Representation is important, guys.
Whether it’s on the telly, in politics or in the boardroom, offering a diverse lineup of people ensures a broader range of voices and opinions are heard. In turn, this inspires a wider array of youngsters to pursue their goals.
Unfortunately, many said youngsters don’t get the chance to look up to people who look like them, because there is still a shortage of representation in a lot of places.
For sisters and avid readers Mena (14) and Zena Nasiri (15), they noticed this lack of representation in the books that were available at their local library. As young adults, they wondered why there were so few young adult books featuring Muslim females like themselves.
The Michigan teens decided to do something about it. They started Girls of the Crescent, an organisation on a mission to collect and distribute recent books that showcase strong Muslim heroines to schools and libraries.
“Back in fourth grade, we were given a school project where we had to research and present about a person we looked up to,” Mena recently told Publishers Weekly. “We went to our local public library with some Muslim women in mind who were big role models to us, but we couldn’t find any books about them. Later, we began to realise the same thing occurred in other genres, that there was a shortage of books about Muslim girls.”
The girls launched the project in 2018. Since then, they’ve amassed 200 books to donate to the libraries of 21 schools in their local area, as well as 100 to give to various public libraries and other school districts.
All feature strong, female Muslim characters, something Zena knows can have a powerful effect on the perceptions of young people.
“Books have an immense impact on how children behave, socialize, and see themselves in the world,” she explained, “and if young people don’t see themselves represented, there is a certain sense of not belonging.”
For young Muslims, this is particularly important, as these books “can mean so much for Muslim kids by providing them with a sense of acceptance and inclusion that they may not see portrayed in the media.”
Moreover, the girls believe representation benefits more than just the people reflected in the stories: “a lot of people are not exposed to diversity, and schools and books with representation can provide that exposure….We hope that by increasing [the amount of] diverse books and by spreading positive messages about Muslim girls, we can create a more accepting and respectful community.”
The girls select their books based on a combination of personal research and reader recommendations. Some of their favourites include The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah, Under the Persimmon Tree by Suzanne Fisher Staples, Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns by Hena Khan, The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter, Ayesha Dean: The Istanbul Intrigue by Melati Lum, and Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson and Sana Amanat.
For even more good reads, Mena and Zena compiled a list of 150 top titles for you to peruse. Check it out.
The success of Girls of the Crescent hasn’t gone unnoticed. The project has been highlighted by Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls initiative, the Malala Fund and a number of media outlets.
Despite the challenges of running a non-profit initiative while still in full-time education, the girls believe tackling stereotypes and promoting positive representation makes all the extra effort worth it.
“Knowing that girls like us will feel empowered and strong because of our actions helps us keep going and work harder.”
A big shout out to the Nasiri sisters. The potential impact an initiative like Girls of the Crescent will have on young people is truly immeasurable.
For more information on Girls of the Crescent, head to the website.