Ausma Zehanat Khan is the award winning author of the Khattak/Getty mystery series as well as and the fantasy series The Bloodprint. We spoke to her about her new middle grade book on the diversity of Islamic traditions during Ramadan.
What are your favorite childhood stories/books?
I went through a major Enid Blyton phase which no doubt triggered my love of mysteries…The Secret Seven, The Famous Five, Malory Towers. I’ve also always loved From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner, Elidor by Alan Garner, and Octagon Magic by Andre Norton.
A lot of your adult novels which are crime thrillers and fantasy reflects global politics, what led you to write a book for children on Ramadan traditions?
I was approached by the publishers who showed me the other books in the amazing Orca Origins series, and I thought what a wonderful idea it was. Ramadan is a religious tradition I have observed all my life, so I thought writing a book about the month of fasting would be a worthwhile contribution.
Did you consider writing a fictional story, or was it clearly that the approach for the Ramadan book would be mostly non-fiction?
The book was part of an educational series, so it was always intended to be non-fiction. Some of the other absolutely beautiful books in the series include Passover, Diwali and Chinese New Year. I really commend Orca Publishers – the authors, editors and designers – for such an important and valuable addition to books for middle grade students.
What was your research process for this book?
The book was quite personal, so most of it was reflecting on a lifetime’s experience of the practice of fasting during Ramadan. But I also talked to a lot of other Muslims about their experiences, particularly children, and then when I had questions myself, I referred the entire manuscript to Shaikh Ahmed Kutty for accuracy and for his valuable insights. My very close friends and critique partners, Sajidah Kutty and Uzma Jalaluddin also helped me revise the manuscript.
Were there any challenges you faced while writing this book?
I wanted the book to honestly reflect my own experience of Ramadan, but I also wanted to make it as inclusive as possible. The designer of the book, Rachel Page, did an amazing job looking through hundreds of photographs to try and reflect Ramadan across diverse communities and around the world. One thing I learned from the experience is that we need a wider variety of stock photographs of black and brown children and communities.
There seems to be a growing misunderstanding and ignorance around Islam and Muslims in recent times, how best can Muslims, and the community help counter this?
It’s important to realize that that ignorance is often deliberately cultivated and promoted by organizations that have a vested interest in portraying Muslims and Islam as a threat. For example, see the Fear, Inc. report on the Islamophobia Network. So it’s not happenstance, which means we need to work harder than ever at countering it. Whether that’s through our advocacy organizations, our personal interactions, or our chosen field of work is really up to the individual. I know this can be extremely burdensome at times, but given the forces that are actively working to promote hatred, no member of our community can afford to be complacent or disengaged. We each have a duty to live out our values and to communicate the ethics of our worldview effectively.
Are there other children’s books on the horizon?
Not anytime soon. I have so much admiration for authors of kidlit – writing books for a young audience requires such a wide range of skills and talent that I’m truly in awe. I’m going to leave it to the experts!
Also see our other Ramadan Reads here