Saadia Faruqi is an interfaith activist, speaker and author of Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan (2015). She is editor of the Interfaith Houston blog, and editor-in-chief of Blue Minaret a literary magazine chronicling the Muslim experience. Visit her website at www.saadiafaruqi.com or follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi
I’m somewhat of an anomaly in the Houston literary world. I mean, let’s face it, our literary platform is full of published and aspiring authors who look nothing like me. I’m a Pakistani American immigrant, I’m brown, I’m a Muslim, and I wear the hijab. Nobody expects me to write, and there are few avenues for exposure locally and nationally for someone like me.
To be perfectly honest, American society has a certain resistance to Muslim stories for a number of reasons. When my manuscripts are rejected by agents, I am told there is no market for my work, or that publishers are looking for something different than what I have to offer. When my book Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan was published by a small press, I received numerous questions from readers, even family, about why I had chosen to write such a difficult sell. After all, people want to read about characters and settings they can relate to, and life in Pakistan is not relate-able for most Americans.
My modest success with Brick Walls proved the naysayers wrong, but it got me thinking. How many other writers (and poets and artists) like me – brown, black, Muslim, whatever – have not even tried to step into the literary world because everyone always told them their stories are not important or relate-able? However, that’s certainly not factually correct. What I learned from Brick Walls is that stories of human characters in impossible situations are welcomed by all kinds of audiences. We live in a world where a guy stuck on Mars makes for a blockbuster movie, proving that Americans love reading about other cultures, other perspectives, even other worlds. All we need to do is take a risk. There is light at the end of the tunnel, even if the road is paved with hundreds of rejections.
But reality is harsh, and those rejections kill your self-esteem like nothing else. When an agent or a publisher tells you that your story about being Muslim or being an immigrant or being a minority in America isn’t a good sell, they are actually saying that your identity and your self isn’t worthy. And that sucks. So I created an online literary magazine called Blue Minaret that allows Muslim authors, poets and artists to be published and to gain some accolades and hopefully some self-esteem. Blue Minaret also publishes content by non-Muslims, as long as the submission is about the Muslim world. My aim with the magazine is twofold: offer publication opportunities to new Muslim creatives, and also to break stereotypical images of the Muslim world by showcasing OUR stories, OUR WAY. That is critical if we are to ever reach the point where an agent or publisher reads a Muslim manuscript with unbiased lens. We need to be seen and heard, loudly and clearly. We need to tell our stories.