a short lyrical description of its role in a Muslim’s life that includes Islamic terms which will be familiar to Muslims but may be unknown to non-Muslim readers. A glossary explains those Islamic terms, while an author’s note offers context and a brief history of the Islamic art tradition. Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes is a welcome addition to a variety of collections and may be enjoyed by those familiar with Muslims and Islamic culture, as well as those wanting to learn more about the everyday joys of Muslim life.

 

Posted in Reviews

Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

Thompkins-Bigelow, Jamilah. Mommy’s Khimar. Ebony Glenn, Ilus. Picture Book.
Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster, 04/2018. 40pp. $17.99. 978-1534400597. RECOMMENDED. Toddler – 8.

“A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears,” explains a young African-American girl in the opening pages of Mommy’s Khimar, a new picture book from Simon and Schuster’s Salaam Reads imprint, written by first-time author, educator, and activist Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and illustrated by Ebony Glenn.

The term “khimar” may be new to many who know the headscarf worn by Muslim women as a “hijab” based on public discourse about the garb, but for some, including many African-American Muslims, “khimar” has long been the preferred term for the head-covering.

As an African-American Muslim myself, I have eagerly awaited the publication of Mommy’s Khimar. Finally, a book with characters that look like me and my family, and uses familiar language. Turns out, I’m not alone.

In a mother’s group of African-American Muslims that is on Facebook, information about Mommy’s Khimar has been excitedly shared over and over again, with many planning to purchase a copy to read with their daughters.

The two copies ordered for our branch were checked out immediately; a quick look at my library system’s online catalog shows that half of the system’s copies are currently checked out.

Written in the first-person voice of a young unnamed African-American girl, Mommy’s Khimar explores a little girl’s fascination with her mother’s khimars. In some picture books, the text or illustrations, outshine the other. In this case, both are truly are stellar.

The digitally rendered illustrations are bold, eye-catching, and exude joy. Rich yellows, vibrant blues, and soft pastels jump from every page.

The text includes short, lyrical sentences about her imaginative adventures with her mother’s collection of multicolored mother’s scarves. Eventually, she finds one that’s yellow, her favorite color, and begins to imagine the possibilities:

“When I wear Mommy’s khimar, I shine like the sun. I dive and become a shooting star into a pile of clouds.”

“When I put on Mommy’s khimar, I become a queen with a golden train.”

“When I wear Mommy’s khimar, I am a superhero in a cape, dashing from room to room at the speed of light.”

These scenes authentically capture the delight that Muslim girls find in playing in their mother’s scarves. My social media feeds are full of proud mamas showcasing their daughters doing the exact same thing. Mommy’s Khimar, however, does more than just demonstrate how Muslim children have fun playing with their mother’s scarves. It captures and gives voice to the beautiful dynamic of a typical African-American Muslim family. It depicts a loving relationship with the girl’s father, who lovingly “snatches her up” and “tickles” and kisses her.

Subtly, Mommy’s Khimar challenges beliefs about Muslims and expands the perception of what it means to be Muslim. For example, In the discourse about Muslim women’s clothing, what is often left out is that many Muslim men often also wear head coverings of religious significance. In Mommy’s Khimar, the father wears a head cap often worn by Muslim men. This detail normalizes wearing a head covering for both men and women.

When the girl’s grandmother comes for a visit, she says: “When I wear Mommy’s khimar and Mom-Mom visits after Sunday service, she sings out, “Sweet Jesus!” and calls me sunshine Mom-Mom doesn’t wear a khimar. She doesn’t go to the mosque like Mommy and Daddy do. We are a family and we love each other just the same.”

These just might be my favorite lines in the book.

The interaction between the girl and her grandmother captures so much of the African-American familial experience: multi-faith, intergenerational families, loving each other and respecting their religious differences and choices. I am reminded of my own family members who edit favorite recipes to make them pork-free and who wear their Sunday church best at mosque functions.

At the mosque, a group of elder Muslim women, themselves dressed in colorful and flowing khimars, make the child feel special:

“When I go to the mosque, the older women coo, “As Salaamu alaikum, Little Sis!”

There, a group of children with differing skin tones also admire her scarf, while her Arabic teacher, herself with dark skin, exclaims, “Beauti-ful! Beautiful hijab!” It’s important that the Arabic teacher in the book is depicted as having dark skin. It is a thoughtful and deliberate choice that challenges that common fallacy that Arabs and/or Arabic is only the domain of light-complexioned peoples.

At the end of the day, the young girl and her mother remove their scarves. Her mother’s hair is illustrated like hers is, black, and curly. That her mother is pictured with a scarf on and without,  is meaningful. A common question for many Muslim women who cover their hair in public is: “Do you have hair under there?”

Perhaps the only thing that would have made this book more perfect for me was to see more variety in the representation of khimar styles, as it’s quite common for Muslim women of African descent to elaborately style their scarves. This absence of variety, however, doesn’t distract from the beauty, grace, and joy within the book.

Ultimately, Mommy’s Khimar succeeds in simultaneously being a “mirror” into African-American Muslim families and communities, as a well as a “window” for readers who are less familiar with families and communities represented in the book. It certainly can serve as a “sliding glass door” for anyone who has played dress-up with a parent’s clothing.

Mommy’s Khimar is a welcome addition to the canon of children’s literature about Muslim children and families because of what it doesn’t do.

It doesn’t apologize for khimars/hijabs.

It doesn’t seek to justify or rationalize why they are not oppressive.

There is no hardship in being Muslim and no space is given to Islamophobes.

Mommy’s Khimar celebrates the unbridled happiness of one Muslim child, her family, and members of her Muslim community.  

Authors and publishers, take note. More books like this one, please.

The book succeeds as both a one-on-one read between child and caregiver, as well with a group, such at a storytime, and would be a wonderful and unique addition to personal collections, as well as those of school and public libraries.

 

Posted in Author Interviews

Author Interview: Hena Khan

Hena Khan is an author of Picture Books and Middle Grade books for children, and range from her Scholastic Worst-case Scenario books to her books about Islam and Muslim identity. Her latest series Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream focuses on third-generation, Pakistani-American Zayd and his dreams of playing professional basketball. You can find out more about Hena on her website, following her on Twitter or checking out her author pages on Salaam Reads, a Simon & Schuster imprint or Chronicle Books.

Interview Questions were compiled by Hadeal Salamah and Ariana Hussain

  1. When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer? What inspired you to become a writer?
    I always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a little kid who wrote stories, plays, and epic poems because I thought it was fun! I’m pretty sure that my love for books and reading for pleasure, which was a big part of my childhood, was what inspired me to want to write myself.
  2. How did you decide to write for youth and what is your main message to them?
    I started to write for kids because that was the time in my life when books impacted me the most and helped shaped who I am today. I love the idea of my books resonating with kids the same way my favorites did with me. I don’t think I have a message for youth as much as I want to create books with relatable characters they can connect with, and content that excites them and makes them want to keep reading. At the same time, many of my books do have Muslim themes and characters as I think we need these stories that didn’t exist when I was a kid. I hope my stories help bring understanding and hopefully foster compassion and tolerance in addition to serving to represent kids who haven’t always been included in the literature.Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns
  3. For Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns and Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets what was your thought process in deciding which Islamic elements to relate with different colors and shapes?
    When I wrote Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, I picked concepts and objects that represent the major tenets of the faith, like prayer, fasting, charity, etc and linked them to various colors. Some of the elements were obvious color choices, like dates for brown, while others aren’t necessarily correlated in real life. When writing Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets, I kind of wished I had saved a few things from the first book that would work great as shapes! But I tried again to focus on things are very significant in the Muslim faith or Islamic traditions and link them to shapes.
  4. When you talk about Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets, you mentioned that the people in the book are Muslims from all over the world and mention specific countries. If you can, please tell us which countries, if any are represented in each spread, particularly rectangle and hexagon. Was this your choice or preference, your illustrator Mehrdokht Amini’s choice, an editorial decision or a collective one? In the book you do not mention specific countries, why? Was that an intentional choice?
    The idea to represent different countries was a natural fit when presenting shapes and highlighting Islamic art and architecture. It was my initial suggestion, but everyone agreed and was on the same page. It was a way to highlight the diversity that exists among Muslims and include things that are found in different parts of the world. We considered mentioning which countries are depicted in the author’s note, but chose not to since many of the spreads could represent more than one. In other cases, like the Ka’aba spread, it’s obvious where it is. I’ll tell you that the rectangle spread is Zanzibar, Tanzania, and that we might include a list of countries on the discussion guide that is being finalized.
  5. This is your second collaboration with Mehrdokht Amini are beautiful in being both visually striking and having textual flow. We understand that editors/publisher pair authors and illustrators together. Was is just luck that Amini was able to work with you on the second book, a request from you, or a decision to create continuity?
    We were overjoyed to work with Mehrdokht on Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, which was actually the first children’s book she published in the US. Both my publisher and I discovered her portfolio, were blown away, and wanted her for the project. And she did such a phenomenal job. When it came to a sequel, we couldn’t imagine anyone else illustrating it, and luckily she agreed since she has been busy working on a number of gorgeous books.
  6. Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets has a lovely author’s note that we appreciate for its references to geometry and shapes in Islamic art and architecture, which we know from school but many readers will not. It is a great discussion point and may create further curiosity and inquiry in students. We noticed that Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns does not have an author’s note. Is there a reason why it does not? Was the decision to include an author’s note in Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets based on a need you saw for further information?
    Shapes and geometry have a special significance in Islamic art and architecture that I felt was important to highlight, which is why we included an author’s note in Crescent Moons. For Golden Domes, there wasn’t the same need to delve deeper into the role of colors.
  7. Because there are so many extensions that can be done with these books for Muslim and non-Muslim children did you ever feel like you had to include teaching resources or more back matter?I’ve been delighted to see all the ways that my books have been used, and the creative lessons, crafts, and activities people have developed over the years. Chronicle Books is in the process of developing comprehensive teacher guides for Night of the Moon, Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, and Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets which will be available for download soon, including on my website.Amina's Voice
  8. Your middle grade book, Amina’s Voice, features a Pakistani-American middle schooler whose experience, while representative is also quite universal. Have you seen it resonate with children of different religious or ethnic backgrounds from Amina?
    Absolutely! I’ve had children and adults of all backgrounds, races, genders and ages tell me that they connected with Amina and her story and could relate to her on many levels, which is enormously gratifying. I’ve had a librarian in upstate rural New York tell me that a little white boy in her book club said he could sympathize with Amina, a teacher working with a Somali refugee in Atlanta say that the book was the first her student was motivated to read in full, and immigrants from all backgrounds, from Ecuador to Ethiopia, tell me that they could relate to her experience. It was really important to me to create a character that people could see themselves in and connect with, despite differences.
  9. You mentioned on your website that the masjid in Amina’s Voice reflects elements of your masjid growing up. Did your community also have a similar demographic? What is your community like now?
    When I describe the physical structure of the masjid inAmina’s Voice, it’s actually the masjid that was constructed while I was in grade school located in Maryland. It was primarily attended by the Pakistani immigrants who built it back in the 1980s but it has shifted to have a more diverse population over the years. There are a lot of communities in my area now, including some that are trying to overcome ethnic divides and create a more unified community.
  10. You have spoken before about how your parents were supportive of your dreams and did not pressure you to become a doctor or an engineer. (Ariana: Those were my Pakistani-American husband’s two choices). Not everyone has parents who are as supportive of choosing different careers. What words of encouragement do you have for children (or families) of aspiring writers, whose families may not be as supportive?
    As a parent, I can understand the desire to steer your children towards careers where they will have a stable income. My parents recognized that I was more verbal than scientifically or mathematically inclined, and even though they didn’t push me to be a doctor or engineer, my mother would have loved for me to be a lawyer, which I considered for a little while. I ended up worked in international health communications, writing and editing and disseminating research findings, and writing children’s books on the side. I only started writing full-time as an author in the past few years. I would encourage anyone who loves to write to DO IT! Do it in your spare time, even if you have another career to pay the bills (which you will likely need). And hopefully what is a passion can turn into a profession eventually. You don’t need to study creative writing or get an MFA to succeed as a writer. Just make sure to keep reading and working on your craft. And families will come around when they see you are serious about it and have skill and hopefully some success. But it take a lot of hard work and commitment.
  11. We talk a lot about windows and mirrors for marginalized readers/reader’s of color. Where and when did you first see yourself in literature? We recognize that identity is intersectional, so please do list multiple titles, if applicable, that coincide with your identity.
    I saw aspects of myself in some of the books I read as a kid. I loved the book Little Women, probably because that family was more traditional and conservative than modern American families, and I could relate to it on many levels. But I never saw a true reflection of myself, a Pakistani American Muslim girl, in the literature. When I was in college I searched for myself and found South Asian authors, but most were women from India, so I could only relate to a point. I saw elements of my experience in other literature I read–African American, Caribbean, and East Asian. But the first time I truly recognized myself and my life in a book was The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri when I was in my 30s.
  12. Do you feel that books featuring Muslims are being created and marketed in a positive way? Are there trends you like or hope will change?
    zayd saleem.jpgI think there are books that feature Muslims both positively and negatively, written by Muslims and non-Muslims. I hope the trend will be to move away from books related to the terrorist narrative, and away from books that highlight pain, oppression and discrimination, or “otherness” and in favor of more books that feature other themes or kids who aren’t struggling with identity issues. That’s why I’m excited about myZayd Saleem: Chasing the Dream series–it’s fun and lighthearted and I think Muslim kids deserve to be heroes in books and deal with regular kid issues.
  13. What books are on your #Muslimshelfspace?
    I have a lovely and pretty extensive collection of picture books, since I bought everything I could find from mainstream publishers over the years, including early Ramadan books like Ramadan Moon and My First Ramadan, Eid stories like Nabeel’s New Pants and The Best Eid Ever, folktales and poetry like The Conference of the Birds and Mulla Nasruddin, and successful self published titles like Ilyas and Duck. I have non-fiction books, and books published by Muslim publishers of varying quality. And now I’m happy to have a growing collection of middle grade and young adult fiction, including everything by N.H. Senzai, Sheba Karim, Randa Abdul Fateh, G. Willow Wilson, and more, along with my fellow Salaam Reads authors, Karuna Riazi and SK Ali. Plus it’s exciting to see a new crop of Muslim writers publishing new titles that are coming out this year!
  14. Have you ever felt pressure to edit anything out of your books or fulfill a certain image of a Muslim or Muslim family? Do you feel like Muslim writers are pressured to include or not include specifics about Muslims or Muslim communities in their narratives from publishers, editors, agents or even readers?
    No, but it took me a while to accept the fact that I cannot and don’t have to represent all Muslims in my work, especially since early on I was one of the few Muslim children’s writers out there. I put that pressure on myself and worried about writing things from a Pakistani perspective, and how others might react to that or question their authenticity. In general, I have tried to challenge stereotypes in my work, for example by requesting a variety of races, cultures and styles in the illustrations of my books. I think we all hear things or get feedback from readers from time to time about what should and shouldn’t be included, but I haven’t been pressured by my editors, agent or publishers.
  15. What is the best way to support Muslim authors, agents, editors, librarians and those involved in creating Muslim literature? What do you hope the literature world looks like for Muslims in the coming years?
    Honestly, the best things you can do are buy books written by Muslim authors (preferably from independent bookstores, but anywhere will do); leave reviews and help promote them among readers, librarians, bloggers, and others; be positive and encouraging; and celebrate the success of others. We need more Muslim librarians, agents and editors as much as we need Muslim writers, if not more, so I hope to see more of them in the years to come. And in the future, I hope Muslim writers just be seen as writers and that “diverse books” are just seen as books that reflect the world we live in and don’t need to be called out for what they are.
  16. What is something that you would like your readers to know about you?
    I’m so incredibly grateful to everyone who has read my books, made them a part of their lives and their families, and shared them with others. I have days where I feel low or insecure or anxious about the future, and alhumdulilah I will get a note or a message or something that reminds me that my work is valued and means something to people, and it makes all the difference in the world to me and keeps me going. Thank you so much for your encouragement and support. I need it more than you know!
Posted in Author Interviews

Author Interview: Alexis York Lumbard

Alexis (Rabiah) Lumbard York is an author of mostly children’s picture books that are aimed at younger readers, but reach readers of all ages. Many of York’s tales have Middle Eastern origins but transcend religious labels, conveying an ethereal sense of the divine that is be accessible to children of many religious and non-religious backgrounds. For more information about York, please visit her website or her featured author page on Wisdom Tales.

Interview Questions were compiled by Ariana Hussain and Hadeal Salamah

  1. If you feel comfortable with this question, how do you identify yourself? (i.e. religion, ethnicity, nationality, sexual identity, gender, etc.)
    I feel most comfortable identifying myself as a simple human being. I like the Quranic word
    nafs, or soul, because it is related to your mental state and character and that is what I’d like to be identified the most with–at least that part of us which strives be more–the higher nafs. Outwardly we can be any ethnicity, nationality, gender or orientation–none of which I think matters all that much. It’s the stuff on the inside which matters. But outwardly, yes, I’m American, white, heterosexual and female. My inward life is very much defined by my religion (Islam) but it isn’t the only expression of truth which speaks to me. I guess you can say I am a human trying to enjoy life and not leave too much of a trace, except for those traces which are beautiful and harmless. 
  2. You say on your blog that if it weren’t for motherhood that you would not have become an author and that the books that you wanted to read to your daughters did not exist. Could you expand on this?
    Sure! Over a decade ago, when I was expecting my second daughter and my first was old enough to move from board books to longer stories, I was searching for titles which could expose her to Islam or Muslim characters. I was especially looking for something to teach her about the life of the prophet (peace be upon him) and apart from Demi’s book there was nothing of quality in English. And while Demi’s book is beautiful, it was too mature (too long and too complex) for a young child. So I thought I should write one myself! Haa! I soon realized that writing was difficult. I also realized that I loved the process and kept to it–attending SCBWI conferences and reworking the story. Because it was faith-based I decided to self publish it as an app. It is still one of my favorite books, but it never really took off, I think in part because we chose to illustrate the Prophet visually (face covered, though). At any rate, it was a valuable experience and I hope to resurrect the story in some form shortly.
     
  3. Two of your books The Conference of the Birds and When the Animals Saved the Earth are illustrated by Demi. Demi’s illustration are a perfect pairing to your text, which is so lovely, lyrical and spiritual. Was this a choice that your editor made alone? Did you have any input or was it just a lucky pairing?cover of Conference of the Birds
    Great question. Typically speaking, books are first accepted by a publisher in manuscript form. A writer painstakingly creates a story, submits it to publishers and hopes someone grabs it. It is then the responsibility of the publisher to find an illustrator. Most larger publishers do not seek the input of the author. They have a design team and the design team executes the choice. There are exceptions, though, especially with smaller publishers. In my case this book had many exceptions to the rule, for after I wrote a final draft for The Conference of the Birds, I first contacted Demi and she pounced on it (having always wanted to illustrate the book). She told me to sell it and I did (Wisdom Tales Press, 2012). It was an unusual pathway to publication.
     
  4. The Conference of the Birds and When the Animals Saved the Earth are both based off of Persian Sufi poetry and a century old fable respectively. How did you come to select these works to interpret?
    My husband is an academic. His speciality is Islamic studies, especially classical Islam, so he often feeds me interesting story ideas. Sometimes they stick, sometimes they don’t! I have to be able to first wrap my head around the original story and feel compelled to adapt it for children (and then to figure out how exactly to do that!). I also enjoy browsing academia.edu for ideas, which can lead one in fascinating directions. The site posts more articles than full books, which I find easier to digest.
  5. Your books are very spiritual and sophisticated, yet Conference of the Birds is labeled as being for readers ages 4-8. There is a sense of love for God, humility, and longing. When you have presented the story to younger readers what has their perception been of the story, especially the trials of each of the birds (i.e. the hawk and the partridge)? What do they take away from the book and its message?Image result for conference of the birds york
    It is true that there is a vast world of difference, cognitively and developmentally speaking, from age 4 to 8. This is one of the challenges of picture books. How do we create a story that can be understood and enjoyed by such a wide range of little people? Honestly, when I adapted The Conference of the Birds, it was easier in my mind to focus on the higher end of that age group. But as I toured schools and mosques and read the book to audiences who were closer to the younger end of that spectrum, I realized that little kids can and do understand–though it is more visceral–less “academic.” We stop and talk about the size of the bird or the speed of a bird and how or why that might symbolize some of the ideas presented in the book. They get it. You can see it in their eyes–the way they light up and widen. It is magical to see and has taught me to never underestimate your audience.
     
  6. We talk a lot about windows and mirrors for marginalized readers and readers of color. Where and when did you first see yourself in literature? We recognize that identity is intersectional, so please do list multiple titles, if applicable, that coincide with your identity.
    As a child I wasn’t an avid reader. I read what I needed to–for school and homework–but I didn’t read freely and spontaneously as my own children do. Most of my memories are of playing outside and getting dirty in the creek behind our northern Virginia townhome or as a teen hiking in the Shenandoah mountains. Nature was my favorite book and nature never discriminates. Once I actually converted to Islam (as an older teen–18), I was focused more on academic books–on learning my new religion. So the issue at that time was moot to me. And that was pre-September 11th. The world has changed a great deal since then. But now, as a parent and an author, I’m undoubtedly passionate about intersectional books–fiction and nonfiction–which speak to the wide experience of American Islam. There are more books coming out which reflect this, but it is still a small percentage (then again we’re a tiny group). I’m curious how my own kids would answer this question. Only my eldest, now a teen, remembers what it was like growing up in the states. We currently live outside Dubai and are moving soon to Doha. Both countries are very international. My kids are third culture kids. Back home they are religious minorities. Here they are ethnic minorities. Most of their classmates (who are mostly Arab or South Asian) cannot believe they are “actually Muslim.” Because they are “white” and ‘American.” In a way, we are constantly “explaining” ourselves (overseas and at home). On that level our identities are flexible and I think that is a healthy approach.
     
  7. What other authors and titles in the area of “spirituality” for children do you appreciate or recommend reading? How does their work impact your own?
    Sometimes I find the word “spiritual” to be off-putting. So rather than recommend books which are “spiritual” I think it is much easier to speak of books which are written from the heart (so much less pressure on the writer and the reader). To that end, I highly recommend picture book author and illustrator Leo Lionni, middle grade authors Kate DiCamillo, Pam Munoz Ryan and Sharon M. Draper, and YA authors John Green, Renee Watson, A.S. King, and Jacqueline Woodson. A book which recently brought tears to my eyes is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. I love it when a book compels me weep. I also have to give a shout out to Canadian author Rukhsana Khan and British writer Naima B. Roberts–for they write with soul and are true survivors (of this crazy industry called publishing). They give me hope.
     
  8. Do you feel that books featuring Muslims are being created and marketed in a positive way? Are there trends you like or hope will change? For children?
    Yes. On the whole the direction is positive. Children’s book editors are generally speaking some of the kindest, most thoughtful people you will work with–much like librarians! They’re our strongest allies. The only caution I’d give editors and the kidlit world in general is to be careful not to tokenize. Islam is not monolithic and Muslims are complicated human beings just like any other group of people. We are nuanced and diverse–in our beliefs, practices, and make-up. Demographically speaking, the majority of the American Muslim community is not of an recent immigrant background. The majority is 24% white and 24% black–from convert backgrounds. I’d like to see more of their stories, too. I’d also like to see more non-fiction coming out–especially the forgotten history of American Islam from old slave narratives to contemporaries stories about the influence of indigenous Muslim Americans on contemporary American culture.
  9. What is the best feedback that you have received from a reader? What is surprising (good or bad) feedback that you have received about your books?cover of Angels
    I have a really simple concept-book called Angels. I wrote it for toddlers to comfort them before they go to sleep, but I’ve had a quite a few people write to me and tell me how much the story meant to an elderly person in their life–someone who felt alone and was approaching death. If I can bring someone comfort at the end of their life, too, then mashallah…I feel like I’ve done something meaningful… something good. 
  10. As a child what book helped shape your sense of spirituality or your sense of God? As an adult, what books help you to reinforce and grow in spirituality?
    I grew up in a secular, Protestant household. There weren’t many books in my home which shaped my sense of the divine. I was, however, raised on a steady diet of the Berenstain Bears. I still have some of those books. They’re not very well written and can be both hokey and didactic, but something about them always resonated with me. Maybe it goes back to the nature-thing and how I’ve always wanted to live in a tree. They also present a world that is wholesome and family-based and I think that is wonderful. As an adult, my go to spiritual books are often collections of poetry–usual Persian. I love both Rumi and Hafez, but so, too, my namesake, Rabiah (not Persian).
     
  11. What are you reading now?
    I’m finishing up my first YA novel and I’ve been reading a ton of academic journals and online blogs about the history of religious and white supremacy in the United States. It’s very depressing. On a positive note, I’m reading Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renee Watson via my kindle. Strong women who have known struggle give me hope. Hope and strength. Such qualities are needed. Especially in our current political climate.
  12. What books are on your #Muslimshelfspace?
    I read and support everyone, especially the ladies. In no particular order here’s a sampling: Samira Ahmed, Randa Abdel-Fattah, S.K. Ali, Sadiya Faruqi, Karuna Riazi,  Nayyirah Waheed, Uzma Jalaluddin, Ilyasah Shabazz, Hena Khan, Intinsar Khanani, G. Willow Wilson and Jamilah Thompkins Bigelow. Now these are the contemporary kidlit authors. We’ve got lots of books in Arabic, too. Mostly from the past. For that I’d have to take up a lot more of your time!
     
  13. What do your children think about your books?
    They are wonderfully supportive and age-wise they span all the genres I love working with from picture book to Middle Grade to Young Adult. My eldest is a teen and she’s a fine critic of everything–my own work included.
     
  14. What are you working on next?
    Big secret! But it will be my first non-fiction series and the main character is a horse. A very, very smart horse.
  15. What is the best way to support Muslim authors, agents, editors, librarians and those involved in creating Muslim literature?
    Read, read, read. Seriously, put your money and your time where it matters the most–the future of our kids.
     
  16. What do you hope the literature world looks like for Muslims in the coming years? In 20 years?
    I hope it is thriving. And I hope a Muslim wins the Newbery Medal and another the Caldecott (seriously, where are all the Muslim illustrators?) and that we become heroes and role models for non-Muslims, too. I’d also like to see Muslims putting money toward writing grants and scholarships. Writers need all kinds of support. Mosques should support these endeavors, too. 
  17. How do you hope your work can impact the Muslim community? How do you hope your work can impact perceptions of Muslims?
    I few years back at RIS (Reviving the Islamic Spirit Conference) I met a young Somali girl who wanted to be a writer when she grew up. She also wanted to take a photo with me (and I with her!). I hope that I meet her again, in ten to fifteen years, and see that she has made it. In short, I’d love to see that work that I do and others like me continues to inspire younger Muslims to share their voice and their stories. I hope this has a ripple effect with society at large so people stop seeing us as boogeymen.
     
  18. Are there any words of wisdom that you would like to pass on to young writers?
    Don’t limit yourself to one genre. Try your hand at a genre you don’t even read. The best parts of life are “accidental” discoveries. You are capable of so much more than you think. 
  19. What is something that you would like your readers to know about you?
    I know what it is like to approach a group of strangers and to have them give you the cold shoulder for no reason at all (at least not a valid one). I know what it is like to learn a second language and to be laughed at when you’re struggling to communicate. I know what it like to move far from home and start over–broken and hurt. But I also know that all of these things can make you stronger…even if it doesn’t feel like it. Don’t give up. Don’t quiet down. Always be you. That in itself is a wonderful gift to the rest of us. We need your story–all the bits–good, beautiful and still-in-the-making.
Posted in Book Discussions

Book Discussion: Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets

Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets

Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes. By Hena Khan. Illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini. Chronicle Books (9781452155418)
Publish date: April 10, 2018

This is the newest title in Hena Khan’s picture books about Muslims and concepts. The previous title was Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors.

This book discussion was conducted on May 20, 2018

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Hadeal: So what did you all think? I know that this is something small, but besides the artwork and illustrations, I love that there is a cat on the cover at the masjid. I don’t know why, but I just love it.

Ariana: I liked the details in the illustration, they are really rich, even to the point where in the spread with the circle/daff there is a child with a bit of a unibrow.  

Mahasin: I see it now.

Image result for crescent moons and pointed minaretsAriana: I love that there are so many different looks of people depicted. I do think that some of the criticisms of the book seem minute, one mentioned that the previous book seemed like the protagonist is a child in a “western country”, but this one is international and may reinforce stereotypes around clothing, but I don’t necessarily think this is true. I think that some images of children could work for a child who lives in the “west.” Especially in the oval spread, where “oval is the table where we break our fast, when the sun sets it’s iftar time at last.” There is a tagine, the decor is neutral, it could be Morocco, it could be here. The diamond spread, that could also be here. The last place with the crescent moon and a car, has a license plate convention that is not American, but it doesn’t mean it couldn’t be a European country. I don’t think it’s a big concern.

Image result for crescent moons and pointed minarets oval

Hadeal: I love the author’s note at the end. It’s not just a note about showing you shapes and whatnot, but wraps things back around to the importance of shapes and mathematics in Islam. I like the rectangle spread with the masjid and the light coming from the doorway into the prayer hall. I think the detail there is exquisite. The clothing too, puts it in context and gives it life to the community around it.

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Sara: Especially with the laundry line. And that’s how it is back home, the masjid is right in front of your home and you hear the adhan from different blocks. It conveys that feeling.

2018-06-11 22-54Ariana: I do wish, a little bit, in the author’s notes that they would say where an image is from, especially for that spread. I was fortunate enough to attend a preview with Chronicle before the book was published, and the editor had put up pictures of the doorway that inspired this spread, and I wanted to know more about the architecture specific to this country/location. I think that they may have said specifically, but I don’t remember right now, and I don’t want to guess. I mean, some may look at it and say, it’s the Muslim world and somewhere perhaps in West Africa*, but it’s not specific. Some families may recognize themselves based on the cloth, or other aspects, like the kids in the first spread look to me, like they are Malaysian or Indonesian, but maybe I’m completely wrong? But I do think it would be a nice touch, especially for Muslim children who aren’t often depicted.

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Mahasin: I agree with that. I was really excited about the diversity, and when I got to the page where the little girl had cornrows, the mother had a scarf wrapped up and the little boy, maybe it’s a girl, had tight curls, it was clearly African heritage, and that was really important to me because a lot of times my folks get left out of the narrative. That page made me really happy. The rectangle spread, with the women and all the colors on the page made me think, “Nigerian Muslims!”* and that was my first thought. So I really appreciate the diversity. The daff spread made me think of my time in Syria where the women would have maulids celebrating the Prophet (saw) and get together. A lot of it rang so true and authentic to me. I really liked the spirit of the book.

Hadeal: I like that wording, about the spirit of the book.

2018-06-11 22-45 1Mahasin: The one thing that was a bit tricky for me was that some of the shapes I had to stretch a little bit to connect, particularly the square and the orange trees – my mind went went immediately to a circle because they were oranges, but a square as a garden was a different cultural context for me. There was another one with the triangles on the minbar, that was also a stretch for me.

Hadeal: I still can’t see the triangles, can you see it?

Mahasin: It’s on the side.

2018-06-11 22-47Ariana: Right, the space between the railing and the stairs.

Sara: I can see that in the minbar, they do look like triangles from the side.

Mahasin: I guess I can see that, especially from a child’s perspective, but some of the shapes did feel a little bit of a stretch, but I feel like it a little mincing. A co-worker brought the book to me and said that they thought that the people were all in traditional dress, and should have been in modern dress and I have been toying with that in my head. I haven’t read any of the reviews. On the one hand, is that a critique of Muslim “modest dress?” Maybe people would call the ways we put together modest outfits “traditional,” even though I don’t know how traditional they are since they might just be long and flowing, or extra layers. The other part of me says, “what if they are traditional?” I don’t know if I agree with that critique. In the spread with the daff there is a little boy with a- what is it called with the number on the back?

Hadeal: a jersey.

Mahasin: Right, thank you. But that is pretty non-traditional to me.

Hadeal: Even the girls’ dresses. They’re just dresses.

Mahasin: Yeah. So, what if it is traditional? I think that they look like what Muslims really wear. It’s happy, colorful clothing. I don’t know. Does someone need to be in jeans and a t-shirt to make it not stereotypical?

Ariana: I mean, I think of me growing up and my parents –

Sara: I love that it’s traditional clothing. Because on Eid day when the kids go out, they are wearing their traditional clothing.

Ariana: Exactly!

Sara: I don’t often see kids in “western clothing.” They are taking pride in wearing something different.

Ariana: To build on your point Sara, if it was Eid or a gathering, and I was ten years old and I said to my parents, that I was going to go out in jeans and a t-shirt?

Sara: That would be a no-no.

Ariana: Yes, they would say, I couldn’t come. “The rest of us are going to go out and have fun. We’re going to auntie’s house and eat all of the delicious food, and the other kids are going to play. You’re staying home. Sorry.”  

All: (Laughing) It’s true.

Mahasin: I went to Target for my daughter’s Eid outfit and I saw, what I would call, “a Wakanda-inspired outfit.” And I was thinking, “cultural appropriation for the win.” African-inspired outfit for Eid.

All: (Laughing)

Hadeal: When it comes to clothing, I think of how the author didn’t indicate specifics. I don’t see how, in a way, where you could indicate areas. So I don’t understand why a reviewer would focus on that instead of what the book was intended to do. It is a book about shapes in the Islamic world. But what is traditional? What is non-traditional? It bothers me.

Sara: Right, I can see what you’re saying in that it’s not the focus of the book where these people are from, it’s more that they are seeing shapes in their every day and their beliefs and why we associate shapes in our religion, in our masaajid and our artwork and that kind of thing. It’s not focused on where they are coming from or why they dress why they do, but how we incorporate shapes into our daily lives. Is that what you were trying to say? I didn’t mean to put words in your mouth.

Hadeal: No, it is. I just feel like there is so much, I mean, even when we write our reviews we will get feedback about what others saw, but when it comes to this, it is so obvious to me that this is a book about shapes, architecture and Islam, but we’re going to focus on clothing? I mean, I understand, Mahasin had mentioned the spread with the family – the mother with the scarf wrapped and the little girl with the cornrows and to me, I think that’s important too, and we mentioned it, but for someone to just focus on that? I don’t know.

Sara: Why should that be the focus of the book when it is not intended to be? I love the fact that she’s incorporating everyone, the different styles of hijab and hair, but it is just showing you that these shapes have made their way through the Muslim world rather than associating it just with one group of people or another.

Hadeal: Even kaftan. Not all Muslims wear it, but to do the simple research, I don’t think it’s attached to certain countries or communities, multiple people do wear it and some definitely don’t. It’s just bothersome.

Ariana: For me, it’s a point of curiosity. I would like to know where it is from. I wish there was a bit more back matter so that if I was interested I could do further research for myself, but you’re right in that, it doesn’t matter too much. It would be one thing if really was asserting that there is this foreign otherness – but the reality is that Muslims do bring these cultural elements into our celebrations and our dress. That’s one time where, I mean, I married into – my husband is Pakistani American, and I think on Eid or celebrations I have no problems wearing Indonesian clothing, or a gown or a Pakistani style dresses. And often for children, especially for little girls that don’t dress themselves, they are often wearing “American” party dresses.

So I don’t know if this is actually offensive, reviewers making an assumption about the kinds of clothing people will wear. I’m glad that they are focusing on different aspects or elements of Muslim diversity, but it doesn’t mean all the spreads are or have to be international. So the spread that Mahasin was talking about with the hexagon, it could be an African country, it could be in a home here. Right?

Sara: I think that’s the beauty of the book actually, that you don’t know where it is. It could be anywhere in the world, and anyone who picks it up can find themselves in the pictures. The fact that she’s not pinpointing the places I’m reading it here, but the laundry spread reminds me of Egypt and being right across the street from the masjid. And someone from Pakistan can pick up the book and see orange trees and see themselves. This is why I am glad that she didn’t pinpoint where people are from. You can associate yourself with the spreads and go from there.

Mahasin: I’m looking at one of the reviews right now about how “Muslims dressing in non-cultural clothes are largely missing from the illustrations and potentially reinforce a  stereotypical image for non-Muslims.”

Ariana: I mean, perhaps that is a bit true, but here’s the thing, maybe the book is a nice window into our world, but it’s not really for the non-Muslim reader. It is a window that is important but it’s for the Muslim to see themselves. In the page following the hexagon, the oval, now I’m looking at the table and there is kibbeh and-

Hadeal: And samosa.

Ariana: Right.

Sara: They are all different kinds of food, not one specific culture.

Ariana: And the features of the people at the table, they have east Asian features. So my reaction first was, were these Uyghur Muslims? But it doesn’t look like there are Uyghur foods on the table. But there is also a little boy with really curly hair. And I think it’s supposed to be a blend, or blended family, or at least, that is what I’m reading. And where would you find that blend? Here. You could find it in other places and other countries, Moroccans can look like everything, but you can also find that here. That’s my take.

Sara: I agree.

Ariana: Final thoughts? Thumbs up? Thumbs down? Thumbs to the side?

Sara: I really liked it, I thought it was very cute and inclusive.

Hadeal: I liked it.

Mahasin: I liked it too. I would recommend it.

Ariana: I liked it. I mean, I think that the first book Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns is a book that you give to families when they are going have a baby, or for Eid. I mean, this is a book that will be distributed in the Muslim community and become a standard. It’s doing something that we want. You’re putting another book into a Muslim family’s hands and into their household. And it’s not just another – Ramadan or Eid book – which is not the say that we don’t need those books, we do.

Sara: And it’s not a Ramadan book, it’s a book that can be a normal, everyday book.

Ariana: Exactly. Because it has those elements that also conveys those precious times of Ramadan and Eid, and it’s Ramadan now, those feel good times into every day – it’s like bringing in Christmas or those times that just make a child feel warm and special. It’s super important. It’s a great addition to get with the other one, and I feel like this one is stronger. Maybe it is because of the diversity element, but you can read it with even more nuance, than just looking at it as a book.

Hadeal: I also enjoy the formatting a lot. I think the layout and the message is so well put together.

Sara: I love the arch in the mihrab and how dimensional it is.IMG_9419

Hadeal: It all just falls well together. It feels very purposeful.

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*We are completely wrong and Khan clarifies in her interview with us that it is in Zanzibar.

     

Posted in Blog Posts

How and Why We Started this Site and Why We Chose Our Name

This is a collective discussion we had about how we met and why we started this blog. More information about our mission and us as individuals can be found on our About Us and Bios pages.

Ariana: I started off as a children’s librarian part-time in a small public library system in California and then went full-time in DC. And in both systems, one with 26 branches, there was no one looked like me. In California, there were no other Muslims in the system, and in DC there were two Muslim paraprofessionals that I knew and self-identified as Muslim, but no other librarians or administrators.

I went to library school knowing that there wouldn’t be many people that looked like me, and it was important to me to be part of the profession because of that. There were also students that I thought might be Muslim or have a Muslim background, but they never said so much as hello, so there wasn’t any kind of community. When in classes I saw some book lists and resources about Muslims, so I thought eventually I would meet more in public libraries, and saw information about some online, in other countries, but did not meet any here in the states. After library school, I met some academic librarians that were Muslim, but few, if any, in public libraries and none in children’s and young adult services.

I met Sara through Anna Coats, my co-chair in an APALA committee and an Emerging Leader in the same class as Sara. I met Hadeal through my local library and Mahasin found me through Twitter and the we here Facebook group for librarians of color. Hadeal and I had been talking about resources about Muslims in Children’s Literature, given the different resources available for diverse reading along with trying to create a Muslim Librarians Association. I really wanted to do this work with other librarians in this community to find books that are about us, that are written by Muslims, but it didn’t exist in a professional capacity.

Sara: I had a similar experience where in library school and at conferences there was no one that wore hijab. I felt like I was the elephant in the room because was no one like me. I think my daily work and our work here is important in terms of representation and advocacy in the profession to let people know that we are here and they can be here too.

Hadeal: Same for me. I was the only Muslim in my program and I only met Ariana through my work, Sara through Ariana and now Mahasin. And really, you are the only Muslim librarians I know. And I do feel like other librarians are trying to do good, and create multicultural resources, but I want to represent me. I want to have a voice in my own representation, and that of my greater community, and I think this project is a great start. It is important to me to showcase our pathway and professional to others – especially children. In my old system, people were curious about what we did, beyond working with books, and I was able to talk to them about why children would frequently visit and enjoy their time at the library. The Muslim community around me knew about many of the resources that were available through the library, but being in libraries allowed me to spread more knowledge about the profession.

Mahasin: I was excited to see Ariana in the We Here group on Facebook. I am African American and there are not a lot of African Americans in librarianship, but I had another friend who was African American and in a mom’s group with me in Atlanta. She became my mentor and encouraged me to become a librarian. Now I am in a librarian in Oakland. I am fortunate to have supportive colleagues in my system.

Oakland had an incident with a Muslim student in the adult literacy program being harassed on the steps of the main library and there was an effort to put up signs in the library and the city to showcase that everyone is welcome here. I have Muslim colleagues, in fact, three of the library aides that work in my unit are Muslim, but I am the only librarian. But I still do have support. It’s nice that we are all fasting together. But I don’t have a professional space, so this was definitely on my to-do list, trying to seek out others. I feel that this connection was divinely placed in my lap. I’m here wanting to have a space for us for our own voices to speak up about how we are represented in literature.

Ariana: That is amazing that there are other Muslims in your workplace, and of course that is something we also want to help support. There are a lot of Muslims in “support roles” in the library and we want to form an association, but part of that is having resources for those who might be interested in being in librarianship as a career.

Mahasin: I’m always trying to encourage everyone, but especially people of color and Muslims, to join the filed. I know some other students who are already doing amazing work, and I want to be there for others like people were there for me.

Ariana: We try to encourage others in the field, but seeing children and youth in literature is can make a huge impact and can help encourage children in many ways. I know that for many Muslim families having non-Islamic books, especially literature, is not important. And while there may be several factors that contribute to that, part of that is because they don’t see themselves in the pages. There may be one aspect of someone’s identity, they may be Southeast Asian, South Asian, etcetera- and THAT is rare enough, but to have Muslims depicted, and then to see ourselves depicted in a positive way is rarer still.

The sad thing is, at least from my experience, is that children’s literature is probably the place where we will see the most positive depictions of Muslims. If you look in Hoopla, Overdrive or any library catalog for the search term Islam, half will be titles that I might actually be interested in and the other half are written by Islamophobes or just polemics, by people who have a certain bent.

ALA DID invite a known Islamophobe to the annual conference when I was in library school and my reaction was shock. What did that gesture show me about my presence in the field? It was an indicator of how unwelcome I would be, and through the justification of intellectual freedom and “creating a balanced narrative”, my colleagues would be showing me the door. So I feel like moving forward we have to create our own space for our voices to be heard.

Mahasin: I wanted to add that my experience is that I was a daughter of converts who became Muslim in the light of African American liberation. And they were very conscious about the kinds of books they brought into our home. My earliest memories are of my father reading books, nonfiction books about the water cycle to me – I think he may be over now that I am not in STEM or a doctor! Still, they were not going to get books with images of children who did not look like us or those that would be racist or damaging. There was no Dr. Seuss in our house. My parents grumbled about many things that people are just now starting to recognize. So they made the effort to have the characters in books reflect what we looked like, our day to day life and aspects of family life. I am really excited for my kids because now there is more out there for them than what I had when I was growing up.

Hadeal: I really like what you said about creating our own space. I’m sure that conversations have been started in many pockets of ALA, but moving forward and starting something is exciting and I feel like it can lead to bigger conversations and goals. But I also want to reach the Muslim community, who know about libraries but may not recognize the importance of books in the home and I wonder why that is.

Ariana: We all know the terms of mirrors, windows and sliding doors, and that importance of work in diversity and affinity. There is a lot we can do going forward, looking at books from the past as well, where we can talk about whose gaze it is and who a book is for. And I do think that there is a lot of discussions to be had there.

 

On how we picked our name:

 

Ariana: So we have had quite a bit of discussion about this, because initially when Sara, Hadeal and I had talked about naming conventions we thought about using something like uncovered or unveiled, something along those lines that was tongue-in-cheek funny, taking ownership of a label but also about books. But when setting up social media accounts I was looking for something pithy for accounts and the actual site address and grabbed “hijabi librarians” as a placeholder, but it was intended to be temporary. When Mahasin came on board we had a really in-depth conversation about the term hijab, the encompassing meaning behind it, and not identifying as a hijabi.

Mahasin: So, I cover my hair and grew up with the concept of modesty, especially after coming of age, however, I did not grow up with the language of hijab. I grew up with the language of headscarf, and others in my African American community used the term khimar. I think that’s because I grew up in the community of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, where language was really deliberate, precise and important. He taught that “Words make people” and that concept stayed with me. The conversations that we had growing up we always referred to the ayah (verse of the Qur’an) that used the word “khimar.” Conversations about the headscarf were as a piece of cloth and headdress, not a partition and not a curtain (as hijab means in Arabic). We talked about the uniqueness of the position of the Prophet’s wives and the etiquette in approaching them and the necessity of hijab, as discussed in the Qur’an as a protection specifically and uniquely for them.

I never have referred to myself as a muhajaba or hijabi, and it is a sort of a political act for me not to use the term. I don’t mean to be offensive in saying this. I have strong feelings about the word hijab as it’s used as a way to place an extra burden on women than what is asked by Allah. So although I understand the general concept of why the word is used, it is not a stance that I take and I will rarely use the word. It is interesting for me to have conversations with women who have similar views as me; we recognize that with the rise of Islamophobia, the headscarf has taken off as a symbol and token of diversity, especially in liberal spaces – where a lot of books and images that you see are of women wearing a scarf – having a person of African descent, a Latino, someone Asian, we know that they are going to be included and also, now, a Muslim woman in a headscarf is there! The term has become part of the general lexicon and it’s what people know. I would not say that I am anti-hijab in terms of terminology and use, but if asked, I will clarify why I don’t use that label. But I am supportive of our use of the term for now and I get it, but that’s where I am.

A few years back, University of Michigan professor and founder of Sapelo Square, Dr. Su’ad Abdul-Khabeer, spearheaded a community poem entitled, “Elegy for the Khimar”, which laments the fading use of the term “khimar” for “hijab.”

Ariana: Thank you for the thorough explanation of your personal position. I think it encompasses a lot of the conversation and frustration that many Muslim women may have about the term hijab. As you were talking I was wondering when hijab became this collective term as an identifier marker. For me growing up, I never thought I was ever going to cover. My understanding was that it was something that was observed by the Prophet’s wives. In Malaysia and Indonesia, you hear tudung, kerudung, which I guess means to cover so it is synonymous with hijab, but they didn’t use that word. Funny, actually that heard from relatives, when did you start wearing jilbab which, from my Muslim student community, I understood to be a long-overcoat. And I told them that I didn’t use jilbab, sometimes an abaya, but they specifically meant the headscarf.

Hadeal: I grew up with the word mandeel, which means scarf, but I think I started using the word hijab when I would say mandeel and people didn’t know what that was. They would ask, “isn’t it called a hajeeb?” and I would answer back that it was a hijab.

Mahasin: I feel like at some point in my 20s that everyone started calling it a hijab. I did grow up in a mostly African American community, but then with more Arab and Pakistani Muslims, and I don’t remember exactly when, but it was not the preferred term in the late 80s.

Ariana: Do you think it may have to do with 9/11?

Mahasin: Maybe. But I think we discussed it in college, and that was before 9/11 for me. But, I don’t know.

Sara: Growing up for me, we called the scarf a tarha, but if someone asked us, we said hijab. For me hijab meant that I covered my hair, I wore long sleeved shirts and a long skirt or long pants. It was all encompassing, not just something on my head. But now if someone asks, “are you a hijabi?” then I answer, “oh yes, I wear the scarf.”

Hadeal: For us tarha was the bridal piece. Like you would see a bride’s headscarf and say, “the bride’s tarha is beautiful.” To me when we said scarf, it was very generic. But it is more than a scarf, like anyone can wear a scarf in winter, but the term headscarf, to me also wasn’t quite right. If people asked me what it was, I would say that it was a scarf I wrapped around my hair or my head. I just didn’t feel right. But really, sometimes anything is better, I once had a person call it a towel.

Mahasin, Ariana and Sara: Yup. Yes.

Ariana: Have we been called towelheads? Oh yeah.

Sara: Pillowcase. Everything.

Ariana: At one library I worked at, I had a patron refer to me as the white woman with a towel on her head, which, okay, no to the towel. But really, in what universe am I considered white? That was strange to me. More information on us and how we identify can be found on our bios page.

So when we talk about hijab and why we decided to keep the name “hijabi librarians” rather than go back to uncovered or unveiled, we also had a larger conversation about Orientalism, othering, or fetishization instead of empowerment or really reclaiming a term. We also talked about the idea of hijabi librarians as not being an inclusive term, but that if necessary, we will revisit it in the future.

Mahasin: I am laughing at the idea of us one day being known as “the site formerly known as hijabi librarians” ala Prince. I do feel like it is an evolving conversation, but that us taking the term and “capitalizing” on the recognition to create space for our own voices is deliberately powerful, but if we feel later that we have made or point or find something better, then perhaps at that time, we will change our moniker.