Last year, on a cloudy Sunday in the heart of the nation’s capital, I came across a group of young Muslim authors. Intrigued, I approached their work station and began what would become an unforgettable journey.
That first day, I discovered that this group of young Muslim artists and writers were in the process of authoring a book titled “I am the Night Sky & Other Reflections by Muslim American Youth.” Their intention was to publish a manifesto detailing their experiences as teenaged American Muslims. In a world where our narratives are often characterized by Muslim influencers or political strife fueled by enduring stereotypes against the Muslim community, these creative Muslim teens combine art, prose, and passion to explore life as youthful Muslim Americans. Naturally, I sought to learn more about the book, the community, and the souls behind the movement.
When I first approached the authors, they were busy drafting, redrawing, and collaboratively navigating how to best document their experiences. I wondered to myself how an intimidating endeavor of this sort was even made possible. A journey, after all, is only as strong as the community that supports it. I went on to find that the authors and artists behind “I am the Night Sky & Other Reflections by Muslim American Youth” received incredible support from the Next Wave Muslim Initiative (NWMI). I learned of the strength and commitment displayed by the founders of the NWMI that went into redefining what the American Muslim experience is.
To someone who values safe spaces, the NWMI’s values aligned beautifully with my understanding of what it meant to offer support. It is those very values that motivated the young artists and authors who grew up within the NWMI community.
Enticed by the exciting narrative I was sure would unfold, the authors and I agreed to touch base to explore their feelings post-publication. No more than a year later, I had the chance to sit down with some of the authors and artists to reflect on their journey towards putting their narratives out in the world.
Muslim Girl: What are your takeaways from this whole experience?
Noor: I went in unsure of how this all will evolve. I knew what I wanted to say but to make it come to life it was amazing. I am not 100% sure I said all that I wanted to say, but it was an experience in self-growth.
Samaa: [With this book] I didn’t think I was creative at all. I got inspired by my co-authors. It was inspirational getting your own space and creating Muslim superheroes.
Sasa: It is very cool to pick up a book and know you authored it. There is freedom in that.
Fatima: Islam impacted how I came at this book. I fostered my religious beliefs and feel that the history of Islam is present [in the book].
It’s so clear that together, each author and artist involved in this project has provided a unique take on life as a Muslim American teenager. You’ve offered readers everywhere a fresh, new perspective. So I have to ask, what specifically did you want your readers to take away from this project?
Samaa: We created something for our community. I say to the young Muslim girl, we are the ones who we look up to. The work to produce and create from our own voices is so important.
Noor: We need content for us, by us!
Fatima: There is a saying that really sticks with me: ‘Islam came into this world a stranger, and it will leave it as such.’ So sometimes we feel alone, but with this [book], know that we are not alone!
How has a space like the NWMI impacted your work on this book?
Sasa: I grew up with the families the founded the NWMI. They are amazing people and they have a special place in my heart. I truly care for them.
Samaa: The NWMI is a space that is not bound by traditional norms like other mosques. The community was open to creating something novel [our book].
Noor: A lot of things about the NWMI are modern and contemporary. It is a safe space.
From the beginning, the NWMI supported these young creatives as they advocated and created opportunities for their voices to be heard. In partnership with Shout Mouse Press, a D.C.-based publishing house committed to uplifting the voices of marginalized communities, the NWMI pitched the idea of the book, and from there, the authors and artists took the lead.
The commitment it took to publishing a book by Muslim American youth, and for Muslim American youth, should serve as testament to the spirt of our imaan. In fact, keeping up with the authors and artists on this journey reignited my own faith in the power of writing and self-expression. The voices and stories left on the pages of “I Am The Night Sky” give me hope for a future filled with bright and talented movers and shakers from within our Muslim community.