We had the chance to speak to two budding authors working in the YA and poetry writing space, covering everything from faith to the growing diversity in the industry. Given that Muslims are often misunderstood and misrepresented in the real world, these authors are pioneering the introduction to Muslim characters in mainstream teen fiction and battling stereotypes simultaneously. Sahira Javaid and Hafsah Faizal felt inspired by their own religion and culture to create characters and settings that are both fantastical and relatable to the young adult audience while non-invasively integrating Islamic values and culture.
Sahira Javaid is a Canadian Muslim poetess and aspiring author who has published 4 poetry books and is currently working on her YA fantasy book. With an educational background in business management, Javaid runs a website and an online store focused on encouraging people of all stripes to write. She credits her Islamic faith for being her strength and finds that her beliefs often end up reflecting in her work.
If you haven’t already, make sure to make room on your bookshelves for the stellar YA books written by Muslim authors.
What does being a Muslim YA author entail?
The industry has recently opened up more to diversity and voices from marginalized and underrepresented people. Writing YA now has been encouraging more than ever to me. I have seen other friends get agents for their stories with Muslim characters and Islamic culture. Something I would never have imagined. Writing YA means I can make my hero a Muslim and not only can I infuse my religion and culture into the narrative, but give them an adventure, relationships, and a fantastical journey like any other hero.
What is your educational background?
I have selected programs in Business management.
You’ve written poetry books, and are working on a YA fantasy book. To what extent has your religion and culture influenced your work?
When I was a teenager I began learning more about my religion. I couldn’t understand why people would show negativity about it and I honestly didn’t know as much as I thought I did. When I learned more, It began to reflect in my poetry when I wold speak about God, about thankfulness, about gratefulness and finding the brighter side in the darkest of times, especially hope and forgiveness. My faith is what made me stronger and I made sure there were poems that would nurture spiritual development.
It was 2015 when I first heard of the imprint Salaam Reads. They’re mission was to publish books by and of Muslims. It had inspired me to change my main character in my YA Fantasy. I made her a Muslim and began weaving Islamic culture into it. It really gave me hope that maybe I could help in shedding more light on our misunderstood religion.
What was the biggest inspiration behind writing your YA fantasy book? What brought you to write it?
I was ten when a local author had visited my school library. I still remember The Serpent’s Egg by J Fitzgerald McCurdy. Her book was set in my city and I loved the adventure and the way she wrote her story. Something about seeing the author in person and her enthusiasm ignited something inside me. I wanted to write my own adventure and so I began writing it.
As a Muslim writer, you’ve undeniably inspired many, was there somebody who inspired you?
Yes, it was an author named Karuna Riazi. She was working on her own book. A middle grade with a hijabi main character. It was through her that I learned about Salaam Reads. Seeing her journey and knowing that a book with a Muslim character was being published, that too in fantasy-- it encouraged me to try and publish my YA story.
What is your biggest challenge when writing?
When I wrote my first two poetry books I was concerned that others would think my poems were too long. For almost all of my poems I tend to rhyme each line. It’s just something that is most natural to me. I thought my tendency to rhyme would seem immature. My poems are always honest, so I didn’t have trouble with what I was writing, but how someone would react.
I worry about what others will think about my story. Other writers understand we place our heart and soul onto the page and how naked that feeling can be. Ever since I reached out to writers on social media, especially Twitter, I feel supported and encouraged by them. I am learning to just write the story I want, listen to critiques but not let it overwhelm me.
Have you ever felt your personal faith has conflicted with your career? And if so, how?
Although every experience is different, as a Muslim I know people from the culture I write may expect to see their experiences. There is a fear of having people say I didn’t get something right, or didn’t delve deep enough into. In the end it really is about my own experiences and what I grew up with. Seeing more voices from Muslims in the writing industry gives me hope that we will see various people being heard and seen and in turn will make us more comfortable in sharing our faith in our stories.
What advice can you share with aspiring poets and/or writers?
First of all, I’d tell them to not give up. I know everyone says that, haha, but it’s true. Persistence is key in achieving your dreams. All the greats kept going, even after so many rejections.
Another thing I’d say is to write the story, and poems you want to read. After all if you write with honesty, your readers will see that and people will connect with your words on a deeper level.
Read poetry books, read every genre. It’ll help you understand how other authors write and what works. Reading other genres of books will add more nuance to your writing. So if you love fantasy, go read mystery, comics and thrillers. They will add to it and you never know where your next inspiration could come from.
This November we will be sharing the stories of Muslim professionals who work in unique industries around the world. From sporting professionals to angel investors stay in the loop with our content by checking out the page below and following us on all our social platforms.