Ramadan Means … by A. M. Dassu

When I was younger, I loved Ramadhan because of the lavish meals we had in the evenings with family, and the penny sweets I’d savour after completing my fast. But now I’m older and have kids of my own, I love it because it is the one month in the year that brings me back. It’s the month I finally focus and remove distractions, so I can ensure I do my best spiritually and ‘sort myself out’.

We don’t have social iftaars any more. Now, Ramadhan is about reconnecting, renewing and re-energising for the rest of the year. And the amazing thing is this month is always the booster shot I need. And a few months before it, each year, I know I need it to come around again soon because my focus is waning and I’m not as spiritually aware as I could have been and that I haven’t been spending my time in front of my Lord, as I should be.  

Despite me making intentions all year round, I finally adjust my schedule to ensure I read the Quran every day and stay up late in prayer, benefiting from the peace that descends. And that peace is so wholesome, yet I just can’t bring myself to wake up at 3 a.m. the other eleven months of the year. 

And I love it most because it’s the month of charity. For me, it is the month of helping as many people as possible. I give all year round, of course, but in Ramadhan everyone I know waits for me to find a suitable charity. It’s become a ‘thing’ because I painstakingly research the charity and project I’ll support to ensure the money will go to the beneficiaries and isn’t spent on admin or marketing fees. 

This year, the charity I’ve been working with in Syria for the last few years have asked me to help raise money for twenty severely malnourished children in Idlib. And because I know Ramadhan is the month in which most of my family and friends will pay their zakat, I will be asking for their support first. I am so lucky they’re super generous and always help me reach my target each year!

So for me, Ramadhan is about two things: slowing down and raising as much money as possible to help those most in need. I’m really looking forward to doing these two things.  

I hope we all can find those moments of peace, reconnect with what is most important and make the most of the multiple rewards showering upon us in this blessed month. Ameen!

A. M. DASSU is the internationally acclaimed author of Boy, Everywhere, a Waterstones Children’s Book Prize shortlisted book, also nominated for the Carnegie Medal and an American Library Association Notable Book. She is former deputy editor, now an Advisory Board Member of SCBWI-British Isles’ Words & Pictures magazine, a director at Inclusive Minds, which is an organization for people who are passionate about inclusion, diversity, equality, and accessibility in children’s literature, and one of The National Literacy Trust’s Connecting Stories campaign authors, aiming to help inspire a love of reading and writing in children and young people. She writes books that challenge stereotypes, humanize the “other”, and are full of empathy, hope and heart. Her next novel, Fight Back is out June 2nd 2022. You can find her on Twitter as @a_reflective, on Instagram as @a.m.dassu, or at amdassu.com

A. M. Dassu’s Fight Back publishes in June 2022

Ramadan Means … by Laila Sabreen

In one word, Ramadan means to me CONNECTION. I find that Ramadan is a time for me to slow down and be more conscious of how I connect with Allah and the communities that I am part of. 

I like to be more intentional about connecting with Allah through fasting and scheduling time in my day to read the Quran. In addition, the Ramadan memes that circulate Muslim Twitter tend to be hilarious, and I appreciate how Ramadan can foster connection both online and in virtual spaces. I love how Ramadan really brings together the ummah through a shared experience.

I also like to embrace connection through volunteering and charity work. Though I engage in volunteer work regularly, I especially like to take time during Ramadan to clean out my closet for donation and/or to donate to a non-profit whose cause I care deeply about. Both of those acts help me to connect with people or organizations that are addressing social problems and helping to create change.

Ramadan is also a time to connect with my family and to celebrate with them! I think this is actually going to be my first Ramadan away from home, since I am currently a college student and back on campus. Though I am used to being with my family, I think the change may actually give me the opportunity to connect at a deeper level with myself. Perhaps that may look like taking more time to journal or taking the time to wake up to properly hydrate and cook myself a nice meal for suhoor. As such, I like to think of Ramadan as a chance for me to check-in with myself and to practice self-care.

Ramadan is such a special time of the year, and I really appreciate how connected it makes me feel in various ways.

Laila Sabreen is a writer of young adult contemporary. Raised in the Washington, DC area, she currently attends Emory University and majors in English and Sociology. Her love of writing began as a love of reading when she fell in love with the Angelina Ballerina series. When she isn’t writing, she can be found working on essays, creating playlists that are way too long, and watching This Is Us.

You can find Laila on Twitter and Instagram.

Laila Sabreen’s You Truly Assumed published earlier this year

Mini Author Q&A ft Kasim Ali

Kasim Ali’s Good Intentions is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated debuts of the year. A sincere and eye-opening exploration of love, responsibility and being true to yourself beneath the heavy gaze of family and community obligations and expectations.

4th Estate, HarperCollins (March, 2022)

A heart-wrenching and beautifully told debut novel about love, family obligation and finding your way.

Nur and Yasmina are in love
They’ve been together for four happy years
But Nur’s parents don’t know that Yasmina exists

As Nur’s family counts down to midnight on New Year’s Eve, Nur is watching the clock more closely than most: he has made a pact with himself, and with his girlfriend, Yasmina, that at midnight he will finally tell his Pakistani parents the truth. That he has spent years hiding his personal life from them to preserve his image as the golden child. That he has built a life with a woman he loves and she is Black.

Nur wants to be the good son his parents ask him to be, and the good boyfriend Yasmina needs him to be. But as everything he holds dear is challenged, he is forced to ask, is love really a choice for a second-generation immigrant son like him?

Deftly exploring family obligation and racial prejudice alongside the flush of first love, Good Intentions is a captivating and powerful modern love story that announces a thrilling new voice in British fiction.

What inspired you to start writing Good Intentions?

I was inspired by three separate things: a moment in my childhood where my mother had seen me walking with a Black girl after school and told me I ‘shouldn’t hang out with girls like that’ and realising, years later, she meant Black girls; watching Master of None and being frustrated that the only Muslim narratives I was seeing were ones in which Muslims had to shed Islam and religion to ‘belong’ in a Western world; watching The Big Sick and wanting to see an interracial relationship that had two non-white people in it. These three moments, spread over my life, coalesced into the writing of this book.

What did you find most challenging when writing this story?

The act of writing something I’ve never been in: I have never dated a Black woman. I know Black women, have listened to their stories about dating, have been privy to the intimate details of relationships like this, but I have never been in one. I wanted to write a story that felt authentic and sincere and genuine. I can only hope I’ve succeeded.

There are so many powerful scenes in Good Intentions that help us really understand Nur and Yasmina. Do you have any (non-spoilery) scenes you really enjoyed writing?

I loved writing the second chapter, where Nur and Yasmina meet one another at a university party. It was really funputting myself into that moment and feeling the push-and-pull of certain characters. When reading it back, I always see it in my mind as a one-shot camera take in a film or TV show (let’s hope I can make that happen at some point!).

What is one book you can’t wait to read in 2022?

I’ll give you two: Mohsin Hamid’s The Last White Man, because I’ll read anything Mohsin writes; and Brother Alive by Zain Khalid, a debut from America, which tells the story of three boys who have been adopted by an imam in Staten Island. It’s been described as ‘rigorously intelligent, wholly sensitive, and quietly rebellious’ by Robert Jones Jr.

Last but not least, your must-have when writing, and why?

I can pretty much write anywhere; the other day, I wrote a 6,000 word story on a very loud train with a crying baby and a person who wouldn’t stop narrating the train journey on their phone. The only thing I really need is inspiration – whenever that hits, I’m writing. Frustrating when it hits in the middle of a work day and I’m in a Zoom meeting.

Kasim Ali works at Penguin Random House, and has previously been shortlisted for Hachette’s Mo Siewcherran Prize and longlisted for the 4th Estate BAME Short Story Prize, and has contributed to The Good Journal. He comes from Birmingham and lives in London. His debut novel Good Intentions published March 2022.

Order your copy of Good Intentions at Bookshop.org (and help support local Indies!), or Waterstones.

You can find Kasim Ali on Twitter and Instagram.

MVP’s Most Anticipated Books (part one)

Inspired by all the very exciting 2022 lists floating around, we’ve pulled together some of our most anticipated books by Muslim creatives coming out this year. Get your bank cards/Apple Pay/PayPal/piggy banks ready, people.

These are books publishing in the first half of the year – be sure to keep an eye out for a part two!

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh by Sufiya Ahmed

Sufiya Ahmed’s Princess Sophia Duleep Singh (My Story) explores the life of princess and suffragette, Sophia Duleep Singh. A prominent figure of the women’s rights’ movement and the god-daughter of Queen Victoria, you would think she would be more of a household name. But, sadly, her story seems to have been buried like those of endless other prominent, powerful British people of colour who sacrificed everything to better our lives. Kudos to the brilliant Sufiya Ahmed in bringing such an important story to today’s young readers, and in such a gripping and encompassing fictionalised tale. You won’t be surprised to find that this is MVP’s January Book of the Month!

Scholastic Children’s Books, 6th Jan. Grab a copy here.

Salaam, With Love by Sara Sharaf Beg

A heartfelt and humorous YA contemporary starring a Muslimah MC, set in NYC during Ramadan and exploring family, faith and first love? Take our money, now.

And. That. Cover. We’d recognise the charming art style of our fave, Aaliya Jaleel, anywhere.

Random House USA Inc, 4th Jan. Grab a copy here.

You Truly Assumed by Laila Sabreen

This has to be one of our favourite covers of all time. Three Black Muslimah’s represented on the cover of a YA contemporary? 2022 has already delivered. We’re so looking forward to this story of identity, strength and sisterhood from Laila Sabreen. Stunning cover art by Alex Cabal.

Inkyard Press, 8th Jan. Grab a copy here.

This Woven Kingdom by Tahereh Mafi

Our queen Tahereh Mafi has swooped in to save 2022 with a brand new YA fantasy! Just look at that stunning cover. Not to mention the Waterstones edition that comes with an irresistible sprayed edge…

Already a Sunday Times bestseller and TikTok sensation, we have to say the hype is well deserved!

Farshore, 3rd February. Grab a copy here.

Love Marriage by Monica Ali

The highly anticipated new title by bestselling, Booker Prize-shortlisted author Monica Ali. Readers have waited a decade for a new book from Monica Ali and she’s delivered a humour-filled and heart-warming exploration of what truly makes a love marriage.

Talking about stunning Waterstones editions, can we take a moment to appreciate this multi-coloured sprayed edge? We promise we aren’t sponsored by WTS, we just love a good sprayed edge.

Little, Brown Book Group, 3rd February. Grab a copy here.

Good Intentions by Kasim Ali

This. Book. The writing, the characters, the humour, the talent. We fell for Nur and Yasmina within a few chapters. The complex topic of prejudice and colourism within our communities is often disregarded in the face of more overt racism from elsewhere *gestures at everything*, and Kasim Ali has done such a brilliant job exploring this in this heart-wrenching debut. Definitely one to watch. (Edit: Kasim has since been dubbed the male equivalent of Sally Rooney and we gotta agree.)

HarperCollins, 3rd March. Grab a copy here.

The Balloon Thief by Aneesa Marufu

The old adage ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ really doesn’t apply here, because LOOK AT IT. A Black hijabi on the cover of a highly anticipated middle-grade fantasy!? We are so excited for this beaut and can’t wait to dive right in. We may have a cheeky early proof of this one sitting aside… (*evil cackle*)

Chicken House, 3rd March. Grab a copy here.

Squire by Nadia Shammas and Sara Alfageeh

Featuring the work of one of our favourite Muslim illustrators, Sara Alfageeh, Squire is an all-consuming and fast-paced adventure. A story of strength despite size and expectation, fighting for what’s right and not only accepting, but finding pride, in who you are. We devoured this in a single sitting and immediately wanted more – an incredible, action-filled story, Sara Alfageeh and Nadia Shammas make a great duo.

HarperCollins, 17th March. Grab a copy here.

Sofia Khan and the Baby Blues by Ayisha Malik

Despite the slightly blue title, we can’t wait to reconnect with our girl Sofia Khan and see what she’s been up to! We’re sure she’s been just as busy as the incredible Ayisha Malik who actually has two books coming out this year. (The Movement is out the second half of the year, so won’t appear on this list, but keep an eye out for a part two!)

Better still, this title is part of The Reading Agency’s Quick Reads campaign – a campaign that aims to provide accessible, short stories by bestselling authors to tackle reading poverty and illiteracy. A wonderful initiative!

Headline, 14th April. Grab a copy here.

Rumaysa: Ever After by Radiya Hafiza

The highly anticipated follow-up to one of our favourite books of 2021 – and, let’s be honest, All Time – Rumaysa: A Fairytale. We can’t wait for more hijabi fairy tale magic and adventure. It’s exactly what 2022 needs.

Pan Macmillan, 28th April. Grab a copy here.

Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf

If you’re a fan of Scrabble or the Netflix hit Queen’s Gambit, you’ll love. Not to mention that there’s also a murder mystery when our MC “is forced to investigate the mysterious death of her best friend a year after the fact when her Instagram comes back to life with cryptic posts and messages.” You’re welcome.

Salaam Reads, 19th April. Grab a copy here.

A Show for Two by Tashie Bhuiyan

A Show for Two is a heartfelt, hate-to-love romance and exploration of first love, mental health and complex family dynamics. The author describes this as her love letter to New York City.

It’s also a romcom inspired by the time Tom Holland went undercover at the author’s high school!? (Yes, the Tom Holland. As in Zendaya’s boyfriend? Spider-Man? Him.) Are you shitting me? Hand it over.

Inkyard Press, 10th May. Grab a copy here.

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah

Inspired by stories from One Thousand and One Nights, The Stardust Thief weaves the gripping tale of a legendary smuggler, a cowardly prince and a dangerous quest across the desert to find a magical lamp.

One word: yes.

Little, Brown Book Group, 19th May. Grab a copy here.

Hollow Fires by Samira Ahmed

Jawad Ali was just fourteen when a teacher saw him wearing a cosplay jetpack and mistook it for a bomb. A mistake that got Jawad arrested, labelled a terrorist – ‘Bomb Boy’ – and eventually killed. But who was the young boy behind the headlines?

Inspired by real-life events, this is a timely and heart- wrenching exploration of privilege, silent complicity and, really, the effed up everyday stereotypes, abuse and Islamophobia Muslims have to deal with, and how it can have very real consequences. Samira Ahmed is never afraid to ask the difficult questions and we are grateful for it.

Little, Brown Book Group, 10th May. Grab a copy here.

Talking About A Revolution by Yassmin Abdel-Magied

A collection of essays from the brilliant Yassmin Abdel-Magied on everything from the importance of having hobbies just for fun (not every day capitalism and side hustles), her struggle at leaving one home, family and life back in Australia and trying to build another in London.

With a running theme of revolution, we are more than ready for an inspiring boost of motivation. Vive la révolution.

Random House Australia, 31st May. Grab a copy here.

These Impossible Things by Salma El-Wardany

A story of womanhood, sisterhood and faith – we can’t want to go on this journey with these three friends. Salma El-Wardany is an absolute powerhouse and we’re thrilled to see her joining the publishing game!

Orion Publishing, 9th June. Grab a copy here.

A Flash of Fireflies by Aisha Bushby

Aisha Bushby is back with another stunning children’s book about finding your place in the world. While exploring complex and nuanced topics of friendship and identity, Aisha Bushby’s stories carry a dash of magic in every word.

HarperCollins, 9th June. Grab a copy here.

A Mermaid Girl by Sara Rafi and Olivia Asser

A picture book about a young girl who wears a burkini for the first time and feels like a powerful, magical mermaid – until others begin to make her feel different. A story about strength, wonder and the freedom that comes with completely owning who you are!

Penguin USA, 28th June. Grab a copy here.

MVP Book of the Year 2021

To kick off the new year, we wanted to spotlight a 2021 title that stood out amongst the rest. This was a challenging task because 2021 has been an exceptional year for Muslim creators — with The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed being shortlisted for both the Costa Novel Award and the Booker Prize, followed by the celebration of exceptional work by young Muslim creators at the Young Muslim Writers Awards on 31st December, Islam Channel.

Choosing just one title was impossible. Instead, we’ve decided to pick two: one children’s title and one adult title. It’s only fair!

So, without further ado…

MVP Children’s Title of the Year, 2021

published by Knights Of, 2021

Mayhem Mission by Burhana Islam (with illustrations by Farah Khandaker) has to be one of our favourite children’s books of 2021. Full of humour, fun illustrations and a loveable but mischievous main character, it had all the ingredients to be the perfect antidote to what has been a few tough years. With a brilliant children’s non-fiction title (AMAZING MUSLIM’S WHO CHANGED THE WORLD – Puffin, 2020) and now a debut middle-grade fiction title under her belt, we can’t wait to see what Burhana Islam does next!

MVP Adult Title of the Year, 2021

published by Arrow (Penguin UK), 2021

The Mismatch by Sara Jafari is a fresh and compelling coming-of-age story about first love and heartbreak, family and faith, and a journey of self-discovery whilst navigating the pressures of two worlds. This unforgettable tale, with its deeply relatable and complex characters, centres the cross-generational experience of a mother and daughter, and focuses on the tribulations of Soraya, a young British-Iranian woman, as she tries to make sense of her life and relationships.