the bookish Muslim™ experience: six bloggers on what it’s like to be muslim in the book community

after almost 30 days of fasting, praying and looking back at our actions, ramadan has finally come to an end. was it like other ramadans? no, at least not for me. i spent it alone instead of with my family since i could not join them. it’s sad, yes, but what can i do? nothing, except maybe gather with family, friends and some other muslim bloggers virtually.

at the begininng of ramadan, i asked on twitter if anyone wanted to participate in this post where muslim content creators shared their experience of being a muslim in a community like the book one. and i got some few answers that i did not expect (it was just a tweet i posted on a whim). and today, to celebrate eid in a special way, i’m so happy to present to you six muslim content creators on their experience being muslim in the book community (some of them also share their fave books by muslim authors, if you need recommendation, just saying):

anisha (blogger):

“I absolutely love the book community and have made so many wonderful friends! It’s introduced me to books with Muslim rep and by Muslim authors that I never would have otherwise found out about or read. It’s also been absolutely great to have made so many friends who are supportive and amazing! However, I would like to add that it still annoys/hurts when books with Muslim and/or Desi (Family is South Asian) rep or by Muslim authors is passed to white bloggers. And it feels worse when I finally get my hands on said book and find out that the rep wasn’t as great as the people who got to review the book said it was. And, there are certain books which are blatantly problematic that reviews will glorify in good rep for one minority and be the absolute worst thing for another so I think there’s a lot more that can be done to make the community better but it has been a great experience so far. My favourite books by Muslim authors so far are The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad and We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal!”

rameela (blogger):

“This is my 3rd year now of being a part of the book blogging community and honestly it’s opened my eyes to so much. Ever since I joined I’ve discovered so many new and amazing and diverse books that I don’t think I ever would have learned about before. I’ve made so many new friends from all over the world and it’s honestly been really great learning about the different Muslim experiences. While there are definitely a few cons to being a Muslim in the book community, overall I’ve had a pretty positive experience and I think that that’s mostly because of the other Muslim bloggers that I’ve made friends with. Having a community of bloggers that relate to you and understand you makes all the cons seem minor! I think that even though our voices can be uplifted a lot more, it’s still empowering that our voices are being heard a little more than before. Although It’s hard to feel like we’re being heard, I can only hope that we’ll continue to gain more voices and understanding.”

fariha (blogger):

“I’ve started my book blog on Instagram first, a few years back. Since then, I’ve seen the Muslim Shelf Space grow drastically. It has been great to see more Muslim Book bloggers and events such as the #RamadanReadathon taking place which promotes Muslim Authors by Muslim Bloggers. Back when I started out, especially as an international blogger, I missed out on the opportunities, giveaways and events that were solely focused on US timings and location. But now the community has become so much more diverse that is nice to be a part of it. My favorite authors are Sabaa Tahir and Hafsah Faizal!”

sophia (blogger):

“It’s odd. For a long time, I never really took into consideration that I’m a “Muslim book blogger”. Or that my religious identity forms a part of my identity as an individual. After years of significantly evolving reflections, I still maintain that it remains divorced from my own unique personality, and that Islam is a way of life with a sole focus on pleasing my Lord, my Creator. Otherwise, sometimes it feels as though I’m begging for scraps of acceptance from white audiences.

When I first started book blogging, I was reading and reviewing books by mostly white authors. I don’t know if Khaled Hosseini even counts because he’s achieved worldwide acclaim and boasts a popularity that few marginalised authors can dream of. But there it is, books by marginalised authors were barely within the margins of my own periphery. 

I remember this collection of short stories I read when I was around 16. It was about a young Muslim girl who begins to mix with a wayward crowd, drowning herself in the pleasures of sin. By the end, she realises that she’s had enough, comes home to her mother and finds peace. That story has always stayed with me… it struck me, now that I think of it, because it made me feel closer to Allah (SWT). But I never thought to read more stories like this. I was too interested in what was already in the mainstream. I wanted engagement on my blog, and I thought that this wouldn’t be possible if I reviewed stories by Muslim authors.

Most of the people in my life until my early twenties were formed of people who looked like me, so I was comfortably sheltered. It wasn’t until I began working in predominantly white spaces that I realised just how much of an “other” I was. A fellow book blogger and I began talking about reading more diversely, and, finally, I decided to do so… and thank God I did. It was Kamilah Shamsie’s short story, ‘The Girl Next Door’, featured in ‘The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write’, which clinched the deal for me. Bizarrely, it’s another story designed to bring you closer to Allah (SWT). It was such a powerful story that I was still in a state of shock days later. No other story has ever stumped me like this. From then on, I decided to read more books by black, POC, Muslim and marginalised authors. Unsurprisingly, I found that I enjoyed reading them much more and reviewing them too – I always have a lot to say! There is comfort in the familiar, in characters who’ve traversed similar paths to you, and who can always teach you something new about yourself, other people, Islam and life. 

It no longer matters if other bloggers can’t relate when I review books like ‘It’s Not About the Burqa,’ ‘Ayesha at Last’ or Sofia Khan is Not Obliged’. I’m reading and reviewing these books because I like it. But I hope they can learn something new from my book reviews and inspire them to pick up these books… and perhaps it can be the start of building cultural gaps within the book blogging community. The only downside? I can’t ever press like on a book review which uses the word ‘Gods’ because that would be committing shirk.”

zaynab (blogger):

“I joined the book community fully in February last year when my blog finally went live, I say fully because I started interacting with the community earlier when I still wrote on Wattpad, so I guess my experience with book twitter started then. 

Even when I was mostly a writer on Wattpad and before became a blogger, I loved the community. I met some of the best people I know and the best friends I could wish for on there. If any of the ‘Zlowns’ read this, I’m talking about you too. 

My experience with book twitter has been mostly positive. Yes, there’s been some negatives, even more than usual lately. The community can get tiring sometimes, but I guess I still love it. Even with that, I’m not sure what the future holds for Muslim bloggers and book lovers in the community, and especially for Queer Muslims of Colour, with what happened lately, when we had Islamophobic, queerphobic and racist remarks flood book twitter and a Muslim blogger was driven to leave the site. It was pretty scary and rather shocking too. In my short while on book twitter, I hadn’t seen anything so malicious before. It made this little online space I’ve found to be myself feel unsafe. I kept thinking ‘what if this harasser found me too’. I’m thankful for the other bloggers who showed their support for us after that and I guess that’s we need. To foster a safe space for Muslim bloggers, because it looks like book twitter now isn’t that place.

My favorite books by Muslim authors? If you know me the answer would be obvious. All American Muslim Girl, Love from A to Z, We Hunt The Flame and lately, The Candle and the Flame.”

fadwa (blogger and booktuber):

“When I first joined the book community, almost five years ago, I didn’t know what to expect or what kinds of people I would find myself surrounded with. And knowing how prevalent Islamophobia is, well, everywhere, but even more in online spaces, I didn’t feel comfortable disclosing my religion, I didn’t want to be rejected nor hated on. Months went by, and as I got more immersed in the community, talked to people, befriended people, I found myself more and more comfortable with the notion of sharing that part of who I am with people. But I still didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. I slipped it in posts here and there as a passing mention before I started making Muslim specific posts. And I gotta say looking back, I feel a bit silly for hiding such a big part of me, because I have been met with overwhelming support over the years, but at the same time, I did what I had to do to protect myself while entering a new space that I didn’t quite know how to navigate. 
And doing that also enabled me to grow a thick skin when it comes to be online because as much as the little part of the community I carved for myself is supportive and the people I surround myself and interact with wonderful, the larger community is made of all kinds of people and I had to deal with my fair share of bigotry, which I don’t think I would have been equipped to deal with had I not done that, and would have left very early on. This has only been a minor fraction of my experience though, my experience as a Muslim content creator has been by large positive, and without being online I wouldn’t have discovered so many books by Muslim authors (so much so that I was able to compile a list of over 100 books), I wouldn’t have met or befriended a lot of fellow Muslim bloggers, or read some of my all time favorite books. Two books by Muslim authors I adore, which wouldn’t surprise you if you know me at all are The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty and Mirage by Somaiya Daud.”

thank you so so much to these bloggers for participating. i wanna share my experience too, but i feel like they said all that there is to say.

lastly i want to say that while being muslim is not easy in this world and time, i am proud to be muslim, and i will keep doing my best to boost muslim voices, whether it be authors, bloggers, youtubers or anything. muslim people deserve to be seen as more than the stereotypes they are given.

how was your experience in the book community (if you’re comfortable with sharing)? have you read any of the books mentioned by the contributors?

12 Replies to “the bookish Muslim™ experience: six bloggers on what it’s like to be muslim in the book community”

  1. I’m so so happy there are more and more books and stories being told of people who look like us. For so long, when I was growing up, it felt like I must be the only one who felt unsure where she fit in because she didn’t fit into some mold or thinking. What a thoughtful and sweet post! I especially love in this post that you link directly to Muslim bloggers so we can follow them as well and learn even more!

    Liked by 1 person

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