The Muslimah Speaks amplifies the voice of Muslim women

The finished book is beautifully put together, showcasing the powerful faith and varied experiences of Muslim women from myriad backgrounds.
Janette Grant got the idea for The Muslimah Speaks from an online writers group. Courtesy Janette Grant
Janette Grant got the idea for The Muslimah Speaks from an online writers group. Courtesy Janette Grant

Social media is often perceived as the most pointless of modern phenomena, full of frivolous chatter between Facebook friends and Twitter followers. But such networks can serve a worthier cause.

Living on the outskirts of Houston, Texas, Janette Grant is at the hub of a global community of female Muslim poets – a network stretching from Indonesia to England and comprising veteran authors to virtual novices. This diverse collective was convened for a book called The Muslimah Speaks, a timelessly spiritual collection published in a surprisingly cutting-edge manner.

“Definitely technology has helped me to pursue this dream,” says Grant. “Social media is amazing. I just wish that 10 years ago I had something like this that I could use.”

The story begins in an unlikely fashion, with a frustrating visit to a New England library. Grant converted to Islam 16 years ago, but struggled to find relevant reading material for her young son. She yearned for books “with not only a religious perspective that’s fun and entertaining, but also that contain children of colour. Just so he could see a reinforced image of himself and build his self-esteem. That’s how Mindworks came about.”

Mindworks is Grant’s small publishing company that is dedicated to producing inspirational works. At first, she was forced to “print them myself, or try to upload them to a website, which was a lot of work”. Eventually, publishing innovations and social networks offered more productive methods.

The Muslimah Speaks came about after Grant joined an online group called the Muslimah Writers Alliance, where authors would share work and advice. Reading those texts, “whether it be poetry or just inspirational little blurbs, sweet greetings of peace that really touched my heart, it made me want to collect up in a book the voices of Muslim women, just to give that picture to the world, rather than the picture of oppression”, says Grant.

After an enthusiastic response from the Writers Alliance, Grant cast her net wider, spreading the word via related Facebook groups, Twitter and other social networks. Her message carried much further than anticipated, with submissions coming in from India, the United States, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Bangladesh. “It was so inspiring to hear their voices for myself,” says Grant. “As a Muslim woman living in my location and not able to travel and see the world on my own, I kind of get a glimpse of Islam through their eyes.”

The finished book, which is also available as a downloadable e-book, is beautifully put together by Grant and her co-editor Elizabeth Lymer, showcasing the powerful faith and varied experiences of Muslim women from myriad backgrounds. Asma Nadia, for example, is a hugely respected Indonesian author who revelled in the rare opportunity “to have my writing published in English”, she explains. Her poem, Mother, is a tribute to her own mother’s sacrifices: “How far someone will fight to fulfil a dream of someone who matters most in their life”.

Nadia’s compatriot Delina Partadiredja also documented intensely personal matters with the poem Thirty Seven Weeks, which laments the loss of a baby. Now based in Saudi Arabia, Partadiredja co-founded amuslima.com and applauds the book’s intentions. “We actually are encouraged to speak, to express our opinions, feelings,” she says. “Probably most of the people think that Muslim women are not allowed to do so.”

More of a newcomer to published material is the Pakistan-born contributor Shabana Diouri. The compilation “was the first time I would see a poem of mine in a tangible book”, says Diouri. “One of the poems still brings me to tears when I read it. They mean a lot to me.”

To fund the book, a campaign was launched on Kickstarter, the popular American crowdfunding site, that also encouraged at least one of the poets to mount a concerted Twitter fundraising campaign.

For Grant, the whole process has been revelatory.

“It’s hard to even put into words how much it has touched me,” she says. “It just changed my mind concerning my own goals and my own dreams, even. It’s amazing to see.”

The Muslimah Speaks is available on Amazon

artslife@thenational.ae

Published: July 1, 2014 04:00 AM

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