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Author Umm Juwariyah - Centering the Work of Black Muslim Writers

Posted on Feb 19, 2019
Guest Contributor

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American Muslims increasingly appreciate the pivotal role of Muslim literature in building positive narratives that subvert prevailing stereotypes about who we are. Authorship continues to grow and feed a canon that reflects the diverse backgrounds of Muslims in the U.S.

Native-born African American Muslim authors have a deep heritage in American literature as members of the Black literary tradition. More than entertainment, the works of Black Muslim authors reflect historical and social aspects of the African American experience as well as serve what Hazel Carby calls “weapons for social change.” Across genres, Black Muslim storytellers use fiction to share their cultural experiences, raise social consciousness and affect social change.

Umm Juwayriyah

Author Umm Juwariyah (Maryam A. Sullivan) writes in multiple genres to highlight the social experiences of Black Muslims. An educator, she writes children books that purposefully include depictions of Black Muslim children, including those with special needs. Her book, "Hind’s Hands" features a big sister learning to connect with her autistic sister.

She is also a foundational urban Muslim fiction author. Her novels “Tried and Tested” and “The Size of a Mustard Seed” reflect Muslim urban life and the connections between culture and faith.

“Urban Muslim fiction is a needed representation of indigenous Black and Brown Muslim American communities - our strength and love for one another and Islam,” Umm Juwariyah explains.

“It's also a tribute to Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin and so many Black and Brown writers who had an unwavering commitment to writing our humanity."

In 2016, she created the literacy initiative Muslim Girls Read with her daughter Juwayriyah B. Ayed. Mother and daughter raise funds annually to provide Muslim-centered books for Muslim children in inner-city U.S. Islamic schools.

Umm Juwariyah is also a consistent supporter of Muslim authors across backgrounds but appreciates the importance of creating spheres where Black Muslim authors can explore their authorship through the cultural intersections of faith, race and gender.

I was honored when she approached me to collaborate and organize "Black Muslim Authors: On the tradition of Storytelling, Literature, Representation & Faith." The literary event on February 23 at New York University will highlight Black Muslim authorship, its historical ties to Black storytelling, and the pivotal role of Black Muslim authors in American Muslim culture.

Black Muslim Authors

Umm Juwariyah explains her motivation for organizing Black Muslim Authors:

“There is strength, beauty and blessings in working together to push our narratives, represent our communities, increase literacy and making a united stand in front of the mainstream publishing world.”

Co-sponsored by Muslim Girls Read, NbA Muslims, The Islamic Center of New York University, the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, and Haute Hijab, guest speakers include:

  • Khalil Ismail - KI Creatives Studios
  • Suhaib Webb - New York University
  • Imam Al-Amin Latif - New York Majlis Ashura

There will be a panel discussion on storytelling and representation with Umm Juwayriyah, Sakeena Rashid of the Muslim Writers and Publishers Association and Halimah DeOliviera of “Not Without My Hijab.” There will also be an inclusive author reading open to writers and poets of various backgrounds and a book fair.

“Black Muslim Authors is an opportunity to share our love and pride for authors writing stories that include us,” said Umm Juwariyah. “It is a necessary love affair that doesn’t happen enough.”

Visit the NbA Muslims website for more information on the Black Muslim Authors event.

Layla Abdullah-Poulos is a history adjunct, award-winning writer and managing editor for NbA Muslims. She has published several short stories in collections and a romance novel. 


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