8 Must Have Books That Make Muslims Visible in Your Classroom

It was Independent Reading time and my sixth graders were all working on different tasks. Some were quietly reading, others were typing away their reports, and a few were searching through our class library for a new book. I sat in my desk conferencing with a student who had just finished his independent reading book. My conference was disrupted when  I heard a student in our class library gasp and run towards me. He was wildly waving a book in his hand and excitedly yelling, “Ms. Mohammad, Ms. Mohammad, is this you? Is this you? Did you write this?”

He was holding a pristine copy of “Does My Head Look Big in This” by Randa Abdel-Fattah. The cover is plastered with a picture of a girl in a hot pink Hijab with only the top half of her face showing. It was the first book I bought that centered around a Muslim character and had recently put it on the shelf. The rest of the class was shouting in excitement now. “Ms. Mohammad, we didn’t know you were an author!”

I laughed and then broke the news. I explained to them that it wasn’t me on the front cover, and I had never published a book nor used Randa Abdel-Fattah as an alias. The class was a bit disappointed and the boy walked away with his shoulders shrugged muttering “it would’ve been cool if you did write it.”

I did not want to be the sole representation all Muslim women in their life.

While the event in itself was comical, it caused me to think about the insufficient amount of diversity in my class library. It was clear that the students in my class were not exposed to many Muslim women in their lives, and so when they saw the girl in a headscarf on the front cover of a book, they automatically thought that person was me. Being a visibly Muslim teacher my students and I have had many opportunities to discuss aspects of my religious identity and they have come to see how my life is very much the opposite of what the media portrays people like me as. Yet this incident conveyed to me that hearing merely one person’s narrative is not enough. In my students’ minds, they could not imagine another Muslim woman writing and publishing a book, because they had not seen or heard from anyone else and their world was limited to me. They were not accustomed to any other Muslim’s life and it began to concern me. I did not want to be the sole representation all Muslim women in their life. They deserved to have a more wholesome and diverse outlook, and what better way than to let them explore through reading.

Since then, it has been a tough journey trying to find books for my classroom library that contain positive Muslim characters, especially female ones. One prevalent issue is that an array of books catered to the “oppressed Muslim woman” storyline. These books were simplistic and followed a caricature that often promoted the “white savior” mentality. The other problem I  encountered was regarding the reading level. If I did find a book that was an accurate representation it was a children’s book, or belonged at the college level. It was difficult to find a book with the appropriate Lexile Level which would allow for my sixth and eighth graders to read independently.

At first, I found myself searching for the “perfect” book that portrayed a well-balanced view of Muslim women. It dawned upon me that it is impossible to find a book that perfectly showcases all Muslim women, and that it is unrealistic and unfair for me to go on that search. Muslim women live complex lives, and there is no one “standard.” Therefore, it only seems right to have numerous titles in our class libraries to shed light on the multitude of experiences.

Here I have compiled some titles that show Muslim women who are living lives with agency. I have tried add a mix of genres such as graphic novels and non-fiction for our diverse readers. They are in order of lowest to highest reading levels.

1.

Brave by Svetlana Chmakova
Genre: Fiction, Graphic Novel
Lexile Level- 360 L

2.

Ms.Marvel Volume 1: No Normal by G Willow Wilson
Genre: Fiction, Graphic Novel
Lexile Level- 420 L

3.

Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Genre: Fiction
Lexile Level: 720 L

4.

Does my Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Genre: Fiction
Lexile Level: 770 L

5.

Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos
Genre: Fiction
Lexile Level: 790 L

6.

19 Varieties of Gazelle by Naomi Shihab Nye
Genre: Poetry
Lexile Level: 910 L
I recommend looking into other bodies of work from Naomi Shihab Nye. She is a talented writer who sheds great light on the Middle Eastern, and more dominantly the Palestinian narrative.

7.

In Search of Fatima - A Palestinian Story by Ghada Karmi
Genre: Non-Fiction
Lexile Level: I had difficulty finding the exact lexile level for this book. I would reserve this book for a skilled eighth grade reader or for high school students.

8.

The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf by Mohja Kahf
Genre: Fiction
Lexile Level: I had difficulty finding the exact lexile level for this book. I would reserve this book for a skilled eighth grade reader or for high school students.


Jaweerya Mohammad holds a Bachelor’s degrees in English from Rutgers University. She earned her Master’s degree in Education from the Rutgers Graduate School of Education. She currently teaches English to grades 6 and 8 in Edison, New Jersey.

Jaweerya MohammadComment