A human rights attorney delves into children’s literature, teaching important lessons.
STAFFORD – Qasim Rashid enjoyed reading at a young age. His parents instilled that love within him.
“[I was] reading everything. It wasn’t just ‘read this one type of book.’ It would be anything and everything under the sun,” Rashid said. “That love of reading and storytelling is just something that stuck with me.”
His passion followed him into parenthood. However, as the husband and father of three scoured the internet for books for his kids, he had trouble finding children’s literature on certain subjects. He decided to do something about it.
“As I was trying to make sure that we have books for them that are authentic to their experience, I wanted to write something that really captured their experience in Ramadan and how exciting it was for them – and something to share with the world,” Rashid said.
The right story at the wrong time
In 2009, Rashid, an author and human rights attorney, first proposed his idea for a children’s book about Ramadan. Unfortunately, publishers didn’t share his excitement at the time.
“The whole publishing industry is such a unique industry because you need to have an agent. That agent has to be somebody that knows you and trusts you and you trust them, and then they work with the publishers and so I just kind of had the idea. You can go directly to a publisher, but it’s really difficult. A lot of doors get slammed in your face, a lot of ‘no’s, a lot of rejections,” Rashid said. “But I think that’s not unique to me, necessarily. I think that’s something that happens anytime somebody wants to create something, whether it’s a book or a movie or a play or anything of that nature.”
As a creative individual, Rashid encountered the same challenges as many artists. However, the reason for the rejections about his specific book hinged upon something other than getting his foot in the door.
“I got a lot of rejections. The number one reason was, you know, ‘There’s not really a market for this. It really hasn’t been done before,’” Rashid said.
It took 11 years, but in 2020, the stars aligned for Rashid’s publishing ambition, Hannah and the Ramadan Gift.
The author noted he didn’t go on the journey alone. He gave accolades to both his agent, Tanusri Prasanna, whom he called “wicked smart” and “tenacious,” as well as the illustrator, University of Texas at Dallas animation student Aaliya Jaleel, whom he called a “brilliant, brilliant artist.”
“I think I’ve built my platform over the last decade or so and I’ve written on these issues with some degree of consistency and some people kind of see my voice and hear my voice in this space,” Rashid said.
He also noted that the publisher, Penguin Random House, took a chance on his authorship and idea – and it paid off in a positive way.
Exploring the faith
The book features information about the month of Ramadan in a kid-friendly manner. Rashid expanded upon the month’s importance.
“The month of Ramadan, it’s really the holiest time of the year for Muslims,” Rashid said. “It’s a month of fasting where adults – healthy Muslim men and women – will fast from sunrise to sunset, no food or water.”
The purpose doesn’t stop with the traditions. The month draws followers closer to humanity and to God.
“You do that by fasting, but just as importantly, if not more importantly, by increasing your charity, increasing your service to humanity. You know, breaking bad habits, building relationships,” Rashid said. “What this books is really about, it’s a love story about a young girl who recognized that falling in love with humanity is really the best way to celebrate Ramadan. And she has her loving grandfather guiding her and teaching her about the importance of service to others. It’s such a universal message. Hopefully it will bring people together.”
More than another title in a sea of children’s books, Rashid has a greater hope for the upcoming publication.
“Part of what the book is designed to do is show that each of us are authentic in our experiences. Each of us have value, inherent dignity. It doesn’t matter how you pray or whether you pray, but we are all equal human begins,” Rashid said. “Hopefully as other children read this book, they feel inspired to want to build bridges of understanding, want to build bridges of dialogue, or compassion. And hopefully it has a positive impact on our community as a result.”
When Rashid received the artist’s rendering of the front cover, he showed it to his youngest child.
“When she drew the cover and I shared the cover with my daughter – also named Hannah – she was four at the time and her eyes got big,” Rashid said. “And she goes, ‘Abbu,’ which in Urdu is ‘dad,’ she goes, ‘Abbu, it’s me.’ And she kept on repeating, ‘It’s me, Abbu, look it’s me.’”
The author took note of the impact.
“It’s such an astonishing thing. It just speaks to how important it is for kids to see themselves reflected in the public and know that who they are, their authentic self, is enough,” Rashid said. “That’s what I was able to give my daughter and I’m really, really happy about that.”
While the female lead, Hannah, explores the meaning behind and traditions of Ramadan, the book appeals to a broad audience.
“This is exactly one reason why I wrote this book. It’s not by any means a book only for Muslim families and Muslim kids,” Rashid said. “It’s actually a book that is really inclusive.”
The author noted that the book also features characters from other religious backgrounds within its pages.
“This is not a book exclusively for American Muslims. This is really a book about bringing people together,” Rashid said. “So whether people are of faith or of no faith, they should feel at home with this book as a message of compassion and unity, especially in these divided times. I hope folks feel welcomed and included and enjoy reading the book as a result of it.”
Available in April
While every author hopes their titles fly off of the shelves, Rashid expressed a stronger motivation.
“This is not just a book to sell copies,” Rashid said. “This is really a contribution to a public narrative, a public discourse. Especially at a time in our country when there’s so much division and animosity, unfortunately.”
The book presently awaits its April 6, 2021 release date, but pre-orders are available online now. The release occurs just days before Ramadan begins.
“This will start to ship out about 10 days beforehand, so hopefully folks will have it by the time Ramadan starts – and the story of the book goes through the entire month,” Rashid said. “So hopefully they’ll get it certainly before the end of Ramadan and be able to enjoy it with their families as well.”
Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]