The US-based Islamic children’s author Alexis York Lumbard. Courtesy Alexis York Lumbard
The US-based Islamic children’s author Alexis York Lumbard. Courtesy Alexis York Lumbard

Reading into religion with Alexis York Lumbard’s Islamic children’s books

Six years ago, when Alexis York Lumbard wanted to read an Islamic-themed book to her toddler, she couldn’t find an appropriate one. But she did discover a strong desire for her children to see their traditions valued in the books that they read. So she set out to write such stories herself.

Lumbard, 33, published her first book, The Conference of the Birds, in September 2012, and has since then published The Story of Muhammad, a mobile book app and e-book about the life of the Prophet, and a picture book based on a hadith, titled Angels, for preschoolers.

Her latest, Everyone Prays: Celebrating Faith Around the World, commemorates diversity in faith and will be published on Saturday.

Lumbard, who has also lived in Cairo and Amman, converted to Islam 15 years ago and is currently settled in Boston, the United States. Passionate about adapting classic stories for children from Islamic literature and history, Lumbard says: “I narrow the stories down to their essential message and retell them using my own imagination.” Mother to three girls of 3, 6 and 8, she strongly believes that “children live in the theatre of their imagination and it is there that we must reach them”.

Lumbard says that she likes telling her children animal fables and classic tales, whether from the Islamic faith or others, because she sees this genre as awakening the moral imagination.

“Such stories understand the importance of presenting a compelling vision of goodness,” she says.

The Story of Muhammad book app is available across iOS, Nook Color, Kindle Fire, Android and ePub, and is the only one for children as young as 4. A combination of modern technology and classic Islamic miniature art, the app features voice narration, special effects and simple animation. Rhyming verses make the story easy to memorise and clicking on certain images produces sound effects. A lullaby and ballad are added to reaffirm the central theme. Lumbard says that the animation and the special effects were deliberately kept simple in an effort to sustain a child’s interest.

Talking about a friend whose 5-year-old likes the app version of the book, Lumbard says: “While on Umrah [pilgrimage] recently, when the family entered the holy precinct and approached the Kaaba, the little one ran up as close as he could and shouted excitedly: ‘Momma, this is where the Prophet placed the stone’, referring to a scene in the book. The Kaaba wasn’t abstract for him. It was real and ­precious.”

But publishing books with Islamic themes has been a challenge for Lumbard. “Census data here in the US shows that 37 per cent of the population consists of non-whites, but only 10 per cent of children’s books published here include content on diversity,” she says.

One good way to remedy a poor understanding of Islam in the West, Lumbard feels, is to reach out to young children. “Prejudice and hate are foreign to them. But they do love a good story. So, for me, the best way to help children assimilate multicultural values is to read to them a good story that also offers access to other cultures.”

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Key figures in the life of the fort

Sheikh Dhiyab bin Isa (ruled 1761-1793) Built Qasr Al Hosn as a watchtower to guard over the only freshwater well on Abu Dhabi island.

Sheikh Shakhbut bin Dhiyab (ruled 1793-1816) Expanded the tower into a small fort and transferred his ruling place of residence from Liwa Oasis to the fort on the island.

Sheikh Tahnoon bin Shakhbut (ruled 1818-1833) Expanded Qasr Al Hosn further as Abu Dhabi grew from a small village of palm huts to a town of more than 5,000 inhabitants.

Sheikh Khalifa bin Shakhbut (ruled 1833-1845) Repaired and fortified the fort.

Sheikh Saeed bin Tahnoon (ruled 1845-1855) Turned Qasr Al Hosn into a strong two-storied structure.

Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa (ruled 1855-1909) Expanded Qasr Al Hosn further to reflect the emirate's increasing prominence.

Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan (ruled 1928-1966) Renovated and enlarged Qasr Al Hosn, adding a decorative arch and two new villas.

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan (ruled 1966-2004) Moved the royal residence to Al Manhal palace and kept his diwan at Qasr Al Hosn.

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October 26: Bahrain withdraws from a proposal to create a federation of nine with the seven Trucial States and Qatar. 

December: Ahmed Al Suwaidi visits New York to discuss potential UN membership.


March 1:  Alex Douglas Hume, Conservative foreign secretary confirms that Britain will leave the Gulf and “strongly supports” the creation of a Union of Arab Emirates.

July 12: Historic meeting at which Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid make a binding agreement to create what will become the UAE.

July 18: It is announced that the UAE will be formed from six emirates, with a proposed constitution signed. RAK is not yet part of the agreement.

August 6:  The fifth anniversary of Sheikh Zayed becoming Ruler of Abu Dhabi, with official celebrations deferred until later in the year.

August 15: Bahrain becomes independent.

September 3: Qatar becomes independent.

November 23-25: Meeting with Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid and senior British officials to fix December 2 as date of creation of the UAE.

November 29:  At 5.30pm Iranian forces seize the Greater and Lesser Tunbs by force.

November 30: Despite  a power sharing agreement, Tehran takes full control of Abu Musa. 

November 31: UK officials visit all six participating Emirates to formally end the Trucial States treaties

December 2: 11am, Dubai. New Supreme Council formally elects Sheikh Zayed as President. Treaty of Friendship signed with the UK. 11.30am. Flag raising ceremony at Union House and Al Manhal Palace in Abu Dhabi witnessed by Sheikh Khalifa, then Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.

December 6: Arab League formally admits the UAE. The first British Ambassador presents his credentials to Sheikh Zayed.

December 9: UAE joins the United Nations.