This week, millions of people all over the world will celebrate Eid al-Adha. This holiday is an observance in the Muslim faith that marks the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, or hajj, a religious duty that need only be fulfilled once in one’s lifetime by all those who are able to make the journey safely.
The origins of the holiday come from the story of Abraham, whose pilgrimage to Mecca was plagued by obstacles and temptations. During the journey, Abraham was instructed by God to sacrifice his son; Abraham was prepared to comply, and for his unquestioning faith, he was rewarded with mercy for his son and the substitution of a sheep to fulfill the sacrifice. If this story sounds familiar, that would be because it is also a major event commemorated in Judeo-Christian traditions.
In terms of celebration, Eid is actually not unlike Christmas; it’s all about spending time with loved ones, eating hearty meals, and honoring religious practices. Whether you celebrate Eid or not, now would be a great time to read up on these contemporary Muslim authors and recognize the incredible contributions they have made to literature.
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You’re probably familiar with Khaled Hosseini’s bestselling novels, The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and And the Mountains Echoed. Each of Hosseini’s books have been set in Afghanistan and each one sheds light on how the political turmoil of recent Afghan history has affected the daily lives of its communities. Hosseini himself was born in Afghanistan; when he was fifteen, his family moved to the United States seeking political asylum in the aftermath of the Soviet War. On August 30th, Hosseini will be releasing Sea Prayer, an illustrated short story commemorating the death of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned in 2015 while attempting to make it to Greece. Sea Prayer can be viewed as a short animated film here.
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Azar Nafisi is an Iranian author and English professor who has lived in the United States since 1997, and has been an American citizen since 2008. Her 2003 release, Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, held its place on the New York Times Bestseller list for 117 weeks (that’s two and a quarter years!). She is also the author of Things I’ve Been Silent About: Memories of a Prodigal Daughter, and The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books. As a professor, Nafisi has been a fierce defender of women’s rights and equality in education; she was expelled from the University of Tehran in 1981 for refusing to wear a mandatory veil. Later, she quit teaching to organize a group of her former students for meetings at which they could discuss works of literature deemed too controversial for the University’s curriculum.
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Sumbul Ali-Karamali is an American author and former lawyer. She was raised in a Muslim family and decided to study the religion formally at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. There, she earned a degree in Islamic Law, which informed the premise of her book, The Muslim Next Door: the Qur’an, the Media, and that Veil Thing, which is something of a beginners guide to Islam and Muslim culture. The book counteracts the Islamophobic assumptions made about Muslim communities in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. She has also written Growing Up Muslim: Understanding the Beliefs and Practices of Islam, which she has said she wrote for the benefit of middle-school teachers struggling to find accurate material to teach their students about Islam.
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Leila Aboulela is a Sudanese writer whose work has explored the complexities of striding the boundaries between two worlds. She has released several books, including The Translator, The Kindness of Enemies, and Minaret. Her most recent release, Elsewhere, Home, which came out this June, is an intricate interweaving of stories that explore themes of alienation, distance, and assimilation as they apply to the lives of immigrants. Aboulela has been highly praised for her work, and has been nominated for and won several literary accolades, including the very first Caine Prize for African Writing.
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Mohsin Hamid’s career has been flourishing from its beginning. Born in Pakistan, he spent some of his childhood in the United States, where he eventually returned to attend college at Princeton University. At Princeton, Hamid studied under literary queen Toni Morrison; the first draft of his first novel, Moth Smoke, was written under Morrison’s tutelage. Hamid’s second novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, is an international bestseller, and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, as was his 2017 release, Exit West. Hamid currently divides his time among Lahore, New York, London, and parts of the Mediterranean.
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Mohja Kahf is poet, novelist, and professor. Born in Syria, she moved to the United States with her family when she was three, and has also lived in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Kahf’s work examines the cultural conflicts that accompany the experience of being an American Muslim, especially as these conflicts influence/are influenced by gender, as in her books E-mails from Scheherazad, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, and Hagar Poems. Recently, Kahf was awarded with an honorable mention from the Arab American National Museum at their 2017 Book Awards. Kahf’s writing has also been featured in the work of renowned artist Jenny Holzer.
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Laila Lalami is a Moroccan-American novelist and essayist whose work has received emphatic praise. Her 2014 novel, The Moor’s Account, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, made a Pulitzer Prize finalist, included in the New York Times Notable Books of the Year, and won the American Book Award, the Arab American Book Award, and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. The book is a fictional memoir of the non-fictional Estevanico, an enslaved Moroccan who was one of the first indigenous African people to reach the United States. Lalami has also written Secret Son and Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits and currently teaches creative writing at the University of California, Riverside.
G. Willow Wilson
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G. Willow Wilson is an American comic writer, author, essayist, and journalist. She is perhaps best known for being the creator of the very first Muslim character to headline a Marvel comic, Kamala Khan, a.k.a. Ms. Marvel. Wilson grew up in New Jersey and was raised without religion. As an adult, she took to studying various religions while suffering from health problems. This research led her to make the decision to convert to Islam while on a plane traveling to Cairo, where she would live while teaching English. Wilson’s first graphic novel, Cairo, was a product of her time spent there.
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Randa Abdel-Fattah is an acclaimed Australian writer who has been writing since she was a child. Her very first, yet unpublished, work was a “novel” based on Roald Dahl’s Matilda, which she wrote in the sixth grade. At the age of eighteen, she wrote the first draft of what would become her first book, Does My Head Look Big In This?, which was published in 2005. The book tells the story of a teenage girl in a Muslim family who makes the decision to wear the hijab (a religious garment) after being inspired by an episode of Friends. Abdel-Fattah has described herself as a feminist, and her work includes themes of women’s rights and equality, especially as these themes apply to Muslim women.
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