Posted on Nov 16, 2015
I grew up in a pretty small town in Southern Illinois. We were the only Muslim family there at the time, and probably the only kids whose parents came from Syria. At home, some of my favorite memories were praying with my parents - the smell of ‘itr on my mom’s prayer clothes, the same sweet smell emanating from the prayer rugs during sujood, and my father teaching us the additional athkar after prayer. Each line we said together glorifying God (SubhanAllah, Alhamdullilah, La Ilaha Illah Allah, Allahu Akbar) was met by a hug or a game encouraging us to say them loud and proud. School, on the other hand, felt completely different. I wasn’t sure how to share with the other students why I couldn’t sing religious Christmas songs with them during the holidays, why certain foods were off-limits during the school BBQ, and especially why my mother chose to wear the hijab. In fact, I was shy about being different than the other kids. I often think of the story my sister told me because it resonated so much with my own experience. One day, a classmate asked her, “Why does your mom wear that thing on her head?” My sister responded with, “Oh, because she’s allergic to the sun.” Such an answer left no more questions, and so she felt off the hook. Inside, she wished she could have answered confidently and accurately. Why were we so excited about our identity at home, and why did this not spill over into our lives at school?
We later moved out of that town, I eventually wore the hijab myself, am currently very proud to discuss Islam and Muslims, and spent many years volunteering with Muslim organizations and working with Muslim youth. However, these stories never left me, and I want to make sure other children are proud of who they are and can share it with others, especially with a different set of challenges Muslim children are facing today in regards to their identity. This past year, I teamed up with my friend Shahd Alasaly to start HoneyTree Books, a Muslim family engagement subscription service in North America. We are so excited to provide this one-of-a-kind Muslim children's literature and arts quarterly package for families raising children ages 1-9. Our focus is to enable Muslim children to explore Muslim values, meet Muslim characters, and get excited about our tradition through carefully selected books and crafts, be a part of a community doing the same thing, and encourage new literature to be added to the existing Muslim children’s stories by features on our website including our featured author interviews and readings, local events, and reading resources.
We’ve found that it’s most empowering to children to read stories with characters that represent them. Growing up, I remember I would get so excited if Ramadan or Eid were mentioned in anything I read and watched. Most times, they weren’t, but I would be thrilled when they were. At the same time, I inhaled books - my mom would have to come to my room and make sure I was sleeping and not reading! It was the way I understood the world around me. We hope to provide those books that represent the diversity of Muslims and give young readers an opportunity to meet the characters within.
Each subscription package includes a new Islamic book and a craft that is age-specific for groups ages 1-10. Our goal is to get families reading together, discussing Muslim values together, and working on crafts together. We recently sent our first ever subscription and it was a big hit! We currently ship to the United States and Canada.
You can click here to subscribe, subscribe for a friend or family and be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Join our HoneyTree community today and let's make a positive difference in our children's lives!
Co-Founder, HoneyTree Books