Shereen Malherbe

A wandering novelist


November 2016

Why Are Men Speaking for Muslim Women in Literature?

What is your favorite book? You might be like me and have too many to mention. Of those books, which characters are your favorite? Do they represent you?

The answer to this, in the majority of western published literature is probably no. If you are represented, have another look at the author — is the author part of your demographic?

As one example, I think of Khaled Hosseini and his bestseller, “A Thousand Splendid Suns.” His book centers around two Muslim women and is written by a man.

Should that matter? I think it does.

We need to consider why men are allowed to speak for us. This is not a critique of Hosseini — it is a critique about how others seem to be filling in the literary gaps to narrate our stories. There are increasing opportunities to be heard through various online platforms that capture our voices. These platforms are filtering into mainstream and providing alternative narratives to the stereotypical representations of Muslim women that usually dominate the media — but it isn’t enough.

We need to consider why men are allowed to speak for us.

Last year, I studied classic literature as part of my english literature degree and something struck me. The classics that define an era from modern classics such as Sam Selvon’s, “The Lonely Londoners” to Emily Bronte’s, “Wuthering Heights have shaped future generations and given us snapshots of a bygone era. They have allowed us to share insights into differing perspectives of history.

In modern literature, the representation of Muslim women is slow, with self-published or independently published titles still dominating in this demographic. Self-publishing is an empowering platform and one we can use to overcome barriers from an industry who tend to reinforce the status quo, or give our narrative to an already popular selling male author to write. With the lack of support from a major publishing house or an agent, the quality of some self-published literature still isn’t competing with mainstream.

How can it when mainstream literature often has an entire team behind the whole process? Publishing is a business. Books making money can be a risk, the market is shifting and it is no wonder professional agents and publishers don’t have the time to support many up and coming authors.

In modern literature, the representation of Muslim women is slow, with self-published or independently published titles still dominating in this demographic.

Now I want to see another revolution; a literary revolution. How?

  • As readers, we can share and review books from authors.
  • Take the time to post reviews, they really do make a difference.
  • Be active in your selection of books, consider who they are written by and who they are aiming to represent.
  • As writers, be yourself. Don’t imitate a trend or an author who is selling well- any trend is likely to have long passed by the time you are ready to market.
  • Take your time before releasing your writing onto a platform. Join critiquing groups and read widely.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your favorite author if they can mentor you. I am not saying bombard them with an epic unedited manuscript, instead start slow!
  • Reach out, share your ideas, share a synopsis or a first chapter. As authors, we can support writers as they begin to write their books.

By creating a community where we support each other’s work, it will begin to change our representation in books and allow the quality of what we write to increase, giving us a real chance of being part of the fabric of mainstream western literature. We are starting to be heard in news. They recognize we have voices and opinions — but we are still being excluded from mainstream literature — still being denied our voices and our contributions to society. We continue to be tossed aside — lost.

Join me and start a literary revolution. Now is the time to write our own stories. Our voices, our words, our aspirations have power. We need to write and create the classics of our generation so our stories remain etched in people’s consciousness and make a lasting change that stands the test of time.

What are you waiting for? As classic writer, William Wordsworth said, “To begin, begin.”


Shereen Malherbe is a British-Palestinian writer. Her novel, Jasmine Falling is available to buy worldwide. To find out more visit & tweet @MalherbeGirl

This article was originally published on Muslim Girl


When The Death Took Its Toll

Book Review: Wafa Darwish’s Memoir, Not Done With Life Yet

I recently discovered Not Done With Life Yet on my bookshelf and I was surprised it had hidden itself away from me for the last year. I received it as a gift from my cousin on my last trip to Palestine. She handed it to me at the end of my trip when I had finished researching my own book based there. At the time, I hadn’t the time to read since all my spare moments were used for writing.

I finally began the book and it was easy to read. I liked the author’s style. She keeps the writing simple but it echoes a vivid snapshot of the decades it spans with interesting insights into a time in history I wasn’t alive. Published in 2014, Not Done With Life Yet is the memoir of Wafa Darwish, a Palestinian woman from Jerusalem. Darwish’s pet tortoise, allegedly born on the same day as she was, becomes an analogy of her own life “trying to protect itself from a cruel world outside, it moves slowly, but in the end manages to survive.” From an early childhood of belonging, to the discovery of her declining visual impairment at age 8, Darwish tells her story of how she managed to finish her education “through Braille and other means” to become a professor and Dean of Birzeit University. Darwish’s memoir gives a unique glimpse into her vulnerability during a time of war, a single mother of two daughters with an insight into the world of revolutionaries who became the new professors of our generation.

As her memoir opens, Darwish situates herself in her daughter’s empty bedroom as she listens to the sound of her dog eating whilst reminiscing about her childhood. Her memories begin in the first house where she was born, “on the street that carried my family’s name until I don’t know when.” Reading this and being aware of the current situation in Jerusalem makes it ever more poignant and hints to me that there is something transient about this state and the history the house contains. Extravagant artifacts – the Hishe ceramic jars that “A hundred decades back or so” were each filled with gold and gifted to the sisters of her family married off to Turkish princes, and the handmade miniature furniture set carved out of “good wood better than much furniture wood used in most houses today” – reflect the history, wealth and historical status of the family that the backdrop of this house provided. The physical description of the house combined with its proximity to Al Aqsa, whose call to prayer can be heard from the house’s yard, creates an opening to the book that throws you back to a Jerusalem that would be unrecognizable to most Palestinians today.

For Darwish, the houses she lived in shaped her experiences. She writes that “Summers in the Darwish old city house were beautiful and active.” She remembers the garden like a slice of “paradise” and the parties her grandmother had with the house full of friends, singing, dancing and cooking. Remembering that “Living in that house then, meant possessing culture and hence identity,” Darwish links identity and belonging to the place she was raised in Jerusalem. The loss of the house signifies the start of a more troubled and tougher life.

As she grows older, Darwish is moved to different houses with her family, and her good grades decline, leaving her subjected to “cruel treatment,” as her teachers, unaware of her visual impairment, struggle to understand why her work has deteriorated. A turning point comes as Darwish is hit by a truck and almost dies, since she “did not see it” when crossing the road. This event brings to light the seriousness of the decline in her vision and thus the decision is made for her to attend a school for the blind, only visiting home at the weekends.

Cover of Not Done With Life Yet.

The world Darwish invokes through her writing is incredibly visual, you almost feel like you can see it, forgetting that the world she sees wouldn’t be the same because of her disability. However, her vulnerability is made incredibly apparent as she is left with a young child during the war in Beirut: “I always imagined us dying trodden over on the staircase by the feet of people…as their lives would be more dear to them than a blind person tumbling down the stairs with a baby.”

Throughout her journey, Darwish travels from to Lebanon, Egypt, Cyprus and back home again, through two failed marriages, the threat of war, the joy and companionship of friends along the way, some of whom end up being her colleagues in her later life. Despite her disability, displacement and marginalization from her community as a single mother of two girls, she manages to finish her PHD and go on to become an academic figure in Palestine having “worked at Al Quds University and at Birzeit University as a Dean, Head of Department and Lecturer.”

At the end of the book, she reminds us that she is back in her daughter’s empty room as she listens to the sound of the dog crunching on dry food. The imagery of that mundane scene makes her survival and growth (including her return to her homeland in her academic position at one of Palestine’s top universities) stand out so intensely

For more information view the book on Goodreads or contact the publishers, Dar Al Shorouk.

By Shereen Malherbe, published via Muslimah Media Watch

Essential Advice for Your First Draft

I do agree with this completely. I don’t edit at all during the first draft. I write everyday on one master document with no chapters only a few subheadings

Mundus Media Ink


The beautiful torture of the writing of the first draft does not have to be a painful experience. From what I understand, the key to getting the story down is to stay at it, moving forward to the finish.

We are all guilty of it. We’ve all, at the very least, glanced back at what we’ve written. It’s all so very tempting just to hear how our story is playing out up to that point. However, the best advice in this instance is to hold yourself back from any proofreading or editing of what you’ve written until the story has been laid down entirely. Get the writing of the first draft complete, no matter how rough or unruly. Only when you’ve finished that draft should you revisit what you’ve written.

Pausing to look back on what you’ve written before finishing that first draft can get you stuck in that section…

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Looking for NaNoWriMo Buddies!

If any fellow NaNo writers want to buddy up…

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