Why I’m Gathering Tales From Muslim Worlds
“Does your country know that there are good Muslims in the world?” My skin still chills when I imagine the 15-year-old Iranian girl plying my American friend with questions like this one. Noni was visiting a mosque in Yazd, southwest of Tehran, when she met the girl and her family. What shook me more than the urgency of her inquiry was the fact that she was right to ask. But how could such a young girl, who had never met an American, be aware of our misconceptions? This was the first time I felt shaken by the global implications of our cultural ignorance. It was the first time I understood how our global politics and media had the potential to misshape a young mind seeking valuable human-to-human connection across borders. What could this mean for her entire generation?
Today, Islam has become a much maligned and misunderstood subject, anti-Muslim sentiment is raging across a globe, and there is a palpable resurgence of wall-building nationalism everywhere. People are becoming uncomfortable, fearful of their neighbors. I believe cultural ignorance is to blame. In America, that ignorance has fueled support for a ban that upsets the founding ethics of the nation. It goes against the principles that they hold most dear. According to ongoing Pew Research Center studies, U.S. American views on Islam are mixed. Many feel Islam is “anti-American” or in conflict with democracy. Reports of hate crimes across the globe—even in countries predominately Muslim—prove that America is not alone in this ignorance.
To battle this end, I’m gathering real stories, which demystify the Muslim other and add human truths to the common narrative, to dissipate abstract misconceptions, one story at a time. Authors like Azar Nafisi, Khaled Hosseini, and Leila Aboulela have based their careers on the principle that literature brings connection and cultural sensitivity through human empathy. Their works have topped best-seller lists for this very ability. I believe creative non-fiction can be even more powerful: real moments shared by real people.
The Ordinary Chaos of Being Human offers a counter narrative to the stereotypical portrayal of Muslims in the media, building empathy across cultures through storytelling. This is not a book about religion; it is a collection of personal stories revealing the multi-faceted and universal experiences of people living all over the world. Each story follows Joseph Campbell’s classic hero’s journey, that classic narrative arc on which the most successful stories of our time have been based. In stories that reveal the heroes and villains of the writers’ lives, readers walk for a moment in the shoes of the "other," during poignant, vulnerable life moments. These stories share the common language of love, truth, despair, revelation, humor, and hope—and in that language, these stories cease to be Muslim, but unequivocally human.
No one book could attempt to cover the diversity of Muslim cultural heritage across the globe. Because diversity is key to this book, these writers do not all identify with Islam—but all come from Muslim worlds, the plurality of “worlds” being imperative to the conversation. Garnering the advice of Muslim publishers in Asia and America, I have also learned that it’s impossible to find one editor (Muslim or not) who might oversee all aspects of storytelling by people of Muslim heritage. In fact, that is the very point—these are not my stories to tell. It’s time to let the 1.6 billion Muslims of our world speak for themselves.
My project is just one brick in that bridge we need to build. Come, please join me.
Read about the readers & advisors on my team.