We are Mena and Zena, two Muslim girls living in Michigan, ages 14 and 16, respectively. We have loved reading our whole lives and have visited our local public library countless times, checking out book after book. Books have provided us with information, fun, adventure, humor, and understanding. But one thing was missing from all of the books that we read. We never saw ourselves represented.
In 4th grade, we were given a school project to research about a person who we looked up to. We both went to our public library with female Muslim women in mind that were huge role models to us and we couldn’t find any books about them. Later we began to realize the same thing occurred in other genres, that there was a shortage of books about Muslim girls. In fact, the first time we saw ourselves represented was recently when we read The Lines We Cross, by Randa Abdel-Fattah. The feeling that we experienced when reading about characters like us was indescribable and we were astonished that we had never experienced it before. Sometimes it was just the little things that made an impact, like the main character’s name being Mina or her eating the typical Middle Eastern food that we eat at home. Books have an immense impact on how children behave, socialize, and see themselves in the world, and if young kids don’t see themselves represented, there is a certain sense of not belonging.
This spurred us into action. We knew that we had to do something to help other people like us feel like they belong. Our mom’s friend gave us the idea to start a nonprofit organization. She helped us through the process and with her and our mom’s help we created Girls of the Crescent. We decided our mission would be to collect books with female Muslim main characters and donate them to schools and libraries.
We encountered support for our project from friends, neighbors, school administrators, librarians, and authors. We have collected over $2,000 for our cause with which we have used to donate almost 400 books. This support and success spurred the realization of our breakthrough by illustrating our impact on our community.
One thing that we noticed was that people were surprised at the amount of books with female Muslim characters there are. Because there isn’t awareness or availability of a diverse range of books, people assume that books with characters diverse backgrounds don’t exist, but that is simply not true. We have compiled a long list of books with female Muslim main characters on our website and it grows every day. One of our goals as a nonprofit is to raise awareness of these books and encourage librarians and teachers to actively look for and buy books with the intention of diversifying their collections.
A few of our favorites from this list are:
- The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah
- Under the Persimmon Tree by Suzanne Fisher Staples
- Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns by Hena Khan
- The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter
- Ayesha Dean and the Istanbul Intrigue by Melati Lum
- Ms. Marvel by G. WIllow Wilson and Sana Amanat.
We hope that the work we are doing will help Muslim girls feel included and spread awareness about the importance of representation and diversity in books.
About the Authors
Mena and Zena Nasiri set up the nonprofit organization, Girls of the Crescent, to increase diversity and representation of female Muslim roles in literature.
You can follow them on Twitter @GirlsCrescent