B.C. author launches children’s book about Muslim girl forced to flee to West

July 10, 2019

By Vancouver Sun |

After her first day of school in her new country, young protagonist Asha realizes that there exist many more similarities than differences between cultures

After a long and thorough search, after Shaista Kaba Fatehali had exhausted every avenue in her quest for stories that Muslim immigrant children could relate to, the kindergarten teacher and doctoral student sat down and wrote one herself.

Back Home, published by Belle Isle Books, was launched on Monday, a wonderfully written and illustrated tale about a little girl’s first day at school in her new country, when all goes from being strange to the realization that people are people (and children are children) everywhere on the planet, that more similarities than differences exist between cultures.

“I can really relate to the experiences these kids are facing and there wasn’t any literature they could connect to, that they could see themselves in,” Fatehali said. “This kind of book allows them to connect to the characters, connect to the life events, to the similar situations that take place.”

Fatehali was a baby in the 1970s when her parents fled Uganda and the bloodthirsty tyranny of Idi Amin, who was targeting people of South Asian descent. An Ismaili Muslim who founded Thrive Kids! to help children discover their inner strengths, identities and sense of purpose, she spent two years writing the book — and almost as long trying to find a publisher that would accept a Muslim as the book’s main character.

“It was very difficult to find a publisher,” she said. “I definitely know some of that was because it’s based on a Muslim character.”

Especially in the United States, she said.

“There were a lot of yeses and when they dove into it, those became a lot of nos. They said no right away when they found it’s based on a Muslim-values book concept,” said Fatehali, who is completing her PhD in early childhood education. “I’ve written a lot of academic papers. This was 1,000 times harder than writing any kind of academic paper that I’ve done.”

As a Ismaili, neither Fatehali nor her young daughter Myel wears a hijab, but the author wanted the young protagonist in Back Home, Asha, to wear one so everyone was clear she and her family are Muslim. It was important illustrator Michelle Simpson, who lives in Ontario’s Niagara Region, drew locks of hair sticking out from the little girls’ hijabs, but not from not from the grown women’s.

With a backlash against Muslim immigrants unfolding across Canada and the United States, the book’s message is both critical and timely, Fatehali said,

“My hope, the underlying message in all this is that amongst us all there is a sense of connectedness, and that connectedness comes from humanity, from human existence.

“I think if that concept is really understood by all, there is a lot we can do with that.”



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