Poor grades. Loneliness. Alienation. Feeling worthless. Can't relate. Those are just some of the reasons why educators in Minnesota are fighting for more Muslim-oriented books in public school libraries.
"There wasn't a whole lot in our library that provided a sense of 'this is what's normal,'" Julie Scullen, a reading intervention specialist at Northdale Middle School in Coon Rapids, MN, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune regarding literature for young Muslims.
Scullen is leading the charge at her school to make more Muslim centered literature available to students. She even used $800 in federal funds to make that happen, ordering books such as "The American Muslim Teenager's handbook" and "From Somalia With Love."
"Are all Muslims terrorists? Does Muslim culture clash with American culture? Can Muslim teens go to the prom?" the handbook's description asks on Amazon.com. "Casual, colloquial, joking, contemporary, and passionate, this interactive handbook by two Arizona teens and their mom talks about their faith, about what it is like to be both proud Americans and proud Muslims, and about misunderstandings and stereotypes."
Freda Shamma, director of curriculum development for the Foundation for the Advancement and Development of Education and Learning, applauded the move to buy more Muslim-oriented books. She believes that without such literature, Muslim students suffer.
"It is extremely important for young people to read stories reflecting their ethnicity and/or religion in order to feel like worthwhile human beings," she told the Star-Tribune. "The absence of such stories leads to poor grades in school, feelings of loneliness and alienation, and low self-esteem." Shamma is currently working on an anthology of Muslim literature directed at middle-school-age students.
Not surprisingly, the Muslim group CAIR weighed in on the issue. "It was the blue-eyed, blond-haired girl who was into cheerleading," Minnesota CAIR president Lori Saroya told the Star-Tribune of her own experience growing up Muslim in Iowa. "There really wasn't much I could relate to in terms of my Muslim identity."
"There are a number of books out there focusing on Ramadan [the Muslim holy month], but they're more targeted for younger kids. I've heard of some series of fiction books for junior high kids, but they are difficult to find."
Jean Doolittle, who oversees circulating books for Minneapolis schools, tried to shoot down any suggestion of a conspiracy against Muslim literature. In her eyes, it's simple supply and demand: "There are limited books that focus on Muslim students as part of the fabric of schools because perhaps there's been a limited demand and a limited market. If people will buy them, publishers will produce them."
Leah Larson, who serves as a reading specialist at Richfield Middle School, told the Star-Tribune authors would be smart to start increasing the supply: "We have tons of books about Islam. However, the fiction is harder to find. ... If there are any smart American authors, they'll start writing books like this."