The struggle for Black Muslims to find books about and for them, by authors who look like them, is one which persists. This is not to say that we don’t exist but to emphasize the facts that we’re not given the space we deserve and our stories are labeled as ‘too niche’ when they don’t fit the expected labels.
It’s a known fact that publishing is rife with inequalities, and although there have been improvements, there remains a lack of books by Black Muslims. Yet, when Black Muslims are given a space at the table, it is sometimes at the detriment of the whole parts of our identities: You either can’t be too Muslim or too Black or both. Otherwise, the story is considered niche and ‘difficult to connect to.’ Yet, a world of Black Muslims out there want stories about them, featuring all of the nuances of being Black and Muslim.
As Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow states, “We need to tell [our stories] just to be in stories, existing in them simply because we exist. And yet, it feels like we must tell incomplete stories if we want to be widely published.”
In light of this, we’ve put together a showcase featuring works by Black Muslim authors published within the last few years.
- I Bear Witness: Sadiya’s Story, Amani-Nzinga Jabbar: Sadiya, daughter of an Imam and a mother who serves the community, yearns for a life outside the walls of the mosque. Through this novel, we follow Sadiya as she makes a series of choices which take her off the path her parents have chosen for her, and from the comforts of family and community, until she has to confront the question, ‘How far can you go before there’s no turning back?’.
- The Fortune Men, Nadifa Mohamed: In 1952, Cardiff’s Tiger Bay, the oldest multi-ethnic community in Wales, father, chancer and petty criminal Mahmood Mattan, originally from Somalia, is accused of the murder of a shopkeeper. He’s not too worried because he’s in a country where justice is served. As his trial nears and the chances of him returning home declines, it dawns on Mahmood that he’s in a fight for his life — against conspiracy, prejudice and cruelty — and the truth alone may not be enough to save him.
- We Are All Birds of Uganda, Hafsa Zayyan: A debut novel set in the UK and Uganda, rooted in the brutal regime of Idi Amin, spans decades as it explores racial prejudice, generational divide, immigration and what it means to call a place home.
- Afterlives, Abdulrazak Gurnah: Set in an unnamed coastal town in colonial-era German East Africa in the early 1900s, Afterlives follows three protagonists, Afiya, Ilyas, and Hamza, each scarred by the colonial war. A force to reckon with, this compelling novel memorializes the histories of those forgotten, painting a full picture of love, tragedy, friendships and families.
- This Sister’s Heroine, Jatasha Sharif: Journey through New Jersey during the late ’80s, ’90s and the 21st century with Tiff whose adulthood is shaped by her uncensored exposure to her dysfunctional family. Tiff strives to validate her older sister’s struggle with addiction while reconciling the impact it had on her. This story of unconditional love, tragedy and facing hard truths is told from the perspective of relatable characters and sprinkled with moments of joy amidst difficulty.
- Her Justice Too, Nasheed Jaxson: The story follows couple Justice and Naimah, whose marriage and lives are changed drastically due to a tragic accident which leaves Naimah confined in a wheelchair. As the story of heartache, rage and betrayal unravels, they must each learn unconditional love and forgiveness.
- At Their Feet: 50 Black Muslim Elders Share Stories of Faith and Community Life, Zarinah El-Amin (Editor): Islam invites us to revere our elders and seek the benefits in their wisdom. In this wholesome anthology, we read and learn from the stories of African-American Muslim elders born in the 1930s-1950s, from their journeys to Islam to the impact of Jim Crow and the building communities which served as anchors during dark times.
- Heir to the Crescent Moon, Sufiya Abdur-Rahman: Abdur-Rahman, daughter of two Black Power-era converts, takes us on her journey of reconnecting with Islam and, in turn, rekindling her relationship with her father — her first introduction to Islam. She weaves a poignant story about what it means to be Black, Muslim and American, delving into her father’s past while recounting her own history.
- Are You Borg Now?, Said Shaiye: In this Afro-Futurist memoir, a blend of nonfiction and poetry, Shaiye creates a narrative which exists beyond reality and doesn’t ‘perform trauma’ as is usually expected of artists from immigrant backgrounds.This book highlights Shaiye’s struggle with belonging, feeling isolated, addiction, his commitment to his faith as a Black Somali Muslim and much more.
- Talking About a Revolution, Yassmin Abdel-Magied: A collection of bold, rich and highly relatable essays which explore a wide array of topics, from the concepts of ‘the private and public self’ in a world that’s increasingly public-facing to the concept of identity when one is a ‘forever migrant.’
- A Little Devil in America, Hanif Abdurraqib: In this phenomenal essay collection, poet and cultural critic Abdurraqib takes on an exploration of Black performance — art, music and culture — and its nuances, intricacies and eminence in the modern age.
- Beyond Bilal, Mustafa Briggs: When asked to name a Black historical Muslim figure, many Muslims will name Bilal, but the relationship between Islam and Black history has far deeper roots. Briggs set out to uncover this relationship, bringing to the fore knowledge of Black prophets and prominent figures mentioned in the Qur’an, unknown Black Sahaba and scholars of the early generation, and the history of Islam in Africa as well as contemporary African Islamic scholarship.
- Related titles: Blackness and Islam, Dawud Walid, The Spirits of Black Folk: Sages Through the Ages, Imam Jalaluddin al-Suyuti (author), Adeyinka Muhammad Mendes (translator) and Talut Dawood (translator)
- Girls That Never Die, Safia Elhillo: Award-winning poet Elhillo writes a new world with magical realist imaginings of rebellion, autonomy and power, where women triumph over the everyday traumas, dangers and violence that come with being a woman existing in a patriarchal world.
- Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head, Warsan Shire: The title of this collection teases us with details of what’s to come: poems which explore themes of Black girlhood and womanhood, migration, trauma and resilience through the unique experiences of refugees, immigrants, mothers and daughters.
- Seven, Sadiyah Bashir: In her debut collection, Bashir, two-time youth Grand Slam champion, journeys through her life from adolescence to the present day, exploring her personal battles with internal and external evils, navigating life as a young Black Muslim and finding radical self love. The poems highlight Bashir’s growth as a poet, as the collection spans poems she’d written from ages 13 to 21.
- Anodyne, Khadijah Queen: A collection of riveting poems which explores themes of the body as a metaphor and as a physical being, the dualities of joy and pain, love and loss, knowing and ignorance, and choice. You will leave the collection feeling seen, acknowledged as if someone finally articulated what you’ve been meaning to express.
- Breaking Through Concrete, Ameerah Shabazz-Bilal (Author and Illustrator): Shabazz-Bilal’s anthology is a collection of poems and stories of, and inspired by, children birthed in difficult and destructive circumstances and left to survive in them. Through these poems, the author aims to give the children a voice as they attempt to find life and normalcy in a complicated existence.
- You Truly Assumed, Laila Sabreen: A wholesome book which follows three Black Muslim girls — Sabriya, Zakat and Farah — brought together after a terrorist attack rocks the country and causes anti-Islamic sentiments in their community. The girls create a blog, You Truly Assumed, which becomes an outlet, solace and online community for Muslim teenagers around the country. But when one of them is threatened, the trio’s friendship is put to the test, and the girls have to decide whether to shut down the blog or if the cost is worth keeping it active.
- Listen, Layla, Yassmin Abdel-Magied: A follow-up novel to You Must Be Layla, this tale is powerful, impactful and funny. When Layla’s grandmother in Sudan falls ill, Layla’s summer plan to design a prize-winning invention is interrupted when she and the family rush to be with her grandmother. Amidst the political tensions in Sudan, we follow Layla’s journey as she struggles with her dual identities of being Sudanese and Australian. She’s determined not to lose her place on the invention team, but this causes increasing tension in the family. Will she go against her parents’ wishes?
- Home is not a Country, Safia Elhillo: There are times when life gets so hard you wish you weren’t born, especially when everything seems to be weighing down on you and your home isn’t much of a safe haven. This is exactly the case for Nima, who doesn’t feel understood by her mother and can’t seem to belong anywhere. When she loses the only person she can confide in, Nima has to grapple with harsh realities and fight for her life with a fierceness she never knew she had.
- Punching the Air, Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam: This powerful verse novel follows the life of a 15-year-old boy wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for several years, sometimes mirroring the experiences of prison reform activist Yusef Salaam. In this book, we witness a Black boy struggle with despair and rage compounded by the harsh realities of being incarcerated, yet he maintains his humanity and holds onto hope through faith and community.
- My Dad is Always Working, Hafsah Dabiri (Author) and Arwa Salameh (Illustrator): In this story, Abdullah learns the meaning of gratitude and the ways his dad is there for him even though he doesn’t seem to be present when he rushes off to work and doesn’t pick Abdullah up from school.
- Sunny Gets Money, Bee Nance (Author) and Joseph Nance (Illustrator): Equipping children with financial education is essential, and this is just what Sunny Gets Money is all about. Follow Sunny on his journey as he learns about managing, saving, sharing and spending money.
- Hold Them Close: A Love Letter to Black Children, Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (Author) and Patrick Dougher (Illustrator): A picture book which celebrates Black past, present and future and encourages young children to hold onto their joy, their families and their histories as well as their power to change the world.
- Also check out: Dear Black Child, Rahma Rodaah (Author) and Lydia Mba (Illustrator)
- My Babysitter Wears Hijab, Sabirah Lucas (Author) and Ujala Shahid (Illustrator): Vicky has a new babysitter, Sabirah, who wears a scarf to cover her hair and doesn’t shake her dad’s hand when she comes to the house. Vicky has lots of questions, and Sabirah happily shares about her religion and culture, teaching Vicky the importance of embracing diversity.
- The Crying Girl Who Found Her Power, Zakiyyah Evans (Author) and Vectoe Family (Illustrator): Nora struggles to calm herself down when she feels overwhelmed with emotions, and her family don’t seem to understand why either. In this story, Nora learns ways to self-calm and express herself when she’s feeling frustrated.
Editor’s Note: This is not an exhaustive list. We invite our readers to share titles and authors in the comments so that we can all enjoy and celebrate their works. We also encourage you all to support your local, independent bookstores (many of whom can order the books you are looking for) and visit your local libraries.
This list was curated by Sapelo Square editors with descriptions written by Suad Kamardeen. Suad is a British-Nigerian Muslim writer, Head of Editorial at Amaliah, fiction editor at Rowayat, proofreader, hobbyist photographer, engineering graduate and a Creative Writing Masters student at the University of Oxford. To learn more about Suad’s writing and community work, connect with her at suadkamardeen.com, and on Twitter and Instagram @suadkamardeen.