Why I made this funny children's book about a Muslim family

Published on: 15 June 2018 Author: Zanib Mian

Zanib Mian's book about a Muslim family breaks down prejudice by highlighting just how ordinary this family is: full of all the typical sillness, sibling fights, giggles and mischief. It also, finally, lets this community see themselves at the heart of a children's book. She tells us more...

Muslims may just be the most misunderstood group of people on the planet. I had to set it straight somewhat, which is why I chose to write a funny middle grade book about an ordinary Muslim family.

The constant misrepresentation of Muslims in the news, I felt, had built a very negative stereotype of Muslims, the consequence of which was being felt everywhere – even in school playgrounds. When I heard of the surge in faith-based bullying in schools, I knew I had to contribute something positive to the world that would challenge these stereotypes.

The ones on the news were the "Muslims" that everyone knew. I wanted everyone to know the real Muslims. The family next door. The painfully normal, British Muslims.

Humour and hijabs

For those readers that don’t have Muslim friends, I thought it would be great to use humour as a tool to open a window into the lives of a Muslim family, to shed some light on things that they might have always wondered about, but were too polite to ask – for instance, why we fast or why we wear hijab.

More importantly, I wanted this book to highlight all the things we have in common, and there are far more of those than things we do differently!

In The Muslims, the protagonist, Omar, is being un-self-consciously himself. He’s not trying to be like everyone else, just to fit in. I wanted the message to be clear – you can be yourself, even if you’re different, and still be loved! I think that’s an empowering message to give to any child, and particularly through this book, to young Muslim readers who may very well be struggling with identity issues.

I loved writing in Omar’s voice – creating a character that all kids from all backgrounds would love. His unassuming wittiness, and comical perception of the world around him, make him an entertaining young fellow to follow through his adventure.

Seeing yourselves in a book

My sister, who teaches in a school in Camden, with a high proportion of Muslim students, told me that The Muslims had done the rounds in her class, and often when she heard giggling, she would turn around to see them sharing one of the funny bits of the book under the table!

She said that she had never experienced them doing this with any other book, and it was because they could relate so much to the family depicted in The Muslims. It gave me heaps of pleasure to hear this – young readers were seeing themselves in a book that they really enjoyed!

This wasn’t something that I experienced in childhood. People like me simply weren’t in story books, when I was young. I don’t have many memories from when I was a little girl, in Year 1, but I remember this so vividly – perhaps because it was such a strange thing:

Our teacher had asked us to draw pictures of ourselves. I finished colouring mine in and marched over to present it to her, proudly. But the teacher said: 'You haven’t coloured your face in.' So I grabbed a white crayon and coloured my face in and went back to my teacher. She said that it was all wrong, but I didn’t understand why. I was lost. I didn’t get it at all. People in pictures always had white faces.

Zanib Mian as a young girl

Sadly, some 30 years later, I still don’t see enough black, Asian and minority ethnic characters as the main protagonists in children’s fiction.

I think it is essential that all children know that, like Omar, they can be the heroes in stories, too!

Read a funny extract from The Muslims

For a few mornings, as we'd leave for school, my mum would ask me if I had done my duas. 

Those are prayers. I did do them, every day. Especially the one for protection, because [my brother] Daniel was highly likely to punch my head in any day.

We have duas for EVERYTHING:

Waking up,
Protection (presently most needed!),
Leaving the house,
Coming back into the house. 




For the record, even if a Muslim woman is wearing her long black cape-type dress thingy. She still isn't a witch doing spells on you. Just to clarify, HERE IS THE DIFFERENCE:

The Muslims has won Little Rebels Children’s Book Award for Radical Fiction 

Why we love The Muslims: read our review

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Read our book review of The Muslims

The Muslims

Author: Zanib Mian

When class bully Daniel tells Omar to go back to his own country, he's not sure how - he's never been there, he can't speak the language, and the pizza is yuck! A funny, warm story that will appeal to fans of Tom Gates.

Read more about The Muslims


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