by Jeannine Sherman
Friday, August 12, 2022

Fellow Feelings - 3 Inspiring Muslim Protagonists

I love fiction because it puts me inside looking out at history while it happens. If I want to understand a moment in history, I usually read fiction first. Once I deeply care about the events as they impact the individual, I then become truly interested in how the broader history connects.

These are books that you can read for pleasure. You can read them to your children, buy one for your teen/young adult/precocious reader, or start a book club with friends. 

 

1. Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh

This is one of my favorite books. Most of the action takes place in Belgium, and the main character is a young Syrian boy. Some of the main character’s experiences were familiar; many of them were surprising. I like that the story unfolds from the child’s perspective. Sometimes kids have a better sense of “doing the right thing” because they haven’t been as conventionalized as we have. 

 

2. Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai

I remember crying a lot during this one, but not in a bad way. The narrator is part of an Afghan refugee family. I love the perspective of the main character’s father and the way you feel that normalness of humans just trying to go about their lives.

 

3. The Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson

The novel tells about a family from Kosovo who end up coming to the U.S. This is such a crucial perspective in Muslim history that we don’t often hear about. It doesn’t fit any of the stereotypes. Islam does not belong to the Middle East exclusively. It has been a rooted religion and way of life in most lands around the world. Katherine Paterson has been one of my favorite authors since I was little; her books are easy to read and kind in their portrayals.

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It’s always a relief to read a story with a Muslim main character, reminds us that we are not 

destined to play villains or supporting roles. We can be the hero, the subject rather than the object.

Fiction promotes empathy and understanding. As an ummah, we sometimes find ourselves isolated in our respective cultural spaces. Maybe you live your islam through an Indonesian lens or a Senegalese lens. Our cultures should be welcome as part of who we are as whole people. But as an ummah, sometimes I wish we wouldn’t self-segregate quite so much. We can cultivate curiosity about the experiences and stories of Muslims around the world. 

The next time you go to the masjid or the bus stop or the supermarket, sit next to someone outside whatever you may perceive your ‘category’ to be. We’re not categories. We’re a whole, worldwide, flourishing ummah. Walking in the shoes of a Muslim protagonist can give us that little push to open our hearts and connect in an unexpected way. 

Here’s the audio version of Chapter 1 of Nowhere Boy: bit.ly/3zTLG2W

 

Sources 

Elizabeth Lesser: Take “the Other” to lunch | TED Talk

Islam and culture: Don’t mix them up | MinnPost