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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Have Muslim/Islamic Bookstores lost the books?



When was the last time you left the house with the intention to visit and purchase brand new books from a Muslim bookstore? Was it last month? Six months ago? A year ago? Have you even been to a Muslim bookstore and purchased books? I know finding brick and mortar Muslim owned and operated bookstores is not as easy to do if you don't live in a major city with a large Muslim population. But what about the online Muslim stores, do you visit them often?

I love books, I love reading, and I love bookstores. My ideal Saturday afternoon is a visit to a bookstore with a cup of French Vanilla coffee. I like to browse the aisles and then sit down with my chosen books and read for like an hour uninterrupted. That's really hard to do with my littles in tow, but a girl always has her  dreams. Last week though, I had an opportunity to catch my dream and stop at a Muslim bookstore in Connecticut. I was excited right up until I went into the store and walked around.

Now, overall it was a nice bookstore. It was spacious (so much could be done in that space). There were a lot of books.  In fact, the books were all over the place. Books published in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, and even Canada. The majority of the books covered many Islamic topics like Tawheed, Iman, Ramadhan, Zakat, Nikah and there was even a small Islamic Children books section that I eagerly walked through in hopes to find some treasures for my four year old. On the plus side the children's books were colorful and well organized. Some had characters, but many did not.  There were stories for Muslim children about Allah, the prophets, and Islamic adab (manners) - but no Islamic fiction stories for children at all. Soon I veered off to the section that showcased Islamic accessories like incense, oils, hijabs, and kuffis.

When I returned to my car, I had a  bag of hijab pins, two kuffis, and two packs of incense. What I didn't have in my bag were books. Let me write that again: I went to a Muslim bookstore and bought hijab pins, kuffis, and incense!  I didn't buy any books from a Muslim bookstore. And I assure you this is not an isolated experience or a regional problem. I've visited many Islamic book stores all around the country last summer and I was left with the same feeling -- where are the books?

Nothing wrong with Islamic/Muslim bookstores only catering to a certain genre. That's wonderful actually. What isn't wonderful is for them all to only cater to one genre and exclude and deny other Muslim authors, especially Muslim authors from their country an opportunity to present their work to their community. Also, I am going to keep it 100 - a lot of Muslim bookstores are not inviting at all. There are so many books everywhere, it's hard to focus and really browse the racks. There isn't usually any reading nooks to sit and read or flip through the books comfortably before you decide to purchase either. Furthermore, selling thobes, abaya, incense, car stickers, lotion, and hijabs right next to the books isn't wise because they will often  upstage the books. So you're not selling books because the books aren't the main attraction (and lack real variety/diversity of subjects).

Next big issue: Why aren't there any activities at Muslim/Islamic bookstores? I have never been to a book reading, poetry reading or book signing at a Muslim bookstore. All of my own events have been held at big box stores like Barnes and Noble. And it's not because I didn't reach out to the Muslim/Islamic bookstores. I reached out to them first and was politely told that they don't carry/won't carry Islamic fiction. Okay, cool, if that is your personal beliefs. I can respect that. But how can Muslim/Islamic bookstores in America and other parts of the Western world survive if they don't provide the Muslims with the books they want to read? And another issue that ticks me off is: why are Muslim authors from the East prioritized and green lighted over Muslim authors from the West? That's bigoted and if you think a Muslim author needs to have been born in Karachi or Makkah to present something of value to the ummah -  you need to check your discrimination outside of Islam and not bring that attitude into a Muslim bookstore.

And why can't I sit down with a cup of French Vanilla coffee and read at a Muslim/Islamic bookstore?! Creating an inviting atmosphere might actually attract more buyers in the store. During my visit to the bookstore I was one of three people in the store plus the shopkeeper. Again how can Muslim bookstores survive without book readers? I am not sure how some Muslim owned and operated bookstores are bank rolling their businesses without traffic and sells - but can you all get back to the business of actually selling and promoting books and Muslim authors?

Muslim bookstores are essential, necessary, and special places. Yes, I want a place to browse and find a color coded Qur'an, a book of dua, seerah of nabi (sallallallahu alyhi wa sallam), or the latest jewel by sister Yasmin Moghahed, Ingrid Mattson, or Bilal Phillips. But a Muslim bookstore with a Muslim children's section without Hena Khan's Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns or any of Umm Zakiyyah's books, or sister Janette Green's Ramadhan and Eid coloring book, or Youseff Kromah's book of poetry, Ameerah Rahim's books on homemaking and herbs, or brother Shafiq Abdus Sabur's book on Law Enforcement and Black men, or Rufus &Jenny's books on Surviving Marriage, Ell Muslimah, Nasheed Jackson, Malik Salam or Karimah Grayson  is doing his/her community a disservice. GOOD Muslim authors deserve to be in every bookstore across the world but, they especially deserve to be in Muslim bookstores across their own country.

Don't loose the books, Muslim bookstore owners! Don't deny Muslim authors a home to showcase their  writing. Don't lose the bookstore. Bookstores need books. Muslim authors need Muslim bookstores. Book readers need bookstores and authors to work together!