President Barack Hossein Obama’s recent speech on Cairo was an inspiration on a great many of levels, including its literary aspects in which he quoted from the Qur’an, the Talmud and the Bible. Obama called for a need to educate America about Middle Eastern cultures and Islam. As an author of a novel set in Iran, which celebrates the beauty of Islam, the depth of Sufi poetry, and the splendor of hand woven and naturally-dyed carpets from that region, I have long been on the path of offering young readers a window into the Muslim world that delights rather than fosters fear.
In 2003, I joined four other children’s authors at Aunties Bookstore in Spokane, Washington, to launch our collection of short stories Daughters of the Desert: Tales of Remarkable Women From the Christian, Jewish and Muslim Traditions. We introduced our visions of women such as the Judeao-Persian Queen Esther who saved her people; the Jewish prophetess and older sister of Moses, Miriam, who danced with women in praise of God; the unnamed, Christian Canaanite women Eleni, who pleaded with Jesus to heal non Jews; Lydia the purple dye master who supported St. Paul during his stay in Philippi and was his first Christian convert on the continent of Europe; Khadijeh, the Prophet Muhammad’s first wife, employer, and convert to Islam.
As a community of writers we nudged, challenged and supported one another while drafting these stories. We worried that we might not represent these women in the best possible light, particularly the Muslim women since we were all writing out of our own faith traditions. Differences of opinion arose within our group as well as without, such as with our respective Christian, Muslim and Jewish consultants and even our copy editors who felt the need to inject their religious points of views just before going to press. Everyone’s input and interpretations pushed us beyond our assumptions and biases.
Next week I will share one of my personal hurdles while working on this collection.
---Meghan Nuttall Sayres