Shereen Malherbe

A wandering novelist


December 2016

Why Are Men Speaking for Muslim Women in Literature?

Shereen Malherbe

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…

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An Interview with Zeba Talkhani of the Muslim Women Speak Micro-Festival


Originally posted on Muslimah Media Watch

Last month, Waterstones Book Store in London hosted Muslim Women Speak, “a micro-festival of interactive sessions curated, chaired and presented exclusively by Muslim women.”

The festival was curated by Zeba Talkhani and was designed to let Muslim women speak about their own experiences in the publishing and writing industry in the UK. Shereen Malherbe spoke to Talkhani to find out a bit more about the event.

SM: What inspired you to curate and host MWS?

ZT: I love literature festivals and make time to volunteer and attend as many as I can. In the past few years, I was struck by how I knew amazing Muslim women writers and publishers in my personal life but wasn’t seeing this fact reflected in the mainstream literature circles. The idea behind MWS was to change that. Representation is important and I want young Muslim women and women of colour to have amazing role models and get a chance to interact with these women.

SM: What were the speakers’ main messages to the audience?

ZT: The speakers on the day were varied in their background and experiences, but the common thread linking them was their positive attitude and their decision to not let lack of representation or even misrepresentation derail their work. These are women are challenging stereotypes and doing so in their own unique ways. Hala Abdullah was in London that evening from Saudi Arabia and shared her experiences of starting a female only writing club and how it’s giving young women in Saudi Arabia a voice. When asked about the pessimist nature of our society she was unfazed and responded that the club is making a difference for these women. And that’s what sets Muslim women and people of minority apart – they focus on the positive aspects of our society and work towards making these traits popular by doing what they do.

SM: Was there anything surprising that came from the event that you would like to share?

ZT: I can’t imagine why, but at the time I was surprised by the amazing turn out and the interest and curiosity surrounding the event. It was heartening to see non-Muslims in the audience and it just reiterated the fact that there is an interested audience and it’s time the publishing and media gatekeepers realise this. I’m hoping more such events will help that.

SM: It was set in Waterstones bookshop. How important is it that Muslim women write their own narratives?

ZT: It’s important that everyone writes their own narratives and I see a lot of Muslim women doing just that. One of my personal favourite’s is Ayisha Malik’s Sofia Khan is Not Obliged. It’s more than just a Muslim Bridget Jones; it’s something that’s never been done before. Its immediate success and the fact that there is going to be a sequel soon proves that there is room for own voices and publishers need to understand that.

SM: Do you think the landscape for UK publishing is changing for Muslim women?

Photo credit: Vera Chok.

ZT: Yes, things have definitely improved. There is also an increase in independent publishers who are doing a great job in amplifying own voices and creating inclusive environments for Muslim women and women of colour. I think it’s also important that we have other platforms working hard to challenge mainstream media narratives.

SM: What are the challenges?

ZT: I think the biggest challenge Muslim women face in the literary world are unconscious biases. Because of the lack of representation, a lot of people have misguided notions about Muslim women and I think this acts as a barrier for our success. But Muslim women are definitely changing this by speaking up and positively engaging with the world.

SM: In your opinion, are the voices and authentic narratives of Muslim women starting to eradicate stereotypes?

ZT: Of course, there is no doubt about it. I think this is where social media comes into play. Those who seek authentic voices can now find them online. Platforms such as She Speaks We Hear and sister-hood magazine are transforming the way we think about Muslim women. And then there are brilliant Muslim women role models who are redefining our understanding of the roles of Muslim women in modern society and helping eradicate stereotypes by being themselves.

5 ways to become a bookworm

Ink Chapters

I still remember the books from my childhood.

That children’s encyclopedia with King Tut on the front. I used to constantly read through the facts in that battered old book.

The Bouncing Buffalo, where an antique buffalo’s head comes to life, bringing excitement to two children (less creepier than it sounds, I promise).

I remember this wonderful hardback collection that I cannot remember the name of (it’s really frustrating) of various fairy tales and children’s stories, all narrated by bears. I remember the hardback cover becoming tattered and falling off at the hinges because of the number of times I’d reread.

Not to mention Jacqueline Wilson, Roald Dahl, and J.K. Rowling. My childhood was a flurry of make-believe games fueled by words.

adored books.


Then I grew up, became a teenager, and my reading habits changed. I read less frequently, and only what seemed to be the popular books. I still read and reread…

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Cover Reveal

Mundus Media Ink


A Work in Progress:

I’m in the throes of a rewrite of the first draft of my new book. It is just a blast to have the opportunity to get all of the knowledge I’ve amassed under one title. It’s a go-to guide that will help writers represent their work with stunning visual graphics they create themselves.

I am blogging about my process to get some insight from those of you out there on what your main concerns are and to make sure I miss nothing that will aid you in creating all your own graphics just like a professional designer.

Cover Reveal!

HTDYBC-02-CC copy.jpg

It’s a work in progress and I plan to have it launched by spring at the latest. I’ll be offering it for free at first as a thank you to all of you who give me feedback throughout the writing process.

What’s Inside:

I have crammed everything…

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5 things I learnt from NaNoWriMo 2016

I love hearing about NaNo writing success because 50,000 words in one month is no easy task!

madeehah writes


For those who don’t know, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is an annual writing event where writers all across the world are invited to write 50,000 words within November.

Yes, I actually managed it. To write 50,000 words in 30 days. To brave the early mornings, with bleary eyes and cold limbs; the frantic late nights, with aching feet and exhausted bones. This month, where my mind had completely crippled its creative capability, only to have a few hours sleep to recharge for the next day.

In 2015 I only managed 35k, which, at the time, I thought was quite an achievement. Now I’ve reached the ‘official’ finish line it feels great, but I still haven’t finished writing the novel. It’ll probably be another 50k before I do!

Here are the 5 things I’ve learnt this year, and hope that it encourages a budding writer to take part in next year’s frenzy:

1. Don’t let your…

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