Author Spotlight: Interview With Burhana Islam

Salaam, friends!

I’m excited to be kicking off the blog tour for Amazing Muslims Who Changed The World by Burhana Islam, out today from Puffin. This is a tour that I’ve organised with Naima @ Violette Books for @TheMuslimShelf, featuring a handful of Muslim bloggers discussing the amazing Muslims, past and present, who have inspired us.

I couldn’t choose just one person to talk about, though many of my favourites are mentioned in the book, so I thought I would interview the author instead, and give you a small glimpse of the beautiful artwork inside (thank you to Puffin for the photos!)


Burhana Islam author photoBorn in Bangladesh, raised in Newcastle and currently residing in the outskirts of Manchester, Burhana Islam is a storyteller who is passionate about exploring themes of heritage, belonging, identity and faith in both her children’s and young adult works. She studied English Literature at Newcastle University before deciding to become a secondary school teacher, sharing her love for stories with a new generation of curious, young minds.

You can follow her on Twitter: @Burhana92


amazing-muslims-who-changed-the-world-burhana-islam-coverDo you think you know who first thought of the theory of evolution? Have you ever wondered who created the oldest university in the world? Is Joan of Arc is the only rebel girl who led an army that you’ve heard of?

If so, then you need this stunningly illustrated treasure trove of iconic and hidden amazing Muslim heroes!

You’ll find people you might know, like Malala Yousafzai, Sir Mo Farah and Muhammad Ali, as well as some you might not, such as:

Hasan Ibn Al-Haytham: the first scientist to prove theories about how light travels, hundreds of years before Isaac Newton.

Sultan Razia: a fearsome female ruler.

G. Willow Wilson: the comic book artist who created the first ever Muslim Marvel character.

Ibtihaj Muhammad: the Olympic and World Champion fencer and the first American to compete in the games wearing a hijab.

Noor Inayat Khan: the Indian Princess who became a British spy during WWII.

There are so many more amazing Muslim men and women who have changed our world, from pirate queens to athletes, to warriors and mathematicians. Who will your next hero be?

Illustrations by Nabi H. Ali, Reya Ahmed, Saffa Khan, Aaliya Jaleel, Deema Alawa and Aghnia Mardiyah.


Salaam, Burhana. Thank you so much for joining us! To begin with, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

BI: Walaikum as-salaam, Nadia. I’m an English teacher and a children’s author who’s determined to get Muslim voices out there, particularly in the UK where they seem to be fewer and farther between. I’m a mentee on Penguin Random House’s WriteNow scheme too, which means I’m working with them to craft my verse novel as well.

Where did the inspiration for Amazing Muslims Who Changed The World come from, and how did you end up selecting the people who would be included in it? I’m sure there were many more!

BI: I’ve had the idea ever since Goodnight Stories For Rebel Girls was published, but my version of it gave more space for each character to come to life on the page. It wasn’t until a WriteNow workshop in November 2018 that I actually took the first steps to make it materialise.

You’re right too – there were so many figures to choose from. In the end, the editorial team and I tried to make sure we picked notable figures that span somewhat evenly across the ages. I’m learning every day about other people who could have easily made the cut too. I hope they’ll get light shed on them elsewhere.

Perhaps a sequel? Just a suggestion… Who do you hope will pick up and benefit from the book? As a secondary school teacher, when writing for children and young adults, do you write with the children you teach in mind?

BI: Yes, I do. When I first started writing it, I wrote it for all the Muslim students I had ever taught – the ones who were sick of the stereotypes conveyed by the media and tired of defending their identity to people who didn’t really want to understand them.

I remember a heated debate breaking out in my Year 10 class, which was 80% Muslim – yet they still felt like that they were the ‘other’. I wrote it for them and I wrote it for the child I once was. This was something I needed growing up post-9/11.

By the end of it, when all the gorgeous illustrations and stories came together, I realised that actually this book is something special. I hope it’ll find its way into hands that wouldn’t have come across it by choice.

I love that! Are there any Muslims in the publishing world who inspire you as an author?

BI: Definitely! Hena Khan – I love her children’s picture books so much. There’s Saadia Faruqi, Zanib Mian, Humza Arshad, G. Willow Wilson – there are so many! I love the ordinary (or extraordinary in the case of Ms. Marvel) everyday tales of these characters.

One thing I love about this book is that it showcases a real diversity of Muslims from all walks of life (and agree that the illustrations are gorgeous!) Is there a specific sector or industry where you would love to see more Muslims being celebrated?

BI: Education, naturally. We still have a very long way to go. If you’re going to raise the next generation of thinkers, you have to be out there with them.

Agreed! When it comes to celebrating Muslim authors and stories, the UK publishing space really falls behind compared to the US. Do you have any advice for aspiring Muslim authors who many feel disheartened by this?

BI: Read. Read everything you can get your hands on. The publishing industry is trying to change so get ready for it by working on your craft. If you want to write middle grade, read all the middle grade books that fit the style you want to write in – same goes for other genres. After you’ve done that, write – write what you know and then repeat the process again. The rest will follow.

Great advice! Thank you so much for joining us, Burhana, and for taking the time to answer these questions.

Amazing Muslims Who Changed The World is out now. Order the book from an indie bookstore near you, and don’t forget to add it on Goodreads.

Keep an eye on @TheMuslimShelf to follow the rest of the blog tour…


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