Society

Representation Matters: Islamic Books for and with Latino Children

Published May 12, 2021

By Wendy Diaz

Fifteen years ago, my husband and I, both Latino converts to Islam, welcomed our first son to this world. Alhamdulillah, he was the first Muslim child born into our families, a blend of Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian heritages,and born here in the U.S. His fitra, that innate faith in one supreme creator, was untainted, unlike ours had been. He does not have to discover Islam in his teens or twenties like his parents did. We named him Uthman, after the third khalif in Islam, who was married to Ruqayyah, and upon her death, married Umm Kulthum. Both were daughters of Prophet Muhammad (s). So, Uthman was the son-in-law of the Prophet two times. He was thus given the name “the bearer of two lights.” And so began our Muslim parenting journey, one that we are still striving to navigate efficiently as more and more challenges and blessings present themselves.

As convert parents, our objective is to raise righteous Muslims by Allah’s will.As Latinos, we endeavor to preserve our culture within the parameters of Islam. We learned early, despite what we heard from some well-intentioned Muslims,that Islam does not require us to give up our cultural identity. In fact, Islam is part of our rich history as Latinos – an inheritance bequeathed to us by our ancestors,but one that has been buried and almost forgotten. Unfortunately, this reality has not been explored enough in contemporary circles of knowledge. Muslims from other parts of the world do not consider Latin America part of the Islamic narrative. Yet, as more of us return to Islam, we are unearthing this truth and we are eager to pass it on to our children with pride.

When we began searching for Islamic books and material to teach our first son in our native language, we were unsuccessful. However, as a mother who wanted to instill a love of reading in my child, I settled with purchasing books in English and translating them into Spanish simultaneously as I read them to my son. Soon I began reaching out to publishing companies that specialized in Islamic books and offered to translate their children’s books. After receiving no response or downright rejection because,according to them, there was “no market for Spanish material,” I realized that if I wanted books for my children in Spanish, I would have to create them.

Thankfully, I love writing as much as I love reading, but I knew from my experience with traditional Islamic publishers that it was unlikely my manuscripts would be accepted. My husband and I investigated self-publishing, and after investing our own capital, we published our first bilingual Islamic children’s book in 2010, titledA Veil and a Beard. Other books followed, including a series on the Prophets, a book about Ramadan and one on Friday prayer, an artistic representation for children of the hadith of the angel Gabriel, and others. We sought support from friends and family through our non-profit social project and dawah organization, Hablamos Islam, Inc. Due to a high demand for these books all over Latin America, we have been able to supply needy communities with Islamic children’s books in their own language in over a dozen countries. Alhamdulillah, we also began creating children’s programming in Spanish on our YouTube channel, Hablamos Islam, that has been viewed in over 40 countries worldwide. Nevertheless, this was not enough.

The Only Latino Children in Their Islamic Schools

After my first, then second, then third child entered school, I began to see another concerning trend. The three of them were the only Latino children in their Islamic schools. As such, they experienced some alienation and bullying. My eldest was often taunted by his classmates who called him Mexican and said he ate tacos, despite him telling them that he was half Puerto Rican, half Ecuadorian and tacos are not a staple of either country. My second son’s teachers complained about his behavior and suggested that the reason for his troubles in class were due to him not having many Muslim relatives as role models (because we were converts). She did not consider that perhaps his issues resulted from him feeling alienated from his peers. My sons’ last name, Guadalupe, was always mispronounced and ridiculed. In fact, the name is a blend of Arabic and Latin (wadi – valley, al – the, and lupus – wolf).Despite bringing these issues to the attention of the school’s administration, little was done to curb these occurrences and the misconceptions that fueled them.

At this point, I understood that it was not just Islamic books in Spanish that were missing for Latino children, but also Islamic books with Latino characters. This Latino representation would be beneficial for all Muslims – children, parents, and educators as well. Latino-American Muslims needed to see themselves represented in Islamic literature and it is imperative that other Muslims accept them as part of the general Islamic community. Later, when we moved and we were forced to put our children in public school, there emerged a need to also educate non-Muslims about my Latin American Muslim family. This is when the idea for my most recent books was born.
My mission is to be a voice for the under-represented Latino American Muslim community, and especially for our children. It is very important that Latino American Muslim children feel represented and an integrated part of the larger community. They need, like all children, to feel validated and welcomed rather than alienated and outside the norm.

Insha’Allah, books and other literature that represent our experiences as Latino Muslims, both inside and outside the Muslim community, will help us understand each other and be more welcoming to those we do not know. After more than a decade being involved in this work, my family and I are now beginning to see other authors and even publishing companies starting to work towards filling this serious need for Spanish material and representation for Latino Muslim children. For that, we are profoundly grateful. However, there is still a lack of awareness and support in the greater Muslim community for these important resources. I hope that you, my dear reader, will aid us in raising awareness for this cause by discussing diversity within the Islamic community with your children or students, sharing this article for others to benefit, and possibly, insha’Allah, adding these books to your home library or giving as gifts. May Allah bring back the unity in our commUNITY. Ameen!
Please follow me on social media @authorwendydiaz. All the books I have written and published can be found on amazon.com/author/wendydiaz.

Wendy DiazAuthor Wendy Díaz is a Puerto Rican Muslim writer, translator, and poet. She is the Spanish content coordinator for WhyIslam and co-founder of Hablamos Islam, an education-based outreach project that produces resources about the Islamic religion and culture in the Spanish language. She is also the author of several bilingual children's books about Islam.

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