The Garden of My Imaan
Written by Farhana Zia
A lively story about choices facing today’s Muslim American girls. Aliya is a typical fifth grade girl: she wants to talk to a boy she has a crush on, she wants to know how to stand up for herself and she wonders how to reconcile school life with life at home. The difference is that she is Muslim and she feels uncomfortable with what that means in America today. Then she is asked to show a new girl, Marwa, around. She is a strict Muslim. She already wears a hajib but, even more, she is calm and confident in the face of discrimination and bullying. Aliya resents being asked to be Marwa’s friend because it calls everyone’s attention to the fact that they are both Muslim. Aliya is embarrassed partly because she doesn’t know what she believes. She begins to write letters to Allah to express her frustration and confusion. Thanks to the gentle guidance of her grandmother and Marwa’s example, Aliya begins to see that complaining doesn’t accomplish anything, but doing something does. She is bold enough to stand up to the class bully. She finds the courage to run for student council. She even sees that an offer of friendship is the best way to make peace with the mean girl.
Aliya grows and matures in a way that will speak to any girl no matter what her religious background. The story helps explain Muslim beliefs and shows that there is no typical Muslim. Aliya’s family is from India, while Marwa’s is from Morocco, and yet they are treated the same by people either carrying prejudice towards Muslims or who simply don’t know the differences. The grandmothers are fun. There is a grandmother, great-grandmother and a great aunt, all of whom influence Aliya and entertain the reader. Aliya’s best friend is Winnie, who is part Korean, so the theme of understanding different cultures is carried throughout. This would be a good book club selection for a girl’s book club. If this is used as a read aloud, be aware that there are several Arabic and Urdu phrases woven into the dialog. The students could look up these phrases on the internet and hear them pronounced as a literacy activity, perhaps gaining insight into families with different backgrounds.