These days, writing an “expository” book on Islam is almost a sure bet to land an author on a bestselling list.Books like Infidel, The Twelfth Imam and End of Faith, took complete advantage of the last decade’s exaggerated perception of Islam. (Making lofty profits for their publishing houses along the way.) Taking advantage of the movement, internet fringe writers, like Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, created some of the most popular blogs by sticking to the formula (Geller and Spencer take it a lever further).
Unlike the authors above, Iranian author Sep Riahi uses historical facts to tell his story, in the book Extraordinary Women From the Muslim World.
In Extraordinary Women, originally written in English, Riahi documents the stories of 12 Muslim women leaders. Complete with colorful, artistic renderings of their faces done by Heba Amin, the stories, and the women themselves, span an impressive stretch of time.
And with mentions of women like Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi, the book paints a diverse picture of inspiring and intriguing women.
Each short bio–all between one and two pages–includes entertaining anecdotes and significant attested details of each woman profiled. While many of the women in the book, like Ebadi and Bakr, are well-known throughout the world, others are less famous: Powerful women like Indonesian Tjut Njak Die, a guerilla fighter who led Indonesia’s fight for independence, Arab poet Al-Khansa, who is one of the most celebrated poets but has received considerably less attention than her male peers, and Sultan Razia of India, a Queen whose success in several wars made her a remarkable leader. It is these women’s stories, each extraordinary in its own right yet missed in the sensationalist literature of this decade, that make the book a must-read.
Riahi recognizes that the book fills a void in current literature about women, which historically have not focused on Muslim women: “To us it seemed that traditional book publishers repeatedly overlook the Muslim female market as a quick search of non-fiction young adult picture books should reveal numerous titles based on the lives of outstanding women from almost all regions, races and religions from around the world, except for Muslim and Middle Eastern women,” he says.
It seems that others agree too. The book has won the Middle East Outreach Council’s 2008 Youth Non-fiction Best Book Award, USA Book News 2008 National Best Book Award, Moonbeam Children’s Book 2008 “Peacemaker Award,” and the Skipping Stones Multicultural Magazine’s Honor Award. In Egypt, the book is set to be published by the country’s largest publisher, a Persian iPad version is in the works, and the book’s Facebook group has already reached nearly five thousand.
With Extraordinary Women From the Muslim World Sep Riahi veered away from recent practice to create a book full of engaging narrative, historical context, and stunning artwork of true women heroes in Islam.
Extraordinary Women will not only inspire its readers around the world, but we can also hope that it will inspire a new tone for books about Muslim women…One that embraces and shares the rich, cultural aspects.