“Why did you write this book?” asks the bright-eyed second grader, hand waving with a flourish.
I give him a generic answer.
What I should have said is, “I wrote this book for YOU. I wrote this book so that you can feel confident about sharing your beliefs. I wrote this book so that you can tell your classmates and teachers about Ramadan, so that you can explain why you’re not eating lunch today. I wrote this book so that you can tell people you’re Muslim and be proud of who you are.”
While writing Lailah’s Lunchbox, I reflected on my earlier memories of moving to America. My book, published just in time for Ramadan, tells the tale of a young girl, Lailah, who has just moved from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates to Peachtree City, Georgia. Lailah realizes her best friends are miles away. She feels even more estranged when she realizes no one else is fasting with her at school. Adding to her dilemma is a note from her mother to her teacher, explaining why Lailah doesn’t have her lunchbox. Lailah still hasn’t given her teacher the note. Her classmates simply think Lailah has forgotten her lunchbox…again.
Spoiler Alert: Lailah sums up the courage and writes a poem to her teacher about Ramadan, ending her note with a P.S. I’m Muslim!
I have had people tell me with a hint of nostalgia that my story brought them to tears and that this story reminded them of their days in the lunchroom during Ramadan. I have had a woman read this book, admire Lailah’s courage, and wistfully confide that no one at work even knows she’s Muslim.
I wrote this book for her.
I wrote this book for people who are shy about revealing their Muslim identity.
I wrote this book for the child who is the only fasting Muslim in his/her class and is a little reluctant about sharing why he/she doesn’t have their lunch with them today.
If my book can help them share about Ramadan eagerly, I will feel that my goal has been accomplished. I want this book to be an icebreaker, bridge-builder, confidence-inspirer, you-name-it.
Why not open up and share our joy regarding this blessed month with non-Muslims? Or for starters, tell people that we are Muslim? Like Lailah, a “P.S. I’m Muslim!” will suffice too.
Editor’s note: Reem Faruqi used to teach second grade and her favorite time was Read Aloud time. Now, as a stay-at-home-mom, her favorite time is still Read Aloud time. Of Pakistani origin, she moved from Abu Dhabi to Peachtree City, Georgia when she was 13 years old. She based her first children’s book Lailah’s Lunchbox on her own experience as a young Muslim girl immigrating to the United States. The views expressed in her article are solely her own.