Monday, May 12, 2008

Children's Books by Fawzia Gilani-Williams

This is a review of a series of books by Fawzia Gilani-Williams. I’ve summarized the plots of the books below and noted some specific issues with each book.
The best feature of these books is their strong themes of self-sacrifice, charity, humility and piety. I do have some hesitations about the receipt of charity (either secular as in “Ihtisham and the Eid Shoes” or miraculous as in “A Poor Widow’s Eid Guest.)
These themes related to poverty may not resonate with North American Muslim children. While stories set in “Muslim countries” are fine, the North American family must balance these with stories set in contemporary urban and suburban North America.
The books published by the Islamic Book Service in New Delhi suffer from poor editing and unidiomatic English (North America).
As of November 27, 2007, none of these books is available at, although the author has six other titles there. Used copies are available from They were not available at (different books by the author available here) or
My strongest recommendation of the books listed here are “The Jilbab Maker’s Eid Gift” and “The Story of Salaam Li and the Dacoits.”

The Jilbab Maker’s Eid Gift. Illustrated by Muslimah Williams. ISBN 983-065-237-8. A.S. Noordeen: Kuala Lumpur, 2007.

This story is about a woman who sews jilbabs (dresses) and gives them to the poor. They are “the best around because she put love and kindness into every stitch she sewed.” She never accepted payment, but she did not feel poor. “The Qur’an is my gold, Salah [ritual prayer] is my silver and the smiles of the poor are my diamonds.”
In contrast, her queen required every person in the land to give her a gift. Despite her material treasures, she never felt happy. When she heard of the jilbab maker, she demanded a jilbab as a gift. Upon refusal, she arrested the jilbab maker, who continued to declare that she had promised Allah that she would only give her jilbabs to the poor.
The queen, seeing that detention had not taken away the jilbab maker’s happiness, brought her for more questioning. The jilbab maker advised her to give sadaqa (charity) in order to experience her happiness. The queen tried this out and began to feel the happiness that her possessions never provided.

The Story of Salaam Li and the Dacoits. No illustrator name provided. Islamic Book Service: New Delhi. Not dated. ISBN 81-7231-757-3.

Salaam Li Fayzulayev was an orphan boy in a village of Uzbekistan which a gang of dacoits used to pillage every Eid. After one such occasion, Salaam Li urged the villagers to prepare to fight these brigands. A woman suggested that the village send its young men to learn Wushu (Chinese martial arts.)
When they met their teacher, the teacher refused to teach them martial arts. To repay him for some apples they took, he asked them to serve him for six months. Through work, sermons, Qur’an instruction, night prayer and gymnastics, he surreptitiously teaches them martial arts. When their six months are complete, the master gives each child a knife and says,

This is a gift from me to you. I wish and confide that you will never need to
use these knives. No enemy will be able to hurt you. Use the knife to cut fruits
and vegetables.
That year, when the dacoits returned, the boys resisted the thieves by evading their blows. When the thieves were exhausted and helpless, the chief asked why the boys had not killed them. Salaam Li told him that good Muslims do not hurt other people. The dacoits, inspired by Salaam Li’s example, repented. Salaam Li grew to be a wise old man, and he never used his knife to hurt anyone.

The editing in this book is not good. There are many awkward phrases. The language used is not idiomatic for North America. The most important example of this is the word in the title, “dacoit”. The illustrations are in general good.

A Poor Widow’s Eid Guest. No illustrator name provided. Islamic Book Service: New Delhi. Not dated. ISBN 81-7231-756-5.

In this story, a widow is concerned about how she can provide an Eid meal for her children despite their poverty. She asks Allah for help. As she is fetching water from the well, she meets an elderly woman who asks to be hosted for the Eid. The widow agrees and asks her to precede her to the house. When the widow returns, she finds the house full of delicious food. Her children inform her that the elderly woman had provided the food. The widow exited the house seeking to thank her, but she was nowhere to be found.

A Samosah Maker. No illustrator name provided. Islamic Book Service: New Delhi. Not dated. ISBN 81-7231-758-1.

Abdullah, an outstanding samosah maker, suffers the machinations of Zalim Khan. Zalim (literally “wrongdoer” in Arabic) Khan adulterates Abdullah’s samosas and spreads false reports, thus driving Abdullah out of business. When a travelling scholar arrives, he learns of Zalim Khan’s actions and advises him to repent and tell people the truth. Abdullah is able to resume business, and he partners with Zalim Khan to serve samosahs to the village.

This book suffers from editing deficiencies:

About some of them people had never even heard of.
Zalim watched people making unpleasant faces after having a bit from Abdullah’s samoseh and the happy ones of those who were having samoseh from his tray.
p. 20
He told Zalim that he had committed a grave sin even in the holy month of Ramadan.

Note that “samosah” of the title is spelled “samoseh” in the text.

Unidiomatic English for North America
p.2 samosah, paijama, kurta-It’s important to define terms for an audience which won’t be familiar with these terms.

The lessons from this story are good, namely the prohibition of spreading false rumors and cheating others, the virtues of patience and generosity, and the necessity of investigation to clear up disputes.
The biggest problem for the North American audience, in my opinion, is in the illustration. All of the people are light-skinned, with the exception of Zalim Khan. Muslim children’s literature must be sensitive to the strong skin-color based prejudices of North America (and elsewhere).

Ihtisham and The Eid Shoes. No illustrator name provided. Islamic Book Service: New Delhi. Not dated. ISBN 81-7231-755-7.

A poor man and his grandson each work hard to earn money to buy each other shoes for Eid. On the way back from the market, each person gives a pair of shoes to a poor person. On the day of the Eid, the Imam distributes charity to the grandfather. He and his grandson acknowledge the importance of charity and giving, realizing that when they gave charity, Allah ﷻ gave them back many times over.

An Old Man Who Trusts in Allah. No illustrator name provided. Islamic Book Service: New Delhi. Not dated. ISBN 81-7231-760-3.

A couple gathers money to purchase a goat for qurbani (udhiya, tabaski, sacrifice on Eid al-Adha). On the way to the market, the old man always meets someone who needs the money and gives it in charity. He returns, takes another item from the house, sells it for money, and then again gives the money in charity without buying a goat. Each time his wife is distressed about not having a qurbani, he tells her “tawakkal al-Allah” (trust in Allah ﷻ ). The last person to whom he gave money was a traveler. The day of the Eid, that traveler sent his servant to the couple with ten goats as a gift for the kindness the old man had shown him.

A Beggar Boy. No illustrator name provided. Islamic Book Service: New Delhi. Not dated. ISBN 81-7231-759-X.

A grandmother takes solace in her grandson’s recitation of Qur’an. The body works all day and receives a small amount in payment. The day before Eid al-Adha, a stranger crossed paths with him as he was returning from work. The boy invited the stranger to eat at their home. It turned out that the stranger was a visiting Qari (reader of Qur’an). The nobles of the city, who despised the boy for his poverty, had planned a feast in the Qari’s honor the day of the Eid. When the Qari insisted that the boy attend the feast, the wealthy host refused his entry. Upon seeing that, the Qari decided to leave the town with the boy and the grandmother to a city where the boy’s talents in reading Qur’an would be recognized despite his poverty.
I have had personal correspondence with the author, for whom I have great respect. She is tireless in educating public librarians about the need for Muslim's children literature in public libraries. She has also written some more recent books that address some of the concerns I've mentioned above.

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