When I heard about the racist Islamophobic hate crime committed by a white nationalist in Quebec City on Sunday January 29th, I was disgusted and distressed like I’m sure all of you were. I wondered what I could do. I wrote to the Minister of Immigration at Minister@cic.gc.ca voicing my concern and asking for 1) the refugee cap to be removed and 2) the end of the safe third country agreement in order to help Canada offset the US’s horrific travel ban for certain Muslim countries. (You should too! It only takes a few minutes). You can also email or phone your MP; look here for contact information for them. Afterwards, my mind turned to books as it always does and I thought what better time to be reading Muslim Canadian authors and listening to their voices. Here are some of the writers I knew of before and some new ones discovered through research. Many of the people listed below are also LGBTQ+. I’m so excited about the authors who are new to me! Please add any other suggestions you have in the comments.
Ishara Deen just published the first book in what I’m sure is going to be a longstanding YA series about a teenage Muslim girl detective! It’s called God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems, and it looks super rad, everyone. Bengali-Canadian teen Asiya Haque is the amateur detective who stumbles upon a dead body while on a walk—really, just an innocent walk!—with her crush/friend Michael, who mysteriously goes missing right after. Michael is then accused, leading Asiya to investigate his innocence in spite of the ignorant cops and her strict parents. If you check out Deen’s website and sign up for her newsletter, you can read the first four chapters of the book free! Have a look at this in-depth review by Saadia Faruqi at Blue Minaret.
Hasan Namir is actually already kind of a gay Muslim literary superstar: his debut novel, God in Pink, won the 2016 Lambda Literary award for gay fiction. Kind of a big deal. God in Pink is set in Namir’s native Iraq and adds some much needed underrepresented Arab and Muslim perspectives to that genre. The book is about where cultural and religious politics meet sexuality, and is alternately brutal and sweet as the main character Ramy makes what compromises he can live with in a place where he can never be openly gay. As he says in detail in this interview with Out Magazine, one of Namir’s inspirations for the novel was his own struggle reconciling his faith with his sexuality.
Sajidah K Ali
Like Ishara Deen, Sajidah K Ali is another new Canadian YA author you should be excited about. You won’t be alone in your excitement, since Ali’s upcoming book Saints & Misfits was just listed on Entertainment Weekly’s most anticipated 2017 YA novels. CBC is also pumped, as they featured the book in their Spring Book Preview. Have a look at this CBC article for a short excerpt! Dubbed as “My So-Called Life as narrated by a hijabi teenager,” Saints & Misfits follows fifteen-year-old Janna Yusuf, an Arab Indian-American teen. She’s a book nerd and photographer as well as the daughter of the only divorced mom at her mosque. Read the book to see how Janna re-examines her faith and relationships in the wake of an assault.
Like Ishara Deen, Ausma Khan’s writes mysteries featuring a Muslim detective, although this one is middle-aged and male. Esa Khattak is an older Canadian police investigator who works on the minority-sensitive cases team with Rachel Getty, a loyal younger detective. The third book in the series is due out later this year: it’s called Among the Ruins, and was also featured on CBC’s Spring Book Preview List. Follow Getty and Khattack as they tackle cases like whether a death was of the accidental falling-off-a-cliff variety or the murder of war criminal from the Srebrenica massacre of 1995 hiding under a fact name (The Unquiet Dead, book 1). If you like smart, complex, well-written mysteries and/or are a fan of Tana French and Walter Mosley, you’ll love Ausma Khan!
Kamal Al-Solaylee is a Toronto journalist who’s published two books to date: the 2016 Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (to Everyone) and Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes, which you might remember as a 2015 Canada Reads choice. Brown was a finalist for the 2016 Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction, as well as on a slew of best-of-2016 lists by newspapers and magazines. It’s a global, intricately researched—Al-Solaylee visited 10 countries over 2 years—look at the social, political, economic and personal implications of being a brown person today. Intolerable is a memoir of growing up gay in various countries in the Middle East as Al-Solaylee’s family moved around after being forced from their native country of Yemen.
Farzana Doctor is the Toronto-based queer author so far of three novels: Stealing Nasreen, Six Metres of Pavement, and All Inclusive. Her books just keep getting better! Doctor is a progressive Dawoodi Bohra Muslim and you can look forward to her writing more explicitly about faith in her upcoming fourth novel! Her second novel Six Metres of Pavement features an Indo-Canadian Muslim protagonist and it is all round a fantastic book about second chances. It follows Ismail Boxwala, a man in his fifties who has never recovered from the worst mistake of his life: forgetting his baby daughter in the car on a hot summer day. It’s a really moving novel about Ismail finding love (and an “adopted” queer daughter) while finally learning to forgive himself.
Most well-known for her bestselling, translated-into-many-languages 2003 book The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith, author and journalist Irshad Manji also published Allah, Liberty, and Love: The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom in 2011. The Trouble with Islam Today is an open letter to Muslims and non-Muslims and a queer and feminist interpretation of Islam that is a resounding call for change as well as a practical vision. Allah, Liberty, and Love takes a more aspirational approach, again addressing Muslims and non-Muslims in writing about transcending our fears and living with integrity; its been called a “gutsy guide to being a global citizen.”
Last, but certainly not least is Pakistani-Canadian author and storyteller Rukhsana Khan, who writes children’s, middle grade (for ages 9-12), and YA books. The list of books she has published is long, but you can check them all out here on her website. Her writing is set in Canadian multi-cultural contexts as well as in Pakistan and Afghanistan, featuring Muslim young people, immigrants, people with disabilities, and/or refugees. Her most recent book from 2014 is King for a Day, which is set in Lahore, Pakistan centring on a boy named Malik and his dream to become “king for a day” by flying his kite at the spring festival of Basant. Khan also has an amazing resource list of kids’ Muslim books that you should check out!
Thanks for including me and for your ongoing support for my work! And yes, I do identify as Muslim. I consider myself a progressive Dawoodi Bohra and am active within my community around gender violence issues. Stay tuned for novel #4, where I will take up faith issues more directly than I have in previous novels.
Thanks for taking the time to comment Farzana! I’ll update the bio for you right now. So excited for your fourth book!!
This is a fabulous and much needed list! Thank you for putting it together, I have just added a couple titles to my TBR.
Yay! Exactly what I was hoping for!
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Hey Casey, This is a wonderful list, and while I’m honoured by your words about my work, I need to point out that I’m not Muslim. As an Arab Christian, and as a human being, solidarity with Muslims is something I’m very much committed to, especially in the present, horrible context, but always, really. Anyway, thank you for the props but… xo
Hi Trish! Thanks so much for letting me know. I saw your name on a couple lists of Muslim writers so I will make sure to pass on that info! ❤️
For an emerging Muslim voice, check out Medina Faris, author of The Dirty Version (published by Sick City Press in 2018)