is why did I become an author.

The answer is simple and two-fold. The first and foremost reason is because I love stories.

Ever since I was a kid I loved stories.

I grew up during a time when teachers still read Bible stories to the class. I didn’t have a problem with that, and it was interesting because my father also read us Quran every day, and many of the stories overlapped and were familiar to me.

I particular remembering the intense suspense of listening to the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den.

And I remember thinking, right there and then, that a story was better if it had a lesson in it. I actually appreciated the stories with moral lessons because the lesson stayed with me long after the thrill of the story had vanished.

And as I got older, I thought that stories that were just pure fun, silliness and word play with nothing you actually learned from them, were fun while they lasted and yet easily forgotten. They were like jokes. Have you ever contemplated long and hard on jokes? I haven’t. I might laugh when I hear them, but once the laugh is gone, I quickly forget them unless something happens that reminds me of that particular joke.

It’s one of the reasons, I suspect, that most people, when put on the spot to tell a joke, find it hard to remember one.

But if the joke had a salient point to it… ah, then it is somehow easier to remember.

There was one joke I could always remember, and now that I think about it, it does indeed have a point to it.

Once upon a time a man was passing by a church and he heard a strange sound coming out that went: “Tik-boing, tik-boing, tik-boing.” And he wondered what it was, so he went inside and asked the monk, “What was that tik-boing, tik-boing, tik-boing, I heard inside the church?”

The monk said, “I can’t tell you, you’re not a monk.”

So the man said, “How do I become a monk?”

“Well first you have to climb that mountain and sit on the top for fifty years, collecting every snowflake that lands upon you before it melts. Then put it in this barrel. Bring it back to me.”

So the man climbed the mountain and sat there for fifty years collecting every snowflake before it melted on his body for fifty years. He brought back the barrel and gave it to the monk.

The monk said, “Okay, now you have to go back to that same mountain, catch every bird that flies over it for two years, pluck one tail feather from it, and bring them back to me.”

So the man went back to the mountain and did as he was told, bringing back all the tail feathers of every bird that flew over.

Then the monk said, “Okay, you’re ready. Come with me.”

So they went down a dark corridor, and it was so long it took them five years to get to the end. Then they went up a staircase and it was so long that it took them another five years to get to the top. Then finally they went down a tunnel that was so long, it took another year to get to the end, and at the end of the tunnel they saw an open door, and from within there was coming the sound, “Tik-boing, tik-boing, tik-boing.”


I can’t tell you! You’re not a monk!

Not sure why that’s the only joke I can ever remember. But it does seem to have a message to it.

I tell the kids the other reason I became an author was because I come from a culture that is often misunderstood. Some crazy people who are from my culture did some bad things and because of that, nowadays a lot of people are scared of Muslims. So I write stories about silly chicken, scary chickens, big red lollipops, and sad stories about refugees and war and stuff, so that people can know that hey, we Muslims are just like everyone else.

I’ve been thinking about this lately.

When I first started writing I actually avoided writing “Muslim” stories. I thought I had to write ‘regular’ stories. Maybe one day work up to writing about my identity only to find the publishers themselves responding to my queries, asking me for stories about my culture.

Sometimes it has felt a bit constricting. Like I have to write about Muslims. I feel like I’m ‘typecast’.

As a result it was a lot of fun when I wrote Many Windows with my friends Uma Krishnaswami and Elisa Carbone. It was great to write a Hanukkah story and a Buddha’s birthday story!

And yet, I’ve become more comfortable with the limitations that have been placed on me. I try to write really good stories, I just happen to make them about Muslims.

I’ve seen other authors get to the point where writing is just a job.

So far, that hasn’t happened to me yet. Perhaps because of the limitations that have been placed on me, where I’ve been basically forced to write about my culture, have also forced to tackle issues that my community has been wrestling with. And that in turn has led me to making a lot of discoveries, about myself, about my community, about my place in the world.

No room for staleness, at least not yet.

It’s kind of a blessing.