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Muslim Teen Reads: A peek behind the scenes

Brooke Benoit talks to youth mentor Fawziyyah Emiabata about her successful literacy and Islamic knowledge-expanding programme.

Please tell us a little about your background
I am a wife, mother, daughter and sister. Born and raised in Nigeria but currently residing in Ireland, Clonmel (Valley of Honey) to be precise. I hold a BA in English Studies from Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria and worked as a community development officer with the Lagos State government in Nigeria before relocating to Ireland in 2003. I am an avid reader and a book lover. I also love to write and have recently had quite a number of my articles published in SISTERS magazine and Discover magazine, and am currently taking a course in freelance writing.


What was the catalyst for beginning Muslim Teen Reads?
Alhamdulillah for opportunities that come our way as means to serve Allah (SWT). Muslim Teen Reads is an answered du’a. While performing Hajj in 2010, I prayed to Allah (SWT) for a means to serve and got the result when I returned. In January 2011, SISTERS magazine responded to my email to distribute their magazine in Ireland. While selling the magazines, parents and even some teens themselves would ask for materials that are Islamic but for teens and young adults. Another contributory factor is that I am working with youths in the Nigerian Muslim community and see the need to look for materials that will encourage them to expand their knowledge of Islam through fiction and non-fiction works. The search then began with the help of Allah (SWT) and support from my dear friend and Sister, Latifah Binuyo, who introduced me to lots of Islamic Fiction. I got the books and read them. I also had a mobile Islamic library where I would loan my books to people without any charge in order to promote literacy. Within a short time frame, awareness about Islamic fiction began spreading amongst friends and SISTERS magazine buyers and the idea to make it global sprang up.



How does the Muslim Teen Reads Group work?
The Muslim Teen reads team is made up of adults, teens and pre-teens who are committed to bringing Islamic fiction and non-fiction to Muslim teenagers both young and old. We also celebrate our much loved and committed Muslim writers, foster reading in teenagers and most importantly use the fictional characters to motivate and encourage young Muslims to aspire to be the best they can be. To achieve these goals, we try as much as possible to make books accessible to readers through the online bookstore, and some members distribute the books in their various countries. We encourage our members to read widely and write reviews which we publish on our website, http://www.muslimteenreads.com, where we also sell the books. The Author’s Gallery on the website introduces you to the lives of Muslim authors.



Each member of the group searches for new titles from around the world and we then read these books to ensure we are only recommending books that are safe and age-appropriate for the readers; for instance, the fact that a pre-teen is good at reading does not mean that he /she should be encouraged to read books that are recommended for the teenagers. We also encourage book buyers to form local book clubs, and we walk them through on how to run them. Our Facebook page has a membership of over 30,000 fans, where we post general updates.





What do you feel the reading group has accomplished – for you individually and for the members?
I have learnt in life that knowledge comes in various ways. However, seeking out beneficial knowledge is the ultimate goal. Through this reading group, I have discovered and gained a lot of Islamic knowledge. From every reading, I gain one lesson or another to help shape my life. Along the way, I have also met wonderful people who have inspired, influenced and motivated me to push on despite all odds.





This is what some of the Muslim Teen members have to say about their experiences with the group:
“Almost everything in life is about choices…..and I have noticed that a recurring theme in most of these books is about making choices, sometimes in some seemingly simple issues and sometimes in big issues – pleasing Allah or pleasing ‘the self’. These often resonate with the young readers and they can identify with the characters in the books. For me, it is about bringing this to the fore in a non-preachy way, helping them overcome identity issues and boosting their confidence as Muslims.” Lateefah Binuyo




“They are epic, interesting, adventurous, and sometimes hilarious like The Hen in the Wardrobe. They are full of lessons – you are learning without knowing it until you reach the end of the book or encounter a similar situation.” Haneefah (7 yr old)





“Being a part of the Muslim Teen reads family has afforded me the opportunity of coming across great Muslim fiction writers/authors, whom otherwise, I might not even know of their existence. Distributing these books in the UK has also made me realise the great vacuum now being filled… Entertainment is apparently the focal point of most activities in today’s world, including reading, and seeing the relief and excitement expressed when people come across these books that combines entertainment with both Islamic and moral messages is a pointer to the great impact the Muslim Teen Reads concept is having and has the potential to achieve.” Rashidah Hassan



“As a Muslim teen reader, I have become exposed to a variety of halal Islamic fiction. This has given me insights into issues that I might have been unaware of as a teenager. Living in the West means there are limited options of appropriate novels but thanks to Muslim Teen Reads, I now have access to Islamic novels.” Fatimah Haruna




“Muslim Teen Reads has been inspirational and a true connector of Muslim writers and readers from all over the world. I am glad that I have been opportuned to be part of this. Currently, there are about ten Islamic schools in Nigeria that make use of Muslim Teen Reads titles.” Jaleelah Balogun-Binuyo




In Nigeria, Jaleelah and Fatimah are doing great jobs getting Islamic schools to stock and use the Islamic fiction and book titles listed by Muslim Teen Reads, and also they are encouraged to form online groups to discuss the titles they have read.





What are some your goals for the group in the coming year(s)?
Insha Allah, we hope to get e-books on the online store and also make more sales, increase traffic on the website, get the discussion forum running and also get an in-house imam to answer questions that come up for the readers and of course, this would be a confidential service.




Insha Allah, it is also in the pipeline to host webinars to educate members and the public in general the importance of knowledge-seeking through reading beneficial books. We are also working on getting the Islamic fiction titles into the National curriculum in Nigeria, insha Allah.





Books, reviews, interviews and Fawziyyah’s writings are available at http://muslimteenreads.com/. The group is available to join via www.facebook.com/muslimteenreads and follow their tweets via twitter @muslimteenreads.






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