A flatlay of books about and by Muslim people

How many have you read? Image: Vicky Ibbetson/Penguin

Muslims are often conveyed as a monolith, especially in popular culture, where more often than not they are still either shown as oppressors or being oppressed.

Thankfully, a more nuanced view can be found in books, which show a vast array of experiences, covering everything from Islamic history to love stories to discussions about feminism, sexuality and more in Islam.

The books on this list are all by authors who identify as Muslim, or about people and characters of Muslim faith, and they'll entertain and enlighten.

Amazing Muslims Who Changed the World by Burhana Islam, illustrated by various (2020)

While aimed at children, this book is a great introduction to both the best known and forgotten Muslims who have had an impact on the world.

From sporting stars like Ibtihaj Muhammad and Muhammad Ali to activists like Malala Yousafza and the warrior Sultan Razia, Amazing Muslims Who Changed the World is a fun guide to athletes, pirate queens, warriors, mathematicians and more.

Each entry is illustrated, with all illustrations done by artists of Muslim heritage.

The Islamic Golden Age (2021)

Between the 8th and 13th centuries, the Islamic world flourished, and this period became known as the Golden Age of Islam for its advancement in the fields of architecture, invention, medicine, innovation and philosophy.

This major BBC radio series uncovers the stories of some of the key thinkers and achievements from the Golden Age over the course of 20 episodes, plus two episodes of In Our Time which also focus on the period.

Topics covered include the rise of Shi-ism and the introduction of paper to the Western world, while people profiled include Harun Al-Rashid, the Caliph from the Thousand and One Night tales, and philosopher and physician Avicenna.

Each episode is presented by experts in the field, including lawyer and politician Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, scientist Jim Al-Khalili, theologian Professor Mona Siddiqui, Persian scholar Narguess Farzad and award-winning writer Kamila Shamsie.

We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan (2021)

Hafsa Zayyan's debut novel is set in contemporary London and Leicester, and 1960s Uganda, just ahead of Idi Amin seizing power and ordering all Asian people to leave the country.

It largely follows Sameer, a young high-flying lawyer in the present day who knows his Muslim parents will be disappointed when he announces he is moving to Singapore for a job. When an unexpected tragedy calls him back home, Sameer changes his path and heads to Uganda, where he uncovers a past he never knew and that still affects his family to this day.

In the past, the reader is shown letters written by Hasan to his late wife, elucidating his struggles to keep his business running and his family intact.

Reviewing the book, The Guardian said: "For the first part of the novel, Zayyan seems to be writing about ambitious young people and how they find their feet. That’s not an unheard story, but what’s distinctive is the modern, multi-ethnic vision of masculinity she presents and the solidarity that emerges from it."

Read more: How I wrote it: Hafsa Zayyan on We Are All Birds of Uganda

This Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik (2019)

This novel begins with a death bed request: Bilal's mum would like him to build a mosque in his very small, very English village of Babel's End.

Grieving and undergoing a mid-life crisis, Bilal decides to forge ahead with the project, causing huge divisions in the community he was previously welcomed into.

As the villagers face off against one another, an unlikely friendship begins between Bilal's elderly aunt Rukhsana and his nemesis Shelley, despite the pair not speaking the same language.

A warm and wise book about family and the meaning of home, this book will have you laughing out loud.

This Green and Pleasant Land was shortlisted for the Diverse Book Awards.

The Enemy Within by Sayeeda Warsi (2018)

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the first Muslim woman to serve in a UK Cabinet, takes a look at how and why Muslims in Britain became the enemy, and how that may change over the coming decades.

Drawing on her own personal experience as the child of Pakistani immigrants and as a politician, Warsi addresses questions of cultural difference, terrorism, surveillance, social justice, religious freedom, integration and the meaning of 'British values'.

Writing in The Guardian, Afua Hirsch said of the book: "Warsi is at her best delivering a withering polemic on the flaws in government rhetoric and policy on extremism and multiculturalism."

A Dutiful Boy by Mohsin Zaidi (2020)

Mohsin Zaidi's much-celebrated memoir chronicles his life growing up in a devout Muslim household, where he felt it was impossible to be gay. Hiding part of himself from everyone around him, he persevered through a difficult school situation and succeeded in going to Oxford University.

There, new experiences and encounters helped him discover who he wanted to be, and face up to what he needed to do in order to live as his authentic self.

A Dutiful Boy was named a book of the year by The Guardian, GQ and the New Statesman. It won the Polari First Book Prize 2021 and the LAMBDA 2021 Literary Award for Best Gay Memoir/Biography.

The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak (2021)

British-Turkish author Elif Shafak's latest novel, which was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award, is a dual narrative set in both 1974 Cyprus and modern-day London.

In the past, we met Kostas, who is Greek and Christian, and Defne, who is Turkish and Muslim, as the pair embark on a romance they must keep hidden from their families. They are helped by the owners of a tavern who allow them to meet under the shade of a fig tree that grows in the centre of the building.

In the present, Kostas and his daughter Ada are grieving Defne's loss and trying to reconcile how past and inherited trauma are still affecting their lives.

Reviewing the book, The Washington Post said: "The Island of Missing Trees isn’t just a cleverly constructed novel; it’s explicitly about the way stories are constructed, the way meaning is created, and the way devotion persists."

Read more: Elif Shafak on the book she’s waited years to write

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza (2018)

Fatima Farheen Mirza's debut novel is the story of an Indian-Muslim family preparing for their eldest daughter's wedding, an occasion that will gather the various members of the family – even those who have been estranged – back together to face their conflicts head on.

While the day belongs to Hadia, everyone is preoccupied with thoughts of her younger brother Amar, who has been away for three years, and whether he will behave himself. This is a book about coming to terms with the choices people make, of reconciling the past and present and of how small decisions can lead to deep betrayals.

A Place for Us was published on actor Sarah Jessica Parker's imprint. She said of the book: "To be taken hostage by Fatima Mirza’s heartrending and timely story is a gutting pleasure... She captures your mind and heart with an urgency that defies you to stop reading. I guarantee you will be different when you close the book."

Let Her Fly by Ziauddin Yousafzai and Louise Carpenter (2018)

Education activist Malala Yousafzai is well known across the world, and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai is just as committed to her fight for quality.

In this memoir, Yousafzai recounts how he rebelled against the idea that he was better than his sisters just because he was a boy, and how he came to his passionate belief that any daughters of his would have an education.

Yousafzai founded a school, but when Malala was shot by the Taliban, the whole family's life changed.

This book is told through portraits of Yousafzai's closest relationships, including as a son, a father, a husband and brother.

Kirkus Reviews described the book as being a "straightforward, loving treatise on becoming a man dedicated to uplifting women as equals".

Muslim, Actually by Tawseef Khan (2021)

Originally published under the title The Muslim Problem, lawyer Tawseef Khan's book is a look at the common ways in which Muslims are misunderstood. Through the course of chapters on sexism, homophobia and more, he chronicles what it's really like to live as a Muslim in the western world. Described as a "wake-up call for non-believers and a passionate new framework for Muslims to navigate a world that is often set against them", the book combines history, memoir and original research.

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