Salaam, everyone! It’s time for the penultimate author interview for #RamadanReadathon.
As well as highlighting the contributors of Once Upon An Eid this month, I also wanted to interview some additional debut or established authors to really capture the diversity of Muslim voices writing today. The next author to join me is Rabiah York Lumbard, whose YA fiction debut No True Believers was published in February!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rabiah York Lumbard is an award-winning author of the picture book, The Conference Of The Birds. Her latest picture book, The Gift Of Ramadan was highly recommended by SLJ as “a perfect addition to holiday book collections,” while her deeply personal debut novel, No True Believers draws on her experience as an American Muslim at home and abroad.
After embracing Islam at the age of eighteen, she earned a BA in Religious Studies from George Washington University and is currently completing her MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University. She moves frequently but currently lives in the Doha with her husband and three daughters where she also works as a part-time writing specialist at local universities. You can follow her on Twitter: @RabiahLumbard.
ABOUT NO TRUE BELIEVERS
Salma Bakkioui has always loved living in her suburban cul-de-sac, with her best friend Mariam next door, and her boyfriend Amir nearby. Then things start to change. Friends start to distance themselves. Mariam’s family moves when her father’s patients no longer want a Muslim chiropractor. Even trusted teachers look the other way when hostile students threaten Salma at school.
After a terrorist bombing nearby, Islamophobia tightens its grip around Salma and her family. Shockingly, she and Amir find themselves with few allies as they come under suspicion for the bombing. As Salma starts to investigate who is framing them, she uncovers a deadly secret conspiracy with suspicious ties to her new neighbors–but no one believes her. Salma must use her coding talent, wits, and faith to expose the truth and protect the only home she’s ever known–before it’s too late.
Salaam, Rabiah! Thank you so much for joining us! To begin with, could you quickly introduce yourself?
RL: A pleasure to be here, and thank you for being passionate about books and doing great work! So I’ve been a children’s book author for about a decade now. I’ve also been a Muslim for nearly twenty years, and now I live in Doha, Qatar. However, I am originally from the USA.
Married to the Islamic studies scholar Joseph Lumbard (check out Quran for all Seasons podcast) and three lovely daughters, Allahu kareem. My favorite hobbies include rescuing and rehoming cats, boxing, and kayaking in the Arabian Gulf (though I don’t get to do the latter very much).
Your picture book, The Gift Of Ramadan, is a heart-warming story about a young girl’s first experience of fasting. I especially loved the part where her grandmother says “there are other ways to celebrate Ramadan” as opposed to just fasting. Where did the inspiration for the story come from, and what are your favourite ways to celebrate the holy month?
RL: Baraka Allahu feeki for your kind words. This story was inspired by years of being unable to fast, thanks to back to back pregnancies, nursing and then related medical issues. It was also inspired by my own three daughters, who I’ve seen struggling with fasting as well.
Sometimes, as Muslims, I think we are too hard on ourselves and that we frame our religion too much in terms of guilt and insufficiency. People who cannot fast (or struggle with fasting) feel this way during Ramadan. But when I realized that the true spirit of Ramadan is about the Quran (as it was revealed during this month) and about our internal connection to God, it took a ton of pressure and guilt of my back.
And I thought—kids need this. They need to see that there’s more than one way to celebrate Ramadan. Using the classical Ghazalian framework of the three fasts (body, tongue, heart), I thought, “I’m going to write a picture book that celebrates the full spirit of the month,” not just fasting. I want kids to feel sparkly about Ramadan and their religion and to realize that they too can experience the blessings of the month by helping others who are fasting, by watching what they say and do, and by learning selflessness.
I love that! In comparison, your recent YA novel, No True Believers, is a contemporary thriller that tackles mature themes such as race, religion, and Islamophobia. What do you want readers to take away from Salma’s story?
RL: My PBs are very different from my YA debut! I think the biggest takeaway that I want readers to gain from No True Believers is that as bad as Islamophobia often is in the West, we do have friends and allies and to not give up hope.
Salma B. has a very supportive family and circle of peeps, and she needed that. She was also able to win over some of the bad guys (Mrs. Turner) by just being her genuine self. Be your genuine selves. Find your strength. You have nothing to prove to either Islamophobes or judgemental, narrowly dogmatic Muslims (the two mirror one another in fascinating ways).
Great advice! What has been the biggest challenge writing for such different audiences? Do you approach them in a similar or different way?
RL: Very different audiences, indeed. With PB readers, I have to keep telling myself to simplify, streamline, and add as much joy and fun as possible (because little kids need this).
With YA, I can be far more nuanced and complex and can have subplots and write “high concept” stories. I can also have some denser, darker emotions with my characters and themes. However, like my PBs, I always make sure my YA stories end on a hopeful note. To paraphrase the blessed Prophet (peace be upon him), “Even if the end of the world draws nigh, keep planting seeds.”
Are you working on anything at the moment that you can share with us?
RL: I’m working on a sequel to The Gift Of Ramadan. Sophia and her family will go on Umrah. There will be wheelchairs and secret races between Sophia and her grandma. I hope it will be extra sparkly.
I am also working on a collection of poetry for Muslim women. It might be a chapbook. Not sure yet. Either way, I’ve got some pains and triumphs I think others will relate to, and I’m eager to excise my thoughts for an adult audience.
And finally, what are your favorite books by Muslim authors? And which books are you looking forward to reading soon?
RL: I am so happy to say that there is more and more out there on the Muslim bookshelf, but choosing favorites is soooo hard, and I don’t want to hurt any feelings because I always forget names and books and also know what it feels like to be left out. So, I am going to mention favorite books of the past to get around that!
Favorite books by dead Muslim authors include poetry by Hafiz, Rumi, and Attar (naturally). I am also currently exploring the work of Mehmedalija “Mak” Dizdar, who was a Bosnian poet who really wrote and lived between different worlds (much like myself). He was influenced by Bosnian Christian culture, Islamic mysticism, and medieval thought. His two biggest achievements were the Stone Sleeper and Blue River. He is a fascinating dude!
Finally, I am in a group of published Muslim Kidlit authors who are all doing fab work, and I can’t wait to read whatever they publish next. Long list, but here they are in no particular order: Munevver Mindy Yuksel, Saadia Faruqi, Aya Khalil, Susannah Aziz, Reem Faruqi (unrelated to Saadia… lol), Heba Ubadin, Naheed Hasnat Senzai, Hena Khan, Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, Intisar Khanani, Ashley Renee, Farah Naz Rishi, Hanna Alkaf, Saima Mir, Tashie Bhuiyan, Nafiza Azad, Nadine Jolie Courtney, and our one brother—Syed Mushahed Masood. Hope I didn’t miss anyone—eek!
What an amazing list! Thank you so much for joining us, Rabiah, and for taking the time to answer these questions.
No True Believers is out now. Order the book from an indie bookstore near you, and don’t forget to add it on Goodreads.
For more books by this author, check out her picture books The Gift of Ramadan and The Conference Of The Birds.