Guest Post by Author Sara Khan
The Third Book in the ‘My First’ Series.
I wanted to write about my third book in the ‘My First’ children’s book series; My First Book About Allah. It is important to mention that my aim with the My First Book series is to simplify the essential components of Islam to a level where they really resonate with toddlers, young children and their families.
In 2012, as part of my Masters in Translation and Interpreting Studies at the University of Manchester, I completed a large postgraduate research project on the subject of Qur’an translation for children. When I was looking into what products existed in this field it became apparent that there was a real lack of suitable books for the 0-5-year age group in particular. When my daughter Raya was born a couple of years later, reading aloud to her was one of the first things highly recommended to us by professionals. Before we were even discharged from the hospital, Raya had been gifted her very first picture book about a topic I cannot remember today. It felt like a natural step for me at that stage to use my academic and linguistic expertise to develop good quality board books about the most basic concepts of Islam brought to life with beautiful imagery that would capture the attention of its readership. From the moment a child is born to the point where they can actually start to read independently.
Starting with the Qur’an, the most amazing book of all, followed by the exemplary life of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings be upon him), I first focussed on which aspects to include and leave out, bearing in mind the ideal length and word count of picture books for my chosen target audience. I then worked on how best to convey my selected content through simple yet powerful words. The carefully written, easy to understand text I produced put together with a clear vision for child-friendly and eye-catching illustrations in a board book format formed my completed manuscript submission which I sent to Kube Publishing. Fortunately, they really liked it and were able to make it a reality thanks to the incredibly talented children’s illustrator Ali Lodge. It was not long after publication that I became the author of two amazingly well received books; My First Book About the Qur’an and My First Book About the Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh).
My First Book About Allah, the third in the series, aims to explain who Allah is by providing a simple yet detailed description of Him based on the Qur’an and Sunnah. Belief in one God; Allah, is the foundation stone upon which the fundamental beliefs, practices and cultures of Islam are built. Therefore, it is of no surprise that in some of the feedback received for my new book so far, the following question has been commonly raised: Why wasn’t there already a board book related to something as obvious as the first pillar of Islam?
The answer is likely to be similar to the reason why nothing like my Quran and Prophet Muhammad (Phub) books appeared to exist either, prior to them being published. Comprehending our creator, the Lord of the Worlds, in our own mind is a challenge even for adults since only Allah Himself is Al-’Aleem – The Knower (of the Seen & Unseen). However, finding an effective way to communicate this understanding to toddlers and young children is quite a challenge!
Being a Linguist and qualified translator, I am well trained in writing texts that meet the needs of a specific target audience, so I leaned heavily on this experience. Depending on who and what we are writing for we may need to, use a writing style appropriate for a certain level of understanding, adapt the text for a particular purpose (i.e. an academic journal) or write in a different language. In the context of writing a children’s picture book about Islamic themes, the additional challenges around the illustrations and more specifically what we can and cannot depict would probably have always been one of the greatest to overcome.
My First Book About Allah posed a similar challenge as My First Book About Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) in that the main focus of the book cannot be represented visually. Illustrating the Prophet (Pbuh), let alone Allah, is prohibited in Islam according to the majority of Muslim scholars. Thus, the way I tackled this issue was to focus on the signs and attributes of Allah which we can find in His creation and which He Himself points to when He describes Himself in the Qur’an.
As a result, the two sources I chose to rely on the most for My First Book About Allah were Ayatul Kursi (Sural al-Baqarah, 2:255) and the 99 Names of Allah (Al Asma Ul Husna), with additional influences from other parts of the Qur’an such as Surah Al-Fatiha, Surah Al-Ikhlas, Surah Ya Sin and Surah Al-Imran.
Making the descriptions based on these sources as powerful and engaging for young children as possible is what I loved most about writing this particular book. Thinking of ways to demonstrate Allah’s power and majesty through the use of simple language and impactful illustrations allowed my creativity to flourish. Similarly explaining some of the attributes like His Love and Mercy in a way that is relatable for young children allowed me to explore my own relationship with Allah.
My favourite part from My First Book About Allah is the ending. The text on the last page ‘And Allah never breaks His promise’, in English and Arabic, is much shorter than the endings of my previous two books, yet it is an ending just as triumphant and even more powerful. It is an actual verse from the Qur’an (Surah Al Imran 3:9) that is simple enough for young children to understand without any change of wording. It is also a verse in which Allah Himself promises that if we are firm in our faith and follow His laws, then the reward he sets out is ours, i.e. eternal Paradise. As Muslims, we believe in Allah and we believe Him i.e. His message. Although no one besides Him knows whether we have or have not attained His promise of paradise, being assured that Allah never breaks His promise strengthens our conviction and determination to please Him Insha’Allah.
As with the others in this series, some difficult but important questions on the topic are addressed in the back of the book like, ‘Where is Allah?’, ‘What does Allah look like’ and ‘How big is He?’. While no one other than Allah Himself would be able to provide real answers to these, anyone with young children knows that their inquisitive little minds can come up with the most impossible questions and it is important to be able to respond to their curiosity. From my own experience and the feedback received so far, the questions and answers at the end have proved to be really helpful.
I pray My First Book About Allah succeeds in continuing to address the gap of presenting fundamental Islamic beliefs to young children. May it be a means to ensure that their journey of Islamic education, love for their religion and most importantly their creator; Allah, are established from the very beginning. (Ameen)
More information here: My First Book About Allah by Sara Khan