I can still remember being asked in the fourth grade by my teacher, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and my response to her was that I wanted to be a writer. I remember the smile that tugged at the side of her mouth briefly before it gave way to a quick rolling of her eyes and then she said, "That's odd, Maryam. You're a bright girl. Can't you think of something else?", but I couldn't. Like most writers, I fit the stereotype. I was a bookworm who loved reading. My books were friends, enemies (when the plot didn't go my way), and even a safe haven for me while growing up in the inner-city.
But there was more to my incessant desire to read. I realized now that I was seaching for me. I hunted through the books of Shakespeare, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Agatha Christie, Toni Morrison, Terry McMillan and so many more looking for some sort of resemblance of me: an American Muslim girl. It could have been a Pakistani-American Muslim girl or even an Arab-American Muslim girl. I wasn't really too picky back then, I just desired to truly know a character, not the outside, from the inside.
As I got older and away from the opressingly insular reading lists of public schools and was introduced to other authors (that I enjoyed) who were writing about Muslim girls and women, I was dumbfounded when there was no real connection with the characters. Well correction, I connected, but from an exotic viewpoint. I might as well have been Oprah Winfrey reading Khaled Hosseini for the first time. That's when it hit me what my search had really been about all along. I was longing to see the "Aisha Williams", "Jameelah Browns", and the "Hanif Whites" who were African American, Latino, or even White who grew up praying on the streets of Boston, MA or Brooklyn, NY. I wanted to read stories about women at the Mosques who sold fish dinners to keep the heat on or who made sweet potator pie for Eidul Fitr, the annual celebration after Ramadhan. I was craving to read a story about how young Muslim girls were dealing with wearing the hijabs, the head scarf, to PS 190 or Martin Luther King High. But I coudln't find it and even worst; no one seemed to want to read about it. Well atleast that's what many of the publishers told to me when I queried them; but they were wrong.
I am a indigenous Muslim woman from Western Massachusetts and I am a novelist. I write because I love to write and I write about American Muslims because they are in my heart. I know that there are Muslim girls and boys in Atlanta, Seattle, Oakland and Houston who are searching as I type this for books that have characters that they "know" from the inside and they identify with and who they can find safety and inspiration from. I write for them.