In May 2022, a middle-grade debut will follow a young Muslim girl through her diary entries over the course of an year as her family migrates from Dubai to Canada. An important and fun immigrant story, this is a semi-autobiographical story as the novel authentically portrays what growing up female in the Middle East felt like in the early 1990s. Over the course of an year, the first Gulf War breaks out, she spends the summer with her cousins in Pakistan, and her family immigrates to Canada— and she pursues her ambition to be a feminist and a poet. No wonder Kirkus praied it as “an ambitious novel that is both heartfelt and toungue-in-cheek.” Needless to say, it’s a pleasure to have Salma Hussain, author of The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan, recommend twelve books with Muslim characters written by Canadian authors. To view more such posts by Muslim authors, make sure to check out this collaboration, Muslim Musings, spanning over Ramadan 2022. This blog post may contain affiliate links. To know more about them, please read my disclaimer.

Credit: Salma Hussain

Salma Hussain, the author of The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan, recommends twelve books about Muslim characters written by Canadian writers.

As 1.8+ billion Muslims around the world partake in the month of Ramadan (and choose to celebrate or not in their own unique ways), here are twelve recently-published and/or upcoming books (and one studio album to shake things up) with Muslim characters that promise to offer entertainment and enlightenment throughout the year!

The books on this list are about characters of Muslim faith, and/or about characters who grew up in the Muslim faith. Muslims (imagined and actual) are often conveyed as a monolith, especially in popular culture, where the representation is often presented as a flat binary: the Muslim is either the oppressed or the oppressor. Fiction is a great vehicle for exploring nuance and the full breadth and depth of “Muslim” identity, which, like all other identities, is contradictory, complex and constantly in flux. Please enjoy these works fully and continue to reflect critically.

The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan by Salma Hussain

Mona Hasan is a young Muslim girl growing up in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, when the first Gulf War breaks out in 1991. The war isn’t what she expects — “We didn’t even get any days off school! Just my luck” — especially when the ground offensive is over so quickly and her family peels the masking tape off their windows. Her parents, however, fear there is no peace in the region, and it sparks a major change in their lives.

Over the course of one year, Mona falls in love, speaks up to protect her younger sister, loses her best friend to the new girl at school, has summer adventures with her cousins in Pakistan, immigrates to Canada, and pursues her ambition to be a feminist and a poet.

Buy now: Amazon US | Bookshop US | Amazon IN

Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan

Picture book (Annick Press, 2020) — a charming story about a young girl who makes a beloved dish from “back home” as a surprise for her mom, and how the adults around her rally to help and support her. Clean, simple text and beautifully illustrated. An adorable and enchanting tale to share with the little ones in your life. 

Add on Goodreads.

What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad

Novel (Penguin Random House; Jul 2021) — it won Canada’s prestigious Giller prize last year. This is not a book; it is a reading experience unlike any I’ve been on. The journey towards safety (or is it empathy?), the highs, the lows, and that ending (oh, what an ending!) will leave you reeling in all the best ways. A literary masterpiece on the global refugee crisis.

Add on Goodreads.

Jameela Green Ruins Everything by Zarqa Nawaz

Novel (Simon & Schuster; Mar 22) — a black comedy about a disillusioned American Muslim woman who becomes embroiled in a plot to infiltrate an international terrorist organization and in the process reconnects with her loved ones and her faith. Makes you laugh-out-loud AND think critically? Yes, please!

Add on Goodreads.

If An Egyptian Cannot Speak English by Noor Naga

Novel (Graywolf Press; Apr 22) — a dark romance examining the ethics of fetishizing the homeland and punishing the beloved and vice versa. Told in alternating perspectives, this experimental novel debut received a succinct “brilliant” and a starred review from Kirkus. Naga’s prose is written with razor-sharp precision and a poet’s eye for detail and compassion. A must-read.

Add on Goodreads.

My Grief, The Sun by Sanna Wani

Poetry (House of Anansi; April 22) — a debut collection of poetry from an acclaimed poet where love and grief sit side by side. Moving between Canada and Kashmir, this collection is one that you will return to over and over.

Add on Goodreads.

Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin

Novel (HarperAvenue; 2021) — if you haven’t heard of this romance writer from Toronto, then you may be living under a rock. This halal-romance book contains heart, humour and charm galore. With a memorable, lovable ensemble cast and a healthy sprinkle of social commentary on Islamophobia as well, how does Jalaluddin juggle it all? Pick it up and find out for yourself!

Add on Goodreads.

The Shaytan Bride by Sumaiya Matin

Memoir (Dundurn Press, Sep 21) — the true story of a Canadian Muslim Bangladeshi woman’s escape from her forced marriage. Matin explores Islam, culture, destiny, desire and family in this frank, bold memoir. I could not put it down.

Add on Goodreads.

Her First Palestinian by Saeed Teebi

Debut collection of short stories (House of Anansi, Aug 22) — writing with depth, nuance and intensity, he’ll become your new favourite writer to love-hate. This collection has received gushing blurbs and the title story made the prestigious 2021 CBC Short Story Prize Shortlist. These nine stories promise to astound and startle in all the best ways. Do NOT miss this one!

Add on Goodreads.

As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow by Zoulfa Katouh

YA novel (Little Brown Books for Young Readers, Sep 22) — likely this year’s most anticipated YA release, this speculative novel takes place during the Syrian Revolution and grapples with themes of displacement, duty and desire.

Add on Goodreads.

Love From Mecca to Medina by Sajidah K. Ali

YA novel (Salaam Reads, Oct 22) — a sequel to her Love From A to Z. The spiritual journey and love story of a married Muslim couple performing Umrah in Medina. Super intriguing premise, no? I’ll be picking up ASAP to learn (and unlearn my assumptions) about romantic love in Islam.

Add on Goodreads.

You Still Look The Same by Farzana Doctor

YA novel (Salaam Reads, Oct 22) — a sequel to her Love From A to Z. The spiritual journey and love story of a married Muslim couple performing Umrah in Medina. Super intriguing premise, no? I’ll be picking up ASAP to learn (and unlearn my assumptions) about romantic love in Islam.

Add on Goodreads.

When Smoke Rises by Mustafa The Poet

Debut studio album (Regent Park Songs, 21) — contemplative, spiritual blend of folk and R&B. Elegant and transcendental meditations on growing up, brotherhood, loss, mourning and ultimately, love. A talent to behold and celebrate.

Listen on Spotify.

Further caveat: there are many, many more Canadian writers writing Muslim characters and only in the interests of my time and sanity, I decided to cap this list at twelve. My list is heavily biassed by what I like to read (realistic contemporary literary fiction), and also predominantly features authors of South Asian and Middle Eastern origin, even though Muslims come from all over the globe. These are my own shortcomings and biases and not a comment on any author or work’s worthiness. Please do check out the many other worthy writers and artists creating Muslim characters by perusing Fanna’s blog and/or compiling and collating your own lists!

Salma Hussain

Salma Hussain writes for adults and children. Her own debut middle grade novel, The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan, a Muslim desi tween’s coming-of-age and immigration story, releases through Penguin Random House on May 3, 2022. She lives in Toronto. You can find her @salmahwrites on Twitter!

N O T E

Everything stated in this post is independent of any compensation, and the guest writer’s comments, recommendations, and thoughts are solely their opinion; the formatting was done by the blogger but no changes were made in text.

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