Ramadan reading list: 20 books by Muslim authors

Ramadan reading
10 min read
20 April, 2021
Book Club: From across the literary spectrum, Sarah Shaffi picks her favourite reads for you to delve into during the month of Ramadan.
This Ramadan, why not take the time to support some authors of Muslim origin?

These 20 books, from children's fairytales to memoirs to epic fantasy series, offer a range of Muslim perspectives and experiences.

Rumaysa by Radiya Hafiza 

If you grew up reading classic fairytales and yet could never imagine yourself in them, then Rumaysa is the book you've been looking for.

Hafiza takes three well-known stories – Rapunzel, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty – and makes their heroines Muslim. But that's the only change Hafiza has made; her girls are thoroughly modern.

They're independent adventure seekers, and they're not waiting around for princes to rescue them. A perfect book to inspire you, and any young people in your life.

Amazing Muslims Who Changed the World by Burhana Islam

Islam's book, which features illustrations from Muslim artists across the world, illuminates the stories of Muslims throughout history who have done extraordinary things.

Among those profiled are well-known figures like Muhammad Ali and Malala Yousafzai, alongside less famous people like Hasan Ibn Al-Haytham, the first scientist to prove theories about how light travels, hundreds of years before Isaac Newton, fearsome female ruler Sultan Razia, and Indian princess Noor Inayat Khan, who became a British spy during the Second World War.

The Muslim Problem by Tawseef Khan 

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Subtitled 'why we're wrong about Islam and why it matters', this book takes a look at why Muslims are so misunderstood.

Khan, a solicitor and human rights activist, takes a look at what it means to believe in Islam today, and how a generation have forged their beliefs and identity in the shadow of 9/11.

Bold and provocative, the book is split into five sections, each exploring a different area where Muslims are misunderstood, from the belief that Muslims don't integrate to the idea that Islam hates women.

This is an essential framework for Muslims navigating a world often set against them, and for non-Muslims wanting to understand more about being a Muslim today.

The Ember Quartet by Sabaa Tahir 

American author Tahir's series – consisting of An Ember in the Ashes, A Torch Against the Night, A Reaper at the Gates and A Sky Against the Storm – is an epic fantasy adventure inspired by ancient Rome, as well as folktales and Muslim mythology.

The books follow a series of characters, including Laia, who finds herself drawn into a resistance movement against the Martial Empire, and Elias, a soldier who wants to be free from the tyranny he has to enforce.

The pair's destiny is entwined as they're drawn into a battle for the future of the world they live in. This is fantasy to sink your teeth into.

The Khan by Saima Mir 

Mir's debut novel is the story of successful lawyer Jia Khan, who escaped the grubby northern streets she grew up for the bright lights of London.

But when Jia's father, who led the Pakistani community where she grew up and ran the local organised crime syndicate, dies, Jia must return to take his place.

The police have relied on the Khan to maintain the fragile order of the streets, but a bloody power struggle has now broken out, and Jia needs to restore balance.

Mir, who contributed an essay to the book It's Not About the Burqa, is a thrilling new voice in crime fiction.

Dancing in the Mosque by Homeira Qaderi 

Qaderi's seventh book is written partly in letters to her young son, who was “snatched” out of her arms when he was only 19-months-old.

Dancing in the Mosque asks readers to reconsider what it means to be a mother, and what it means to sacrifice and to survive.

Qaderi, who is an activist for women's rights and teaches at the University of Kabul, tells the story of how she refused to cower under the strictures of a misogynistic social order, and pursued a path of rebellion.

The Colour of God by Ayesha S. Chaudhry  

Chaudhry was raised in Canada, in a family which embraced a puritanical view of Islam to shield them from racism.

In her memoir, Chaudhry, now professor of gender and Islamic studies at the University of British Columbia, explores what it means to be a South Asian Muslim woman in a world where something different is demanded from each part of her identity.

The book explores the lingering effects of colonialism and migration, alongside Chaudhry's own personal experiences, including taking off her face veil at the age of 23, and the sudden death of a beloved nephew, which triggered a crisis of faith.

A Dutiful Boy by Mohsin Zaidi 

Zaidi's memoir is a coming-of-age story about growing up queer in a strict Muslim household.

Zaidi, who has worked at a UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague and at the UK's Supreme Court, grew up in East London, in a deprived community, and struggled with his sexuality and felt isolated from his family.

He threw himself into education, becoming the first person from his school to attend Oxford University to study law.

While Oxford presented new challenges, at home Zaidi was also facing something life-changing: his father had invited a witchdoctor to “cure” Zaidi.

This heartfelt and honest book is beautifully written and full of hope.

How We Met by Huma Qureishi 

Qureshi grew up in Walsall in the 1990s, and became adept at reconciling her Western identity with her Muslim Pakistani one, until it came to marriage.

Caught between familial duty and an appetite for adventure, Qureshi escaped to Paris for a future full of possibility, but was pulled back home when her father had a stroke.

How We Met is a story about a woman finding herself, an exploration of mother daughter relationships, and a look at finding love in unexpected places and people.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley and Malcolm X 

Malcolm X's autobiography is the definitive book for anyone who wants to find out more about one of the most famous and inspirational voices in the Civil Rights movement.

Malcolm X, who was also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, lost both his parents at a young age, and left school early. In 1946 he was sentenced to 10 years in prison, where he converted to Islam.

Released on parole in 1952, he became an outspoken defender of Muslim doctrines. He formed the Organization of Afro-American Unity in 1963, and was assassinated just two years later.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X introduces the man behind the headlines, and shows his quick wit, integrity and the idealism that led him to reject both liberal hypocrisies and Black racialism.

Sands of Arawiya Duology by Hafsah Faizal 

Set in a world inspired by ancient Arabia, Faizal's We Hunt the Flame and its sequel We Free the Stars are about discovery, conquering fear and taking identity into your own hands.

The books follow Zafira, a Hunter who is forced to disguise herself as a man and risk everything to provide for her people.

She's a legend in her kingdom, as is Nasir, a feared assassin who is forever bound to the command of his father, the sultan.

When Zafira embarks on a dangerous quest to return magic to their suffering land, Nasir is sent on a similar mission, and the pair's fates collide with an emerging ancient evil.

See More: The New Arab's 2021 Ramadan Minisite, complete with news, features, and recipes

We Are Displaced by Malala Yousafzai

Education activist Yousafzai's latest book is the story of girls and women around the world who have been displaced.

Part memoir, part communal storytelling exercise, this book introduces readers to girls Yousafzai has met on her journeys and gives them a chance to tell their stories in their own words.

We Are Displaced is an insightful look into what it means to lose your home and a reminder that the 79.5 million people who are currently displaced all have dreams for a better, safer world.

You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat 

This debut novel is set in the US and the Middle East, and follows a woman from blushing teen to creative and confused adulthood.

In Brooklyn, the book's protagonist moves in with her first serious girlfriend, but her longings soon explode out into reckless romantic encounters and obsessions.

You Exist Too Much is about a woman caught between cultural, religious and sexual identities, and who is searching for love and a home.

Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi

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Saadawi's phenomenal legacy

El Saadawi, who died this year at the age of 89, has written some of the greatest feminist literature to ever exist. Her novel Woman at Point Zero is the story of a woman, Firdaus, who is in jail for murder.

As she tells her story, the reader finds out more about the cruelty, violence and neglect she faced at the hands of men including her father and her much older husband, as well as the act that landed her in prison.

First published in 1975, the novel continues to resonate with readers in the present day.

The Secret Diary of a British Muslim Aged 13 3/4 by Tez Ilyas

British comedian Ilyas, who starred in the BBC Three comedy Man Like Mobeen and has also appeared on panel shows such as Mock the Week, brings his sense of humour to the written word in this memoir.

Covering the period from 1997 to 2001, Ilyas' diary entries show a young working class teenager dealing with everything from family tragedy to attending a school with a GCSE pass rate of 30 percent.

Unsurprisingly, this book is full of hilarious stories, but it's also a book that gives an insight into growing up in Britain in the 1990s, and seeing the best and worst of the country.

Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed

American author Ahmed's third novel is set in contemporary Paris, as well as 200 years before. In the present day, teenager Khayyam is spending the summer with her parents in France, and trying to figure out a party to her dream of being a respected historian.

When she meets a cute Parisian boy, who also happens to be the descendent of the novelist Alexandre Dumas, Khayyam begins to uncover the story of Leila, a 19th century Muslim woman who is connected to Dumas and other famous writers.

This is a book about forgotten women, and who has the right to tell their stories.

Ms Marvel: No Normal by G Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona 

No Normal introduces readers to Marvel hero Kamala Khan, who is an ordinary teenager from Jersey City until she gains unexpected powers and becomes the all-new Ms Marvel.

Kamala was the first Muslim character to headline a book at Marvel Comics, and the comics are currently being turned into a Disney+ television show.

In No Normal, readers find Kamala getting to grips with her powers, and navigating her traditional Pakistani-American upbringing, friendships and crushes.

Finding My Voice by Nadiya Hussain 

Hussain is arguably the most famous winner of the Great British Bake Off, and has gone on to front her own cooking shows and documentaries since her victory in 2015.

She's also shared her experiences anxiety and panic attacks, both in a BBC documentary and on her Instagram account, and spoken openly about the racial abuse she's suffered.

In Finding My Voice, Hussain shares her story from childhood to Bake Off and beyond, in chapters that see her identity shifting and expanding from daughter and sister to mother, cook and woman.

This Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik 

Malik's hilarious and touching novel is set in Babel's End, a sleepy village in the south west of England. Among the village's inhabitants are Bilal Hasham and his family, who have never had a problem fitting in with the all-white residents.

But when Bilal's mum makes him promise, on her deathbed, that he'll be build a mosque in Babel's End, it provokes a crisis in Bilal and divides the village.

Moving and wise, this is a story about love, faith and remembrance. 

It's Not About the Burqa edited by Mariam Khan

It's Not About the Burqa: It's about letting Muslim women speak
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This collection of essays was released in 2019, but given debates over Muslim women's dress (including a potential ban on under 18s wearing the hijab in France), it is still an essential read.

Khan gathers together a group of Muslim writers, including activist Mona Eltahawy, author Sufiya Ahmed and playwright Afshan D'souza-Lodhi to write pieces on everything from marriage to iconic Muslim women.

The result is a picture of Muslim women that is nuanced, warm and insightful, and shows that the Muslim experience is myriad and varied.

Sarah Shaffi is a freelance literary journalist and editor. She writes about books for Stylist Magazine online and is books editor at Phoenix Magazine.

Follow her here: @sarahshaffi