Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Fawzia Gilani's Cinderella: An Islamic Tale

Cinderella: An Islamic Tale by Fawzia Gilani, illustrated by Shireen Adams, is an excellent retelling of the Cinderella children's tale. It is available for purchase at

I've previously reviewed books by Fawzia Gilani. This one has the best production quality so far. The text does not contain layout or grammatical errors. Translations of ayaat and ahadith are set out from the body of the text to highlight them. The illustrations are frequent and excellent. When the slippers are portrayed, there is actually a raised paper effect that the reader can actually feel, which I'm sure will be a big hit with the child. One other important feature of the illustrations is that the skin color of the characters is brown. In some Muslim children's books, the "good" characters are fair-skinned, while the "bad" characters are dark-skinned.

I have not read the dominant Cinderella story in a long-time, but Fawzia's version is the first one to my recollection which actually gives the protagonist a name, Zahra. Cinderella is actually a pejorative that Zahra's antagonistic father's wife's daughters give her.

Fawzia emphasizes how Zahra's trust in Allah allows her to bear patiently the abuse she suffers after her parents die and she lives under the supervision of his father's wife.

One serious criticism I do have is the explicit mentioning of hijab and "Islamic dress" in the text. It places too much emphasis on this possible aspect of a Muslim woman's conduct. The illustrations of Zahra (Cinderella) wearing "Islamic dress" are enough to "instruct the child in aspects of Islam or Muslim cultures" in a way "that blend[s] naturally in the story."

Another good aspect of the illustrations is that when Zahra is home, she is depicted in casual dress, without hijab. I'm always upset when Muslim women, in their own homes, are shown to wear hijab, thus leaving the impression that they wear it all the time.

Now, I do have to say I'm not a big fan of marriage to the prince being the happy ending of a fairy tale with a young female protagonist. Maybe the next retelling of Cinderella can somehow end up with the orphaned girl being recognized as talented and receiving a scholarship to attend a university or an internship to further her profession.

I'm also not a great fan of blaming the non-parental guardian, specifically the father's wife. It seems that this is such a common motif in Muslim literature that we almost have come to accept that abuse of orphans is acceptable. Maybe the villain next time can be other office workers taking credit for Cinderella's work?

Update April 24, 2011: I heard LadyVee DaPoet's live performance of her poem Cinderella Speaks Out. It's great, and it's on her latest CD, Eve of Utopia.