The other day I went to Barnes and Noble. We got there ten minutes before storytime began and as we walked to the kid's area, I saw this adorning it's entrance:
For a split second I felt like the air had been sucked out of my lungs. But in the best way. I took a picture of it and then, I pulled every book off the shelf. I sat and read them with my kids. In a Barnes and Noble, with my two boys, we turned pages of a beautifully illustrated book with golden domes and red prayer rugs.
We watched Rashad watch the moon.
We admired the Islamic Art in this coloring book.
And explored Under A Ramadan Moon.
I browsed their shelves for more such books but that was it. Those four books were their entire stock. I had planned to buy all of them but then they would no longer have that display, the one that stopped me in my tracks, so my boys chose two.
I posted the Ramadan display on twitter. To date its gotten the most retweets, favorites, and interaction than anything I have ever posted. People told me the picture prompted them to go to their own Barnes and Noble. Their own independents. And everyone, without exception, reported the same thing: Their bookstores had no display. Their bookstores had no Ramadan books. I saw this myself today when I went to a different bookstore with a friend today and asked for a book, any book on Ramadan, and came up empty.
On the drive home I called my original Barnes and Noble to ask them to hold the remaining two books for me to buy. You liked the display? the person on the phone asked, I organized that display. We talked for twenty minutes. Jennifer told me the display was her idea because she wanted to celebrate diversity and with Ramadan around the corner this was a good opportunity. She said the display was not an easy task because there are so many beautiful books on Ramadan and Eid but most are fast going out of print. This is why they ordered so few.
But now I've sold them out. I bought their entire stock. Four books.
Because of that, they're ordering more.
I told Jennifer how much that display meant to me. I told her that I grew up my entire life in the United States, I went to bookstores like a candy addict visits a candy store but this was the first time I saw such a display. I told her that seeing my boys see that display, to sit in a bookstore and read about Mecca and prayer rugs--- that silent message was more than anything I could ever tell them. It was a powerful message. Their faith is not just behind closed doors to be kept secret because it is disliked by many. Their identities were not relegated to the four walls of their house. This display told their tender young selves that they are seen. They are recognized. They matter.
As Muslims we belong to not only a marginalized group in the United States, we belong to a group many around the world wish didn't exist at all. By some we are hated desperately in a way that sends fear down my spine. It's an uncomfortable truth to live in, but it's the truth all the same and people who promote books with neutral and ordinary images of Muslims get push back like this shockingly angry review by a notable reviewer on a picture book of the Prophet. And like the angry response Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns got when someone decided to include it in their book fair.
That's why I'm writing this post. If we love books. If we love bookstores. If we want our kids to have Ramadan books and if we want people outside to understand our ordinary every day lives and the holidays we cherish:
We have to support these books.
- If the bookstore carries the book buy the book.
- If they don't carry the book. Ask them to order it.
- Visit your local library and ask them to order some titles, you'll be surprised how many amazing librarians will order the books if you ask them.
- Ask your library if they want to set up a Ramadan display. Tell them you'll help.
But I want these books not just for my kids, I want them for every kid. We may not encounter a person different from us in our daily busy lives, but we can learn about them between the pages of a book and in that instance any other-izing or dehumanizing of a race or a faith that media and adults may try to do- vanishes.
Yes, books are that powerful.
And as Ramadan fast approaches this is my plea to you:
- Consider these books for your Eid gifts this year.
- Give them to your kids.
- Give them to your friend's kids, your nephews and grandkids.
- Donate it to the library
UPDATED July 1, 2014: Since my last visit, they have now more than quadrupled their stock of books. From four books they now have 25+ Ramadan books and general books on Islam. And because of the response by people walking in and picking up books they are running out of stock fast and replenishing regularly. You see this display? This is because of all of us being the change we wanted to see. It's a sign that every small act matters:
In response to this post Love Insh’Allah, Muslimah Montage, Story and Chai, and myself have created a call to action: Please tweet your favorite book recommendations for Eid gifts this year with the hashtag #RamadanReads. Love Insh’allah will be compiling the feedback into a list for everyone to have access to in time for Eid-gift giving. You can also use the HT to share your successes with talking to bookstores and libraries about diverse books and their importance!
Let’s do this! We say we want more books to reflect our children’s reading experiences, so let’s buy those books! Let’s recommend those books! Let’s make Ramadan known to bookstores as that odd holiday where all the Muslims come out buying up all their books with diverse titles! We can do this and considering the benefits are: good books, thriving bookstores, and GIFTS: it’s a win-win-win!