Hello guys !
A few months back I did a post about Muslim representation in books titled Why don’t I see Myself? which I loved writing but since then I’ve got a better, more concrete idea of what I want our representation to look like and this post is mostly going to be a follow up of that one where I go more into detail about some of the things I talked about last time as well as maybe, potentially, add some new things.
This year, I’ve seen a slight increase in YA books with muslim representation, by muslim authors. Whether it’s because I’ve been seeking them out more or because more are actually being published, I don’t know. It’s probably a mix of the two, but the point is I’m reading more of them, which I’m extremely happy about. That being said, I have one issue (which is multiple issues in one) and it’s how similar all of the characters’ backgrounds/way of life are in all these different books. I’m not saying there are no exceptions, but that’s what they are, exceptions. Most of the books are like this:
- Characters with conservative families, who need to sneak out to do things.
- Allocishet characters.
- Characters who are incredibly judged by their parents when making mistakes.
- Characters who typically live in a Western society (I’m talking about YA here).
I’m sure I’m forgetting other things but this is the general layout. Am I saying this is innacurate rep? Absolutely not. This is the case for a lot of people, and it’s great that they get to be represented. I’m not being ungrateful but I just can’t help but think “What about the rest of us?”, some of us do not see themselves in those books. I for one, albeit I feel happy when reading books with muslim representation, never get that “THIS IS ME” moment. And I’d like that.
And this is not just for selfish reasons, I don’t want it just for the sake of seeing *myself*, even if I don’t get to see someone like me, I just want there to be different kinds of experiences. This is about having a more wholesome look of what muslim communities are like, we are not a monolith, we live differently, practice differently, not only as communities but also as individuals within the communities and I would like to see that reflected in my reading.
So to put it in fewer words, my issue is the lack of diversity within the muslim representation we get, we are getting more quantity wise, but not quality wise. That being said, I’m not here to rant just for the sake of a rant, here are the things I want more of:
Let’s keep the conservative household but maybe add to it the more “liberal” parents, like mine, who I’ve never viewed as strict. They call me out when I mess up but they mostly let me make my own choices, I go out whenever I want to, as long as they know where I am and they can reach me, I travel, I date, etc… and I know this might not be “the proper way of being a Muslim” for some, that I might not be Muslim enough for some but I am and I really do not care about people’s judgmental gaze because it’s not up to them to judge my faith. This is derailing but what I mean by this is that I’d like to see more parents who are less on the conservative side.
Not only that, but also single parents, adoptive parents, recomposed families, big families. Just, all kinds of families. Families who spend hours laughing and fooling around (brought to you by the ice cream fight I had with my family on Eid night), because I feel like a lot of the time the relationship are based on conflict. Teenagers who are close with their parents because yes they do exist, my mom has been my best friend since as long as I can remember. I can go on and on and on but this is the gist of it. Just give us more variety, families that more people can relate with.
So… yeah. This is pretty self-explanatory. Non-allocishet muslims exist but that isn’t reflected in books. At all. The only book I know with a queer MC that isn’t problematic (I think) is Exit West which I believe has a bisexual girl in it. Other than that, zilch. Where are gay muslims, where are the bisexual and pansexual people? Where are the trans and non-binary people? Where are the aros and aces? Please give me more of these identities, because I feel like this borders on erasure. Queer Muslims are rarely if ever acknowledged, and why is that? I feel like most people think that you can be either queer or muslim. Never both. I’m here to tell you that one doesn’t cancel the other. Which people need to realize and I genuinely believe books, especially YA books, can help with that.
I want muslims exploring their gender and sexuality, coming to term with it, fall in love, live happily ever after. I want coming out stories, the good and the bad. I want queer muslims whose stories aren’t limited to being muslim, or being queer, or being both. I want them to live, love and thrive. Travel. Fall and then get back up again. I want all of it.
I don’t know about you but I am tired of the “If you mess up you’re bringing shame to your family” trope. I know it’s reality in a lot of cases, but I feel like that’s all we get. I feel like muslims teens in books don’t get to be fully teenagers because of how much pressure and scrutiny they’re under. Elders are often antagonized because of that, because of the fact that they don’t let them breathe and ? It’s not always the case? Give the freaking teenagers room to breathe in your books?
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read and loved books with this exact trope, because we get so little rep, I don’t think I can afford hating a book for this reason only. But I want something else, I want the teen to mess up get grounded and get over it, without that shame traling behind them, their parents turning on them. I want actual muslim teens to read books and feel like it’s okay to not have it all together, because fact is, even as adults we barely have it together. We still mess up. So why expect teenagers to be perfect?
This one is a bit complicated because I feel like in most cases one way of practicing lifts itself up by putting down other ways. If it’s the very conservative narrative, then the rest of us aren’t muslim enough and are thoroughly judged throught the novel (I read a book like this this summer and it wasn’t fun) and it’s the more liberal then the conservatives are backwards thinking (even when they’re not). I just… can we not do this? Can we just accept that we all have a different relationship with Allah that only He is the judge of?
I truly believe that there is space for all these narratives to thrive without tearing each other apart. So maybe focus on getting all of them out there without using the other as stepping stones. I want to see hijabis, non-hijabis, people who pray, or who don’t, people who are sure of their faith, people who question it, and so on and so forth. Come one, friends, we can do it.
Okay, pfew, I think I will stop this rambly mess here. I did not think I will get as worked up or emotional writing this as I got but oh well, I spoke from the heart and this is what happens when I am passionate about things. I hope this post makes some kind of sense and that you learnt something from it.
That’s it until next time.
What do you want more of in term of the representation of your own marginalization?
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.