It’s the first day of Ramadan Readathon and we’re exploring the theme of culture! We are so excited to be part of this South Asian Reading Challenge (co-hosted by Samia & Rumaanah) and Ramadan Readathon (created by Nadia) collaboration. Culture is multi-faceted and layered with identity, religion, ethnicity, and family experiences. The three of us represent different parts of the South Asian-Muslim diaspora, and we love exploring the way that books have infused more meaning to our identities.
Here on my blog, I’ll have a little interview with Nadia, who is the brains behind @MuslimReadathon and you can go to her blog – here! to read my answers as well as Samia’s answers, who is another integral part of the SARC team. Without further ado, let the Q&A commence!
Q1. Why did you start the initiative?
NADIA: At the beginning of 2017, I shared a photo of my #MuslimShelfSpace after seeing the hashtag circulating on Twitter. Created by S. K. Ali, author of Saints and Misfits, the initiative highlighted #ownvoices Muslim narratives at a pertinent time – to counter the Islamophobia and hatred fuelled by the U. S. election and travel ban.
After taking the photo, I realised that I hadn’t actually read many books by Muslim authors and, as a Muslim, this came as a shock to me. In three years, I had read a total of six books. Why wasn’t I making a more conscious effort to support Muslim authors? I wanted this to change.
A few months later, #RamadanReadathon was born. What started as a tweet has now been my passion project for the last four years! Since the first readathon, I have definitely been making a more conscious effort to read and support books by Muslim authors and now my #MuslimShelfSpace is thriving.
Q2. Tell us about the first time you were represented in a book?
NADIA: Representation means something different to every single one of us. For me, the first time I felt represented in a book was in 2017 when I read The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi. But prior to that, I’d read many books I could relate to on a cultural level. Back then, any books with South Asian characters had meant representation to me because I could relate to the characters’ experiences.
There are many similarities between our cultures and I found myself playing into the narrative of normalising South Asian cultures as interchangeable by settling for the bare minimum when it came to representation. I could relate to books like When Dimple Met Rishi as universal Desi experiences but was it really the representation I was looking for? Reading The Gauntlet helped me understand the difference between simply relating to a book and feeling represented by a book. The latter is something you’ll only know and feel when you read it and I don’t think it’s a feeling I’ll ever get used to.
Q3. What are your favourite cultural traditions? What do you love about your culture?
NADIA: I feel like this can be applied to most South Asian cultures but I love how colourful it is! I definitely feel most connected to my culture during special occasions like weddings and Eid as they’re an excuse to wear beautiful outfits, paint my hands in henna and eat delicious food. But they’re also one of the only times in the year when my entire family can get together. Family lies at the heart of everything there is to love about our culture.
Q4. What 3 books do you recommend?
1. The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi— the first book I read with a Bangladeshi protagonist. Even though it’s middle grade, it’s true what they say. Representation means everything.
2. The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan — the author perfectly captures the atmosphere of what it’s like to go ‘back home’ in a vivid and comforting way.
3. The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar — I haven’t read this one yet but I’m starting to expand my collection of books with Bangladeshi protagonists and that makes me really happy.
A little more about Nadia:
I’m an unaplogetically British-Muslim writer and blogger with a passion for talking stories and telling stories. I graduated with a BA in English Language and Literature in 2018 and now spend far too much time drinking tea when I’m not spilling it, living my best life in Animal Crossing and championing diversity at every chance I get. My blog: headscarvesandhardbacks.com
I hope you all really enjoyed getting to know a bit more about Nadia and @MuslimReadathon and hope you’ll join her and SARC in reading some books written by or featuring muslim voices this month. Wishing you all the very best and blessings for Ramadan to my Muslim friends and followers. This one is for you.
Until next time,