Where are all of our voices? The lack of Muslim Narratives in Western Literature

British Muslim TVDiscussed on British Muslim TV and available to view on air from February 11th, 5pm-6pm. Here is a summary of my thoughts on why we need diverse, authentic narratives to break into mainstream.

The contributions Muslim women make to society are being missed with the current lack of diversity in literature, so where are all of our voices? After all, we are out there contributing to society, but pick a chick-lit book or a popular series and they don’t include relatable themes for Muslim women.

The female Muslim narrative needs to be become more representative so a viable alternative to glamourized western ideals dominating the market can be heard above the crowd. For conscious readers who want to enjoy fiction stories, there is a unique genre called Islamic fiction. Too few UK and American publishers currently contribute to Islamic fiction and it may be because of the confusion of what Islamic fiction is, how cool it is and how preachy it may be. I want a new term. It has to be one that speaks to us and is written by us. The story should be so good it shouldn’t even matter what genre it is coined, but finding you is important. It needs to reach sisters and say, ‘Hello, I hear you. I know you are out there and contributing to society and our struggles can be different but equally as funny, emotional and important.’ It isn’t about perfection, it’s about life based on our individual and collective beliefs, what that means for us and the application of it in the modern world, which is missing from narratives available in women’s literature. Non-Muslim readers also want an authentic experience with voices emanating from within our multi-cultural community.

The availability of well written, diverse books needs to grow and it needs our support. The Islamic fashion industry is tipped to be one of the largest growing industries and caters for one of the fastest growing segments of our population, which is young Muslim women. As the fashion industry has begun to notice this hot, new demand, so our literature needs to start truly representing society as it is.

There are some great bloggers and a rise of Muslim sister book clubs all aiming to represent our views in society, but I know there are more of us out there, dreaming, reading, writing and wondering where we can find narratives that speak to us. I would love to hear your thoughts on this so get involved and join me. Let’s find a way for our voices to be represented in mainstream fiction and beyond. I want to hear your thoughts on how we do this and any ways you are doing it already. If you have written any books or know any by Muslimah authors, please share! Join in the conversation here and on Twitter @malherbegirl and via Goodreads Muslim Women’s Book Club.

Published by Shereen Malherbe

Shereen Malherbe is a writer & author. Her novel, Jasmine Falling has been voted as one of the top 20 Best Books by Muslim women. Her second contemporary fiction novel, The Tower, was published by Beacon Books on April 2019. Her first children's book, The Girl Who Slept Under The Moon is coming soon.

2 thoughts on “Where are all of our voices? The lack of Muslim Narratives in Western Literature

  1. Re:

    “For conscious readers who want to enjoy fiction stories, there is a unique genre called Islamic fiction” – is there? Where?!

    and

    “Too few UK and American publishers currently contribute to Islamic fiction and it may be because of the confusion of what Islamic fiction is” – ah, I see (or rather, unfortunately, we don’t!).

    and

    “I want a new term. It has to be one that speaks to us and is written by us. The story should be so good it shouldn’t even matter what genre it is coined, but finding you is important […] Non-Muslim readers also want an authentic experience with voices emanating from within our multi-cultural community” – THIS…

    …Thanks for the read, Shereen. Completely agree, and I think that there are a number of factors contributing to the current, relative lack of Muslim women’s voices in literary fiction/ writing and more commercial/ mainstream literature too. Firstly, the difficulties in general of both getting the right support to develop your craft and of getting published. Secondly, there is also the gap between seeing what’s already out there vs. one’s own experiences; i.e. resisting the urge to blend in and re-produce the kind of stuff that’s already on the shelf, but not wanting to be pigeon-holed and pressured into self-censorship and writing about what others might expect us to write about either (e.g. oppressive parents/ marriages, community culture clash, etc). The talent is clearly out there, but more work needs to be done in welcoming Muslim women and more diverse writers in general, and not as a token, but as a normalised part of this world. So that, ultimately, we’re seen as writers (/artists/ creatives/ etc) first and foremost, rather than a Muslim ones. The talent and also, as you say, the demand for more diverse and authentic voices is out there, so the more opportunities to welcome, nurture and showcase this talent definitely need to be made available.

    On a more positive note, I recently read Ayisha Malik’s debut novel “Sofia Khan is Not Obliged” which was published last month (has been described as a Muslim/ halal Bridget Jones’s Diary(lol!) ) and I really enjoyed it. Authentic, but also entertaining, emotional and hilarious, so that was a very happy revelation. A hijabi main character in an otherwise (fast-becoming) popular and, well, *normal* novel, eh – maybe there’s hope for us yet! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for your comments, Farhana. I agree with you regarding first and foremost that we should be seen as writers rather than Muslim writers. My novel, Jasmine Falling, is intended for everyone; not just a Muslimah audience and that was really important. In fact, when I began writing it, I had only just started practicing Islam. As I approached publication, I discovered the problems that exist when you write literature with a Muslim narrative and that is why the term or a publisher focusing on ‘Islamic fiction’, I didn’t see as suitable for my book. I believe relatable fiction is more important than coining it, Islamic or Muslim fiction and that for literature to be more representative of society, it simply has to be more diverse.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: