Taslima Khatun, a guest writer for MVSLIM, has compiled a list of books starring Black Muslims that you need to add to your reading list ASAP. Whether it’s Black History Month or not, these pieces deserve to be recognised, discussed and even critiqued – if one must. Happy reading!
Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth
Evocative and intense, Warsan Shire writes in a simplistic style but evokes powerful and often complex reactions to her poetry. This is due to her unique intersectional position as a writer when exploring relevant issues such as Islam, race and displacement. In Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, her debut pamphlet, Shire ruminates on the gulf of girlhood through themes of shame, longing, violence and the generational trauma shared by women. In the poems ‘Things We Lost in the Summer’, ‘Beauty’, and ‘Trying to Swim with God’, we catch glimpses of the strength of sisterhood and references to Islam that reflects the political fragmentation of a homeland which we yearn and cower from.
Consequently, her poetry went viral in 2016 when the migrant crisis gripped Europe, which is rendered in one of the twenty six poems titled ‘Conversations about Home (At the Deportation Centre)’. Shire casts us to “look at all these borders, foaming at the mouth with bodies broken and desperate”, with her body “burning with the shame of not belonging, my body is longing”. She is eloquent and brutal with her reconstruction of the physical body as “the sin of memory and the absence of memory.”
Shire’s parents are Kenyans who migrated to Somalia, then fled to the UK when she was a child. “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark” is a conviction rawly felt by refugees all over the world.
We Are All Birds of Uganda
We Are All Birds of Uganda is an educating insight into the exodus of East African Indians from Uganda. It is richly transportive in it’s attention to historical and cultural detail, which Hafsa Zayyan delivers with compassion. The book is a family saga told through the interwoven narratives of Hasan, grandfather, and Sameer, grandson, in two different time points of history, offering readers a scopic view of themes such as displacement, religion, familial relationships and racism.
Sameer is an ambitious lawyer in London, working for an international firm with the prospect of developing his career in a new office in Singapore. He is a second-generation immigrant in the UK and the only son of a multi-ethnic, Muslim family who wants him to join the family business and fulfil his filial duties.
The second section acts as a narrative diary constructed through expository letters, written from 1945 through to 1981 by Hasan, Sameer’s grandfather, who is a successful businessman in Uganda. Hassan’s letters follow Uganda’s turbulent rebirth as an independent country and charts African nationalism as it bubbles to the surface. As a result of Idi Amin’s Indophobic policies, Sameer is consequently expelled from Uganda.
Sameer’s and Hasan’s narratives intersect when Sameer decides to visit Uganda after a vicious racist attack on a close friend which disrupts his carefully established life.
We Are All Birds of Uganda offers a pleasant portrayal of faith, not without its challenges, and its multifaceted view of racism is refreshing in its exploration of power and privilege. Zayyan’s prose is heartfelt and nostalgic at times, and the emotional response is palpable. It is a revelation of a novel that explores the intricacies of a multigenerational spectacle that transcends borders to reclaim love.
2 Parts Oxygen : How I Learned How to Breathe
2 Parts Oxygen : How I Learned How to Breathe is a collection of joyous poems by Tariq Touré – a celebration of family roots, fatherhood and Islam in Black America. Touré is a Muslim essayist and poet, who won Best Poetry book of Baltimore in 2016 with his debut poetry collection, Black Seeds. His words are intricate and thoughtful; a soothing balm during the chaos and heartbreak. Tariq Touré exudes charisma and this can be felt through his electric poems, as he navigates themes of social justice through the lens of the Black Muslim experience. He appears on Al Jazeera’s ‘How are black Muslims reinvigorating poetry in the US?’ where it was contemplated how “…young Black Muslims are in the vanguard of those presenting compelling poetry to new audiences” and how “poetry retains its unique capacity to make the personal political and give voice to marginalised individuals and communities.”
She Wore Red Trainers
She Wore Red Trainers is a light-hearted contemporary love story about two Muslim teenagers navigating their often complex lives. Na’ima B Roberts explores themes of community, religion, grief and familial politics through the main characters, Ali and Amirah who are both dealing with their own traumas, and find solace in each other. Ali is coming to terms with the loss of his mother and becoming a support system for his grieving family while exploring his identity as a Muslim, and Amirah’s expeirences have her struggling against the concept of a successful marriage.
The writing is simple, but evokes excitement as the writer invites us to experience the first flutterings of young love through the ambitious and strong-willed protagonists. A quote that is always relevant but consistently profound is: “…Good Muslim women come in all forms. There isn’t one officially sanctioned version.”
I think Na’ima B Roberts encapsulates this in her novel perfectly.
Season of Crimson Blossoms
Heralded as an authentic work of postcolonial Nigerian fiction, Abubakr Adam Ibrahim’s Season of Crimson Blossoms is a force to reckon with. After winning the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature in 2016, Ibrahim proclaimed: “I wanted to immortalise us, that despite the wars, the violence, the immeasurable harm we perpetrated, our resilience and strength and our humanity still shone through the dark mist.”
Season of Crimson Blossoms centres around Nigerian Muslims against the sociopolitical landscape of Abuja, Nigeria, and is unapologetic in its discussions of religion, politics and female sexuality – or more concisely, the repression of female desire in a patriarchal society that is scarred by violence and religious dogmatism.
Ibrahim’s compelling novel centres around the illicit affair between a 55-year-old widow, Binta Zubairu, and a 22-year-old dr*g dealer, Hassan Reza. His approach to cross-generational relationships is interesting as it subverts the typical trope of an old man/young woman, and allows him to explore a dysfunctional and multilayered relationship with nuance and great talent.
Season of Crimson and Blossoms is a commentary on the standards a Muslim woman must maintain in a conservative Hausa society and is enmeshed in double standards and misogyny.
So there we have it! These are just a couple of books with Black Muslim characters that you need to add to your reading list. If you have any more good suggestions, let us know via Instagram – @MVSLIM.
By Taslima Khatun
Follow Taslima’s book blog for more stunning reviews: @taslibri