We have a fresh opportunity to reflect about the role of American Islamic novels in west, especially in the US.
At this point Umm Zakiyyah isn’t going to speak about her views on her novels’ role but she also speaks about American Islamic novels today.
Umm Zakiyyah was born in 1975 in Long Island, New York to parents who converted from Christianity to Islam shortly after they married. She graduated in 1997 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, where she was named amongst Who’s Who for her academic and leadership achievements.
A respected and accomplished essayist and poet, her work has been featured in Kola Magazine, The Indianapolis Recorder, and numerous collegiate publications. She has appeared on radio shows and has served as keynote speaker and guest lecturer in the US and Canada. She is currently named amongst Who's Who in America.
Q: I really like Umm Zakiyyah's books, in "Hearts We Lost" that spans the Atlantic, from Saudi Arabia to America, Sharif returns to America changed in ways he cannot fully comprehend, Could you elaborate on Sharif?
Umm Zakiyyah: Sharif is the son of American converts to Islam. His parents accepted Islam shortly after he was born; thus, he grew up Muslim.
Thus far, of all the fictional characters in my books, Sharif (as a main character) most closely reflects my own background, as I myself am the child of American converts to Islam.
Like so many others who grow up in Muslim households, Sharif studies Islam on his own and then undergoes a personal spiritual growth that inspires him to accept Islam for himself. However, this choice is not without its challenges, and one of his greatest challenges is the woman he loves and is engaged to marry: Hasna is not willing to accept his newfound love of Islam though she herself grew up Muslim.
Q: In "Footsteps" The journey began with Tamika Douglass's path and continued, At the heart of the novel is the story of Ismael, I feel you want to speak more on the issue of polygamy, you tried to show different views of the issue, I wonder what you'd want to add?
Umm Zakiyyah: Footsteps was one of the most difficult books for me to write, mainly because of the issue of polygamy.
I wanted to present a balanced, honest perspective of the issue while emphasizing the humanity of plural marriage more than the Islamic guidelines.
There are many informational books that teach Muslims the Islamic “rules” of polygamy, but too few show the human side of the issue.
It is not often that writers are willing or able to openly acknowledge the wide range of emotions involved on all sides. When emotions are acknowledged, generally it is only that of the “first wife.” It is rare to learn of the husband’s struggles or that of the wife entering into an already existing marriage.
I tried to present all three perspectives in a just and compassionate voice. I hope I achieved that bi’idhnillaah.
Q: This novel that deals with two taboo issues in the American Muslim community: race and polygamy. Could you elaborate on that?
Umm Zakiyyah: It is true that race and polygamy are taboo issues in the American Muslim community.
However, ironically, it is race that is often more taboo than polygamy when it comes to having honest, frank discussions amongst Muslims and devising solutions to the problems that these issues raise.
In a group of women, broaching the topic of polygamy is almost sure to incite a heated discussion.
But race as a topic is almost never broached, at least not in multiracial groups.
And when it is brought up, it is quickly dismissed by empty statements like “Racism doesn’t exist in Islam.” Addressing the issue of race in this manner is as sensible as replying to an abused woman’s concerns by saying, “Abuse doesn’t exist in Islam.”
I think one of the oddest questions I’ve heard asked about my books as it relates to racial issues was regarding my specifying the color and race of certain characters. “Why does it matter?” some readers have asked. I always find this question quizzical. To me, it’s like asking “Why does it matter?” after reading that a particular character is male or female, child or adult—or after reading the last sermon of the Prophet, sallallahu’alayhi wa sallam, when he specifically mentioned Arabs and non-Arabs and blacks and whites—to clarify that superiority is only in taqwaa.
This message—clarifying that true superiority is in one’s emaan—is what I hope to convey when I broach “taboo” topics like race and plural marriage.
Q: I wonder how should Western Representations on the issue of polygamy be faced?
Umm Zakiyyah: To be honest, I don’t have an answer to this. The issue of polygamy itself is complex, and there are very few “shoulds” outside the clear Islamic guidelines.
We cannot legislate a person’s heart or marital choices (by men or women) so long as no sin is being committed.
At the same time, we cannot ignore a person’s heart and feelings even when we are engaging in something that is permissible.
Like the issues of marriage and divorce in monogamy, only the people involved can speak on the issue—and even then their perspectives must be limited to their own situation, not anyone else’s.
So in general, I can only suggest that all issues be dealt with by turning to Allah sincerely and asking His guidance.
Q: Aminah in her white skin and Black blood, please, elaborate on the injustice of a society that divides a family, and society, based on the color of their skin.
Umm Zakiyyah: I think all societies and cultures have their injustices and contradictions.
Anything that deviates from what Allah and His Messenger, sallallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, have taught will be riddled with oppression and confusion.
As such, in nearly every society in the modern world, there is evidence of this oppression and confusion—to the extent that they are distant from the Islamic lifestyle.
Q: Umm Zakiyyah is not only creative but a great novelist that Allah has truly blessed with a talent to convey a positive message to people about life , what about your great message in life?
Umm Zakiyyah: It is my hope and prayer that my message remains one: to clarify the truth and spiritual beauty of Islam for all people.
As such, I hope my books serve as an inspiration to non-Muslims to accept Islam and an inspiration for Muslims to continuously renew and reevaluate their relationship with their Creator.
Q: Let's tell us more about Tamika?
Umm Zakiyyah: Tamika, the main character in If I Should Speak and A Voice, represents one young American woman who experiences the spiritual journey toward accepting Islam. Through her, readers are able to witness the spiritual confusion and awakening that many converts to Islam experience as they learn about Islam and make the final decision to become Muslim.
In A Voice, readers get a glimpse into some of the struggles that come along with this monumental decision.
Q: Umm Zakiyah, you are an inspiration and a voice to all of those that have converted to Islam. Do your great works help others to converted to Islam?
Umm Zakiyyah: Alhamdulillaah, by Allah’s mercy I regularly hear of non-Muslims becoming Muslim after reading my books. Truly, this is nothing other than evidence of Allah answering my oft-repeated du’aa when I write:
“O Allah, make the book a guide to those whom you wish to guide and a proof against those who will not be guided.”
Q: Mohja Kahf, Umm Zakiyah and who else has been writing Islamic American novels?
Umm Zakiyyah: Actually, I’m still learning of the American Muslim novelists today. When I began writing novels, I knew of no other Muslim novelists. Today I know of Jamilah Kolocotronis (author of the Echoes series), Umm Juwayriyah (author of The Size of a Mustard Seed), and Dr. Laurence B. Brown (author of The Eighth Scroll). From the United Kingdom, there is Na’ima B. Robert, who has authored several books.
Q: What about the future of Islamic novels?
Umm Zakiyyah: Allah knows best, but it looks like Islamic novels are becoming increasingly popular. Da’wah and Islamic inspiration are now finding creative voices, and I see this as a blessing, so long as Islamic guidelines and etiquette are observed in the creative expression.
My prayer is that more Islamic novels become available in the future.
Q: What is your advice for Muslim writers who writes Islamic novels?
Umm Zakiyyah: My advice would be to first study Islam sincerely so that your Islamic foundation is correct, and this requires extensive du’aa, patience, and research.
I also advise making Istikhaarah before embarking on any writing project and before publishing any book. After writing (and before publication), advice and feedback should be sought from members of the target audience and from those knowledgeable in Islam.
Lastly, I would advise constantly supplicating to Allah to purify your intention and to remove from your heart any desire for fame or worldly success except for His sake alone.
In other words, look at your writing as something that you hope will benefit you in death more than it will in life, bi’idhnillaah.
Q: How should the Beloved Prophet be shown for western teens?
Umm Zakiyyah: BarakAllaahufeekum, this is a good question. I myself have been hoping to find a teen-friendly biography of Allah’s Messenger,sallallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, and I still haven’t found it. I don’t know the answer to this question though, at least not in detail. In any case, however he is presented, the teen-friendly approach should not sacrifice the authenticity of the message itself.
Abdur-Rahman: Thank you, BarakAllaahufeekum, and May God bless you.
Umm Zakiyyah: Wa feekum BarakAllaah. It was a pleasure. May Allah reward you with good in the Hereafter for your efforts in this life.
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