The Muslim world—including predominantly Islamic countries spanning Asia to the Middle East to Africa, as well as the global diasporic communities—has an incredibly rich literary history. From the poems of 13th-century Persian poet (and Sufi mystic) Rumi to the 20th-century literature of novelists like Egyptian Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz or Sudanese writer Tayeb Saleh, there is a wealth of work by and about Muslims to explore.
But if you're looking for a contemporary entry into the vast world of Muslim writers, there's no better place to start than with the following 10 novels, all by women who have a direct connection with the Muslim world, all of which center around Muslim characters.
In truth, I generally hesitate to categorize books in a way that is premised on the identity of their authors or characters; it can feel cheap, or easy. I'd like to think that simply because a book is beautifully written and beautifully strange and beautifully beautiful, it will be noticed, it will be read. And yet, too often, that is not the case. Because, too often, the books that are spoken about the most, in this country, the ones that get the most publicity and attention, are by white men and white women.
So if you'd like to make your To Be Read pile a little more inclusive of the enormous range of human experiences (and, really, you should want to do this), there's no better place to start than the following novels, all of which will sweep you away into their worlds, and return you into your own feeling a little different, a lot richer, and far more expansive as a reader, and as a person.
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan (available here)
I have written about Alyan's stunning, epic debut novel many times before, but it simply must have a spot on this list, because of how beautifully it captures the myriad experiences of Muslim womanhood over the span of decades in the life of one Palestinian family. Alyan's focus on multiple generations of the nomadic (not by choice, but by the exigencies of war and world events) Yacoub family allows readers to better understand how external forces can both wreak havoc upon and strengthen the bonds between family members and communities on the whole. The novel explores issues of alienation, displacement, and what it means when your family is the only home you have. Or, as Alyan said to me last year, "Your history is with other people. What you share isn’t in your neighborhood. Memory is this place that you occupy, and maybe that person lives several thousand miles away, but they share your history, and that history is your home."