I recently met author Sam’n Iqbal and artist Uzma Sabir to discuss the newest children’s book on the block, “Allah to Z: Activity Book.” Meeting at Sam’n’s home, I instantly picked up on the inspiration behind this book: a vibrant home dotted with artwork produced by her three adorable children. Uzma and Sam’n, themselves an energetic pair, sat down to discuss their book.
When we think of great American contemporary children’s books we think of Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham” and Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” What motivated you to write this book?
Sam’n: My kids are American-born Muslim children, and though I consider myself American, I learned Islam in a quintessentially “Pakistani” way, where we first learned Arabic to learn the Qur’an. But as an American, I began to ask, “What are pieces of American culture that influence my children’s understanding of Islam?” So Uzma and I decided to create a book that incorporates American games, for example hopscotch, and American references into the readers’ learning of Islam, Ramadan, Eid, and Qur’anic Arabic.
Uzma: Being able to teach Muslim children in a fun, positive, relatable way was my primary motivation. Raising kids in the U.S. was a challenge for our parents as Muslim children’s books were not readily available 20 years ago. There is such a demand in the market for them nowadays and I wanted to be a part of a project which satisfies that need, making the jobs of parents and educators easier. My talent and interest lies in art and what could be better than combining artwork, Islam and teaching in one inspirational package?
Who was involved in this project?
Sam’n: I approached Uzma and we instantly connected, spending days and hours together working on the book.
Uzma: We had a wonderful team consisting of an author, art director and photographer working with us on this activity book. We all shared the same faith and life experiences so the team worked well together. We were blessed to work with Sosan Romani Akhtar, an experienced photographer who could see the big picture, as well as catch the small details we might have otherwise overlooked.
How do the activities actually teach Islam to children?
Sam’n: The activities are easy and engaging, and are for ages three to high school. Instead of being lectured at, I feel children learn best about their faith as they do about any subject in school—using hands-on activities.
Uzma: Our primary goal is to give your child step by step instructions to nurture spirituality through creativity, all the while giving parents and kids a chance to bond and play together. For example, the Kaaba bank teaches the child the importance of gratitude and charity.
What are some of the activities in this book that pique the creative interest of children?
Uzma: Children, as well as their parents, have told us that they especially enjoyed bonding over designing their homemade Islamic T-shirts, assembling their stained glass mosques and drawing their Ramadan Iftar Treat calendar—all activities that we lay out in our book. Kids can use our templates as a jumping off point and use their own imagination to get really creative.
What has been the reaction of young patrons?
Uzma: Thus far there has been a positive response from our friends, family and the community at large as we all share a common concern: we want to instill a sense of confidence and strong Islamic values in our children and let them know that it’s okay to be Muslim in American, even if some people misunderstand our religion and the way to counter the misinformation is through learning, sharing and dialogue.
Sam’n: We don’t want Islam to be something foreign. In American schools, kids learn about Hanukkah and Christmas in a non-complicated way. These conversations don’t always have to be serious and heavy. Islam can be taught in the same way.
So how are you promoting your book?
Sam’n: We have reached out to summer camps, private schools, and have held book signings. State-wise, we have exposure in the D.C.- Virginia- Maryland area, as well as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, all of which have dense Muslim populations. We are working on strategies to publicize the book outside of these regions. Thus far, we sold 500 books in only 45 days!
You can find “Allah to Z” Activity Book alongside “Allah to Z” Islamic Alphabet Book here for purchase.
Shazia Kamal Farook is an Associate Editor at AltMuslimah.