On the eve of Ramadan 2019 (or 1440), we successfully funded our Kickstarter campaign to bring this debut picture book to life! In our campaign, we billed this book as: “A children’s picture book that introduces a non-Muslim audience to a misunderstood Islamic concept to help fight Islamophobia.” That misunderstood concept is jihad. Although the various revisions have made jihad less central to the overarching themes, it remains an important part of the text.
The initial idea for this story emerged from the author’s continued learning about Islam. Muslims are often vilified in the USA, especially regarding the concept of jihad. Jihad means more than “Death to America!” Even so, citizens of the USA are complicit in a foreign policy that helps foster a hatred for their country. While the author does not support violence as a method for change, there are aggressors throughout the world who utilize violence–terrorist groups associated with many communities, and armies alike. Importantly, each of us should be able to distinguish between a people, a message, and the methods by which individuals attempt to enact that message. A practice of jihad is not exclusively violent, nor should terrorism be defined as jihad. The author would like to open up dialogue about this concept and others so that readers can critically engage the dominant narratives that are used to promote divisive partisanship.
Before drafting the story, the author consulted with a representative from the Georgia office of CAIR–a human rights organization often disparaged through an inaccurate parallel with extremist Muslim ideologies. The biggest takeaway beyond a clarification of the concept of jihad was that the inclusion of a white character is important for addressing the target audience and for not intending to speak for a community of which the author is not a part. The resulting first version of the story was then read by a few scholars of children’s literature and went through a few versions. As various comments and critiques were incorporated into the text, the plot shifted to one in which the narrative arc follows a shift in the central character: from ignorant bigotry to anti-racism. This change is precipitated by an interaction with the Muslim girl next door whom he never knew was Muslim.
Gemma Gould illustrated the book. Her sharp lines and colorful style adds so much texture to the narrative. We’re so proud of the result!