By Umar Farooq
The small room was packed with children and adults listening attentively.
They had come to the children’s section of the Takoma Park Maryland Library to attend a book reading.
“Mama makes jokes with her patient as she peers in his ears and his throat. Her bright pink hijab looks so cheerful tucked into her tidy white coat.
“Jenna’s our fearless troop leader. She makes us the gooiest s’mores! Her hijab is topped with a sun hat whenever we hike the outdoors.”
Hena Khan, an award-winning Muslim American writer born and raised in Maryland, uses her book Under My Hijab to tell the story of a young Muslim girl who observes the women in her life and the unique ways they wear the head covering as a reflection of their personality, character and fashion sense.
“One of the things I was very conscious of was the fact that Muslim women are in no way limited by wearing the hijab. They are capable of doing everything and anything they want to. They are modern and independent and educated and strong. They are American,” Khan told Anadolu Agency.
She is one of the first American authors to bring Muslim characters to the fore in children's books.
While the hijab is commonly known as the head veil worn by Muslim women around the world, the definition of the word has much broader implications.
In Arabic, "hijab" means barrier or partition. In Islam, however, it is a principle of modesty and defines how both women and men should behave, speak and dress.
The Pakistani-American author wrote the book with two audiences in mind: people of the Islamic faith, who are underrepresented in literature, and the wider American community, so they can see a positive representation of Muslim women.
Part of the inspiration behind the book came from all the questions people would ask Khan’s friends and family who wear the hijab, such as ‘Do you sleep with that?” or ‘How do you shower with that?’
“My sister-in-law often worked with young children, and she was telling me how very young kids would ask her if she had hair, or if she had ears, because they never saw them,” Khan said. “And that sort of sparked the initial idea for a book.”
While Islam continues to spread in the U.S., the number of Muslims currently totals 3.45 million, or 1.1 percent of the country’s population, according to the Pew Research Center.
Many Americans have not seen or interacted with a Muslim in their lives, and sometimes their perception of the faith comes from second-hand sources. Some Americans see Islam and Muslims as a foreign threat.
Another Pew study found that in 2017, 50 percent of Americans polled said Islam is not a part of “mainstream American society”.
“There's a tendency to confuse women who wear the hijab with being foreign or an immigrant only, or maybe not speaking English,” Khan said.
“I feel like there's a tendency for people who aren't familiar with women wearing the hijab to speak to them very slowly, or be surprised that they speak English fluently.”
Khan does not wear the hijab herself, and she was able to write the story through the lens of an outsider, which was necessary to enable people outside the faith to read it.
“As someone who doesn't wear it, this was the type of book that I felt like I could write where it is from the perspective of an observer admiring the women and girls in her life who wear it, which is much like my perspective,” she said.
Khan has published over a dozen books and has a few in the works as well. Her previous books include the widely acclaimed “It’s Ramadan, Curious George,” where she took the famed fictional children’s character George, a curious little monkey, on a journey celebrating the Islamic holy month through fasting and helping the needy, culminating in the celebration of the Eid al-Fitr holiday.
Throughout “Under My Hijab”, the young girl is able to see all the women she admires wearing the head covering in an external environment and then see them without it in their homes. By the end of the book, she is exploring the hijab and imagining the ways her life might look if she started wearing it and is excited about the possibilities that come with it.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.