Which Label Are You?

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۞ رمضــان كريـم

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While researching for another post, I came upon a term I’d never heard before and that gave me pause.

Islamic Fiction.  What is that?

According to Wikipedia:
Islamic Fiction refers to creative, imaginative, non-preachy fiction books written by Muslims and marketed primarily to Muslims. Islamic Fiction may be marketed to mainstream markets, too. The content of these books may incorporate some religious content and themes, and may include non-fictionalized historical or factual Islamic content with or without direct reference to the Qur’an or the Sunnah of Mohammed. The stories may also include modern, real life situations and moral dilemmas.
Authors of Islamic Fiction intend for readers to learn something positive about Islam when they read Islamic fiction stories.
Islamic Fiction does not include Harmful Content: vulgar language, sexually explicit content, unIslamic practices that are not identified as unIslamic, or content that portrays Islam in a negative way.[2]

So, I began to question.  Is this what I write?

My stories do contain moral dilemmas and real life situations because, well…I write about people in a way that I hope seems realistic.

There is certainly the occasional reference to religion, but in all honesty, as most of my main characters happen to be Muslim this is bound to occur.

Nope, not preachy, I don’t think.

No vulgar language.

Hmm.  UnIslamic practices?  That’s difficult to say.  I mean, not all of my characters are Muslim, and some of them may do things a Muslim isn’t supposed to.  Also, as my Muslim characters are realistic and hence not perfect, they may on occasion do something they are not supposed to.  So, maybe….  If, by unIslamic practices, we’re talking specifically about religious practices, the answer is not yet.  Again, not every single one of my characters will be Muslim because that’s not the real world, neither is it the state of the imaginary worlds I write.  Whether or not the reader understands said practices, religious or otherwise, as being unIslamic is, I believe more dependent on them than on me.  When writing fiction, I try to relay the tale in an objective way, allowing myself to be the conduit through which the story arrives into this world.  I try to use a light hand, but I suppose the ones to judge that are my readers.

I wouldn’t write anything that portrays Islam in a negative way.

Sounds like I write Islamic Fiction, doesn’t it?

I want to say this, “I reject all labels.  I refuse to be pigeonholed.  I am NOT A LABEL!”  But the fact is, I am, or at least my novel is.  I have to be, or else how or where will my readers find me.  My book isn’t exactly featured prominently on a table by the front door of your local chain bookstore.

The potential connotation related to the term Islamic Fiction, much like the term Christian Fiction, is bound to be negative unless that is specifically what you are looking for.  I hate to admit that, but it is true.  Religion is a touchy subject for so many people.  By assigning certain labels, the author could lose potential readers.  That can’t be good for the author, who wants their stories read, or the story, which deserves the benefit of the doubt, or the reader who, in want of interesting and moving fiction, may have inadvertently passed up a gem.

I’m not suggesting that we dupe folks into reading stories they would be patently against reading, but I think we should be very careful about how we label fiction.  For example, I only just learned that The Lord of the Rings is labeled, among other things, a Christian novel.  Had I known that prior to reading it, I may have passed it up.  I absolutely love LoTR as a novel and movie.  That would have been my loss, for certain.

While I am a Muslim and while I strive to write characters who are Muslim, I do not want this to be the only thing I am known for.  I think it’s unfair and limiting.

I hope to reach a broad spectrum of readers with my words.  I believe in my novel and it’s deeper messages and I am certain that people from all walks of life can glean something meaningful from the tale.  I want my words to resonate with people because they can sympathize with a character or a situation, because they want to see the character beat the odds and overcome obstacles.  The faith of my characters only makes them deeper, more layered, more relatable, and more real.

Mo’ better.

*****

An Unproductive Woman tells the story of family, faith, and marriage, and above all else, hope.

Get A Copy For Your Kindle

Adam is desperate for a son, but after ten years of marriage he and his wife Asabe remain childless.  Despite the obvious heartbreak this causes Asabe, Adam marries a second wife, the very young and beautiful Fatima.  Double tragedy prevents the realization of Adam’s hope and Asabe stands firm with her husband to gather the broken pieces of their life.

But, Adam isn’t prepared to count his loses.  He compounds their difficulties by marrying the cunning and deceptive divorcee, Sauda.  This choice yields anguish and confusion, and Adam loses more than hope, but a piece of his spirit.
Neglected and living in the shadow of Adam’s desires, Asabe yet again proves her worth as the true bedrock in his life.  Asabe becomes the catalyst that brings Adam’s life full circle.
Read An Unproductive Woman to learn what secrets Adam has withheld that would explain his unreasonable longing and pursuit of a son at all costs.

 

  • Oh I’d really like to read a similar Jewish genre. Unfortunately there is quite an amount of resentment against fiction in more Orthodox circles. (The argument is that it is bitul Torah – ie a waste of time that could be spent on learning Torah.) Though I’m not the only Orthodox or other kind of traditionally religious person who writes fiction or even spec fic. To be honest I think of my writing as a form of outreach (among other things).

    In general, my experience has been that religiously-themed SF – of any religion – is often a great read irrespective of religion (I’d even count atheism here). I guess it’s because people are emotionally invested in what they are writing about, they are also knowledgeable about it… and with genre fiction, it’s also a kind of offbeat thing that not too many religious people do, so the people who decide to do so tend to be very committed to it? Last year I read a GREAT series which was written by a Protestant pastor, and featured – among other protagonists – a protagonist who was also a minister of a far future Christianity-based religion. (Wonder Times by Raana Raas – unfortunately it’s not available in English yet, but AFAIK a translation of the first volume is in the works.)

    I’m not sure if the same applies to non-genre fiction… IDK. In general there is a huge trend in mainstream literary fiction against any kind of religion or belief system that’s not postmodernist enough, I’d say. I for one am tired of it.

    • khaalidah

      I hear you loud and clear.
      The same sentiments are true among many religious Muslims, that time spent reading fiction would be better spent reading and learning the Qur’an.  We are so much alike there.  My taste in fiction is eclectic.  There are some things I would never write nor read, but I am open and religious themes don’t scare me.  I think, however, and this may be my cynical side speaking, that while fiction categorized as religious (no matter the religion) carries a heavier load than fiction that simply pretends religion does not exist.  Matters of faith scare people and they come with a sticky set of connotations that are hard to shake.  
      There aren’t any great answers out there, no perfect solutions anyway.  I’d rather be known simply as a Muslim author than have my writing categorized as Islamic fiction, unless my writing was clearly directed specifically at Muslims alone.