Hena Khan is the author of Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, Night of the Moon, It's Ramadan Curious George and the upcoming Amina's Voice - a collection of children's books that bring to life the beauty and traditions of Islam.
Where did you grow up and what inspired you to become a writer?
I was born and raised in Potomac, Maryland, to Pakistani immigrants. I loved writing as a kid, and wrote poems and plays and even a family newspaper called “The Khanicles” for fun. As I got older, I continued to gravitate toward writing. I wrote for my high school newspaper, and went on to work in international health communications where I focused on writing and editing and sharing information with others. My children’s writing career started with writing for Scholastic Book Clubs on a variety of exciting themes like space and spies and “how to be good at anything".
What inspired you to write about Islam?
Being a mother, and reading multicultural books to my son that celebrated other cultures in a beautiful way made me want to see books like that about Islam and Muslims and work to create them. It was and remains important to me for my kids and other American Muslims to see themselves in the books they read, since I never experienced that when I was growing up. I also want all kids to be able to learn about our traditions through fun, lighthearted, and appealing books.
What is the one misconception about Muslims that you could wave your magic wand and banish forever?
It would sadly have to be that over a billion Muslims are part of a faith that promotes violence, or are in any way represented by extremists who commit terrible acts and subscribe to a perverted and evil interpretation of our faith. And until I find that magic wand, we all have to do what we can to counter that narrative.
Check out Hena Khan's book as part of 'Celebrating Islam' book list
What is your favorite story from Islamic traditions?
Probably the story of Bilal Ibn Rabah, who the Prophet Muhammad freed from slavery and made a beloved companion. Bilal refused to renounce this faith, even when he was tortured, and he became the first Muslim to give the call to prayer. My husband and I named our firstborn Bilal in honor of his story of courage and unwavering faith.
What is your biggest inspiration from Islam?
The fact that Muslims are encouraged to seek knowledge and learning, even through travel, and to think and reason, is an aspect of our tradition that inspires and motivates me. Muslim thinkers, scholars, and artists have made such incredible contributions to the world, and continue to today.
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A big reason why we launched the “KitaabWorld: Countering Islamophobia Through Stories” campaign was because we strongly feel that kids should be exposed to Muslim characters and topics early on without too much “othering”.
Sadly the current political environment has brought back a lot of replay of hate that was experienced after 9/11. What can parents, teachers and librarians do to mitigate these issues, and raise children who respect and value diversity?
Stories are powerful tools for fostering acceptance and understanding, and highlighting diverse stories can expose children early on to people who are different from them. Inviting children into the lives of Muslim characters helps to demystify a community that is often misunderstood and misrepresented. This notion was a huge reason behind why I wrote Amina's Voice.
I wanted people to get to know a Muslim child and family and to offer a window into her family, home, and religious community through a story about an American girl dealing with relatable middle school challenges. I tried to weave in practices that are often part of Muslim life without overemphasizing them. Like all my books dealing with Muslim themes, I introduce the idea that we all have a lot more in common than it may seem, and that we share the core values of community, family, and charity. Parents and educators can do their part to help to drive home that message as well.
And finally - Biryani or Kababs?
Kabobs! I’m a big carnivore and love a good tikka or seekh kabob, and steaks and burgers too!
Thank you Hena Khan! Wishing you continued success with your writing! This interview was part of KitaabWorld's Counter Islamophobia Through Stories campaign.