12 Books to Help Children Understand Islamic Faith and Culture
There are so many stereotypes and incredible misinformation out there about the teachings of Islam and the lives of Muslims. If you’re reading this post, you probably strive to create an accepting, curious, and compassionate environment in your home. Yet our children are bound to be exposed to the Islamophobia that exists in our culture, in one way or another.
This round up of books that can help children understand and appreciate Islamic faith and culture was inspired by Gauri Manglik and Sadaf Siddique, the owners of KitaabWorld. KitaabWorld is a fantastic online children’s book store focused on South Asian cultures. This month, they’ve been encouraging parents and educators to counter Islamophobia through stories.
After all, it’s stories that help us to understand another person’s journey. It’s stories that help us to see that while while we have important differences as people, we have even more in common. If more people knew and understand the stories of Muslims, I believe more Americans would be unwilling to accept policies that bar people from seeking refuge in the United States because of where they are from or the religion they practice.
Some of the books on this list introduce children to Muslim kids living in the West, while others feature children living in the Arab world. Some are stories of Muslims who took brave and heroic action. Others tell folktales from the Islamic tradition. I’ve also included books that specifically teach important concepts of Islam.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to my Amazon Associates account, as well as links to my Barefoot Books storefront. If you purchase items through these links, I earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.
Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan and Sophie Blackall
Rubina is thrilled when she’s invited to a friend’s birthday party for the first time. Her mother thinks that a birthday party sounds a bit odd, but says Rubina can go if she takes her little sister. Rubina tries to explain that that’s not how birthday parties are done.
Her little sister Sana’s behavior at the party is just what you’d expect. What’s even worse is what she does after the party to Rubina’s giant red lollipop that she received as a party favor. Plus, because Rubina’s friends know they will have to invite Sana to their birthday parties, Rubina stops getting party invitations for a long time.
Any child who has ever experienced sibling rivalry will appreciate this lively story. (Recommended for ages 4 – 8).
King for a Day by Rukhsana Khan and Christiane Kromer
Malik, a boy who lives in Lahore, Pakistan, looks forward to the spring festival of Basant all year. People all over the city will be testing their kite flying skills, and Malik knows he will be king of the festival. His brother and sister are surprised at the small size of his kite Falcon.
Yet with Malik’s skill, Falcon is swift enough the capture the huge, expensive flag of the bully who has called his sister bad names. Soon his expertise provides him with another opportunity to show compassion to a young child on the street below. (Recommended for ages 5 – 9).
The Wise Fool: Fables from the Islamic World by Shahrukh Husain and Micha Archer
Mulla Nasruddin is a legendary character whose wisdom and mischievousness is enjoyed throughout the Arab world. Archer’s colorful tissue paper and stamp artwork bring’s Mulla’s humorous misadventures to life for children.
Somewhat like the court jester in Western societies, Mulla is not afraid to tell the truth to any person, whether the emperor or a peasant. Though he is wise, some of the fables also show his own foolishness that gets him into embarrassing situations. The book includes a glossary and pronunciation guide to help children understand references that may not be familiar with in the fables. (Recommended for ages 6 – 10).
The Silly Chicken by Idries Shah and Jeff Jackson
The Silly Chicken is a humorous Sufi story of a chicken who is always saying “tuck-tuck-tuck-tuck.” People are sure he must be trying to tell them something, so a clever man teaches the chicken to speak as humans do.
When the chicken declares that “the earth is going to swallow us up,” panic spreads, with people running all around the earth in an attempt to escape it. This funny tale, which has been told for over 1,000 years, will help children understand that just because someone says something is true, does not mean that it is. (Recommended for ages 4 – 8).
The Arabian Nights by Wafa Tarnowska and Carole Henaff
This stunningly-illustrated collection introduces children to Shahrazade, who changes the heart of a cruel king through her gift of storytelling. The book includes a number of lesser known tales from the classic A Thousand and One Nights, as well as the familiar tale of Aladdin.
Tarnowska used a 14th century Syrian manuscript as the basis for her re-telling, giving authenticity to this particular version. Cultural references and a glossary will help children become familiar with aspects of Islamic culture as they enjoy the timeless stories.
Because some of the stories briefly touch on mature topics such as infidelity, please note my age recommendation for this book. (Recommended for ages 10+)
The Grand Mosque of Paris by Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland DeSaix
This little known true story of how Muslims protected Jews during the Holocaust is one that children and adults alike should know about. During the Nazi occupation of Paris, few Parisians were ready to risk their lives by harboring Jewish people. Many Jews and escaped prisoners of war found refuge in the Grand Mosque of Paris, a place of worship and a community center that made an ideal temporary hiding place.
The rector of the mosque went to great lengths to protect Salim Halali, an Algerian Jew, even making a false certificate of conversion to make the Nazis believe Halali had converted to Islam. A stonecarver went so far to inscribe the family name on an unmarked tombstone to show further “proof” that Halali was Muslim. Halali was just one of the many people who survived the war because of the Grand Mosque. (Recommended for ages 9 – 12).
Amal’s Ramadan by Amy Maranville and Josh Stevens
Amal is excited because at age 12, he is finally old enough to fast during Ramadan. Using simple vocabulary, Amal introduces preschool-age children to the daily rituals of Ramadan and the meaning of the fast.
Though Amal’s parents tell him that he may not feel well during the fast, Amal is surprised when he feels so dizzy that he has to go to see the summer camp nurse. He’s embarrassed that he has to break his fast by drinking juice. But when his grandmother shares that she too had to break her very first fast, Amal realizes that he can try again tomorrow. (Recommended for ages 3- 7).
Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors by Hen Khan and Mehrdokht Amini
The simple rhyming text and stunning illustrations of this book introduce children to some of the basic concepts of Islam, as well as key vocabulary. Children who are not Muslim will likely find ideas they can relate to, such as giving to those in need (zakat) and receiving special gifts on holidays.
I recommend reading each page out loud, and then flipping to the glossary in the back to explain any terms to your child that she is not familiar with. (Recommended for ages 3 – 7).
Deep in the Sahara by Kelly Cunnane and Hoda Hadadi
Lalla wants to show her mother than she is ready to wear the malafa, the colorful cloth than some Muslim women in Mauritania wear when they are in public to cover their clothing and heads. She believes that the malafa will make her beautiful like her mother, mysterious like her older sister, and a long-ago queen like her grandmother.
Her mother reminds her that a malafa is about so much more than these things. It is only when Lalla says that “more than all the dates in an oasis, I want a malafa so I can pray like you do,” that her mother knows she is ready for the garment. (Recommended for ages 4 – 8).
Razia’s Ray of Hope by Elizabeth Suneby and Suana Verelst
Razia Jan is a real Afghani teacher who moved back home to Afghanistan in 2008 to open the Zabuli Education Center for Girls. Razia’s Ray of Hope is a fictional story of a girl who longs more than anything to attend the school when it first opens. She has the support of her grandfather, but her brother, who has the final word, cannot be convinced.
As she waits for the school to open, young Razia continues to teach herself to read however she can. She ventures out to the school and introduces herself to the teacher Razia Jan. Razia Jan agrees to come home with her to talk to her family about the school. After much thought over a long time, her brother relents.
My favorite part of the book was its very last page, where Razia’s friend Sara introduces herself to the class by saying “I want to be an engineer when I grow up.” When another friend asks “what’s an engineer?” Sara responds with “I am too young to know that, but when I become one, I will tell you all about it.” (Recommended for ages 6 – 10).
The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter
There’s no writer quite like Jeanette Winter when it comes to breaking down complicated, painful issues through the stories of real people who children can understand.
When Alia Muhammad Baker, the librarian of Basra, hears talk of war, she worries that “the fires of war will destroy the books, which are more precious to her than mountains of gold.” When the governor refuses permission to move the books to a safe location, she takes matters into her own hands.
Each night she fills her car with books, filling her home with them. When war begins, Alia reaches out to her neighbor for help in her mission. Though the library itself burns to the ground, the persistence of Alia and her friends kept the books safe. (Recommended for ages 5 – 10).
Growing up Muslim: Understanding the Beliefs and Practices of Islam by Sumbul Ali-Karamali
Ali-Karamali subtitles Part I of her book “What It’s Like to Grow Up Muslim in California.” This guidebook is designed to introduce older children to the basic practices of Islam, major aspects of the history of the religion, and a bit about the demographics of Muslims.
Because this is a more detailed book than the others on this list, the author has room to explain more. For example, in the chapter on food, she shares not only what rules about food there are in Islam, but reasons certain prohibitions may have developed. Throughout the book, she sprinkles stories of her own childhood experiences in, making the book very relate-able. (Recommended for ages 10+)
Other books I’ve previously reviewed related to Islamic faith and culture
Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words by Karen Abouraya and L.C. Wheatley
One City, Two Brothers: A Tale in Jerusalem by Chris Smith and Aurelia Fronty
Amal’s Eid by Amy Maranville and Joshua Stevens
Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams, Kadra Mohammed and Doug Chayka
What are your favorite books for teaching children about Islam and countering Islamophobia? Share in the comments!