The idea for Muslim Voices in Publishing was born out of a feeling of loneliness – something that we have all experienced in multitudes over the many months of isolation and social distancing. The past year has been a stark reminder that, in anything we set out to do, there is often a need for a community, and it's no different within the world of publishing. As a young Black Muslim woman, I've often found the publishing industry can be terrifying if you're looking in from the outside.
Feeling side-lined, and living in a society that isn't always inclusive of Muslims, has led to growing frustration at the shocking lack of positive and authentic representation of young Muslims in mainstream media, especially young Muslim women. Much of the existing representation is based on stereotypical tropes; a particular favourite being the Muslim girl who ditches her hijab for the (often white) boy she has fallen in love with, abandoning her beliefs and values without a single thought. This is just one of many stereotypes perpetuated and reinforced by mainstream media, and when the representation is so minimal to begin with, it can be incredibly disheartening to witness.
The idea of creating a network for Muslims publishing professionals had been in the back of my mind for several months; it was driven by a desire to connect with other Muslims within the book community and being unable to find an existing network. I was also inspired by those who have been carving out their own space and creating communities within the walls of publishing; BAME in Publishing, Pride in Publishing, and Black Agents and Editors to name just a few.
There have been many discussions about mainstream media and popular culture, and an increasing demand for diverse representation that is authentic and not just sprinkled in to ‘check a box’ – and there is a good deal to celebrate out there. The announcement back in October that Marvel had cast Ms Marvel, their first Muslim superhero, is an example that comes to mind. And this isn’t only limited to the big screen. As children’s publishing continues to tackle its shameful lack of diversity, there have been recently published books with Muslim representation that spark hope, including Zanib Mian’s Planet Omar series, Onjali Q Raúf’s The Boy at the Back of the Class, Ibtihaj Muhammad’s The Proudest Blue and Yasmin Rahman’s All the Things We Never Said, and highly-anticipated newcomers this year alone, including Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s Ace of Spades and Radiya Hafiza’s Rumaysa: A Fairytale. I wanted to create a space dedicated to sharing these voices.
The positive response Muslim Voices in Publishing has received – not only from Muslims, but also non-Muslims within the publishing sphere who were showing their support and sending heart-warming messages, was especially encouraging. It made me realise that as well as being a network for Muslim publishing professionals, this could also be an opportunity to spotlight the brilliant work of Muslim creatives, with a special focus on UK Muslim voices.
Muslim Voices in Publishing aims to provide not just a network for Muslim publishing professionals, but also a safe space and community. It's somewhere to highlight the brilliant work and professional journeys of Muslims within the world of publishing; only by celebrating and elevating these can we ensure our stories are heard.
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Nazima Abdillahi is currently an editor on fiction at Hachette Children’s Group. She is eager to amplify underrepresented voices and build a list that is an honest reflection of the world we live in.