Sumayya Lee

Muslim Writers, Muslim Readers

I read a Mark Amend quote the other day - the best stories are not just about living out your fantasies; they are inspiration for living up to your dreams. This, I believe, is pretty accurate - fiction is inspirational. It is also a reliable escape mechanism, because in the end, the good stuff happens to good people and evil is vanquished. Fiction feeds the inner child that still hankers after a positive denouement. The ingenuous child that clings to a happily ever after, because, lets face it, life can be pretty dire at times. And in ‘real’ life good things don’t always happen to good people. In real life, good people suffer.
But even so, this does not mean that a writer of fiction has a duty to provide readers with a happily ever after. It’s your story after all and as the writer you are free to tell it as you wish - unless (and therein lies the rub) you are writing
Islamic Fiction.
Wikipedia defines
Islamic Fiction as: written by and for Muslims as it expounds and illustrates an Islamic world-view in its plot and characters. Islamic fiction excludes vulgar language and explicit depictions of sexuality; as well as aims to identify non-Islamic practices as such, portraying Muslims as striving to practice Islam.

A laudable genre – and one that needs the Book Industry Standards and Communications to recognize it as a category and code it as such. This will make it easier to recognise. Based on the definition above, it is clear that Islamic Fiction is written by Muslim Writers. However, the converse, that
all Muslim Writers write Islamic Fiction, is not necessarily true. And making this distinction appears to be a problem for Muslim Readers.

Muslim Writers of Crime, Horror or Science Fiction are spared this predicament – their genre is clear and does not carry any expectations. Nonetheless, for those of us writing about life, love and ordinary things – a kind of social realism aimed at a wider all-inclusive audience - post publication involves a barrage of criticism. Because Muslim Readers hold writers like me to
Islamic Fiction standards and then proceed to lambaste us because our work ‘falls short’.

Improvising the Home Office

I was born in April – technically autumn if Durban did autumn. The books I grew up with all spoke about spring lambs and April showers – and it was easy to imagine such boundless joy and spring in ones step while the sun shone endlessly in a breathtakingly blue sky.

In England, April really is in spring but still feels like winter. Cold Spring dampens hopes and they are starting to mould – so I cling onto the brave branches, with barely-there buds and ignore the raven - who thinks its funny to perch on my garden wall at this very moment.
I turn my back to it all. Marian Keyes has written Under The Duvet AND Further Under the Duvet – more than enough justification for temporary relocation from desk to bed.


I have finally succumbed and allowed myself a proper presence on the World Wide Web. Perhaps my reticence reveals my age and the generation I belong to. When I fell in love with books, writers were unknown entities and if any contact were to take place, it was always via the publisher. Books rarely carried Author Photos!

So I have been dragged into the 21
st Century and here it is – my very own, very real website! It wouldn’t have been possible without my techno-wizard husband-who spent many, many hours getting it to work. Totally appreciated!

For starters, I have copied and pasted my first ever blog post. Okay so perhaps that’s cheating (a bit) but I did write it, and it
is a real anecdote. (First appeared on the Spilling Ink website, 23/5/10). See Next Post.

On Finding Inspiration: A Spilling Ink Creativity Blog Guest Post 

One Monday morning in 1978, I walked to the little green school in my little piece of sunny South Africa, and sat down at my wooden desk. I stuck my pencils in the inkwell and realised with horror that I had forgotten all about my teacher’s instruction: please bring in a picture from a newspaper or magazine.

Our teacher was a lovely woman in high heels and a cheerful sari. “Now children, I want you to paste the picture into your English books and then write as much as you can about it.” Everyone nodded obediently while my eyes darted around the classroom looking out for anyone with an extra picture.

Sure enough, one of the swotty boys, who also happened to be rather snobby, was busy laying out his collection of brightly coloured pictures. I went over, and asked nicely. He shook his head. I begged and pleaded - and after thinking about it for absolute ages, he finally parted with the only black and white picture. I swallowed my disappointment, grabbed onto it gratefully and scuttled back to my seat.

It was a picture of a new hotel being built in my city’s Golden Mile - the road along the beach, and the place where most people took their Sunday Afternoon Drive. I loved the beach road and yesterday, my father had cruised slowly past this hotel and pointed it out to my brother and me. It was the tallest building in the city and had a lift on the outside.  “And inside,” my father said, “instead of normal lights, there are beautiful crystal chandeliers! Like a palace!.


I glued this picture carefully into my exercise book and chewed on my pencil for a few seconds before getting on with the task. For the first time, I waited impatiently for our teacher to mark my work – and squealed with delight as she stuck a star into my exercise book! The gold star shone against the black and white picture and I hopped and skipped back to my seat – amazed that I could write and even more amazed that I’d enjoyed it . . .

Nowadays, getting started is always the most difficult thing for me and whenever I am stuck or overwhelmed, I search around for something familiar, and start with that. I think of the Maharani Hotel that is no longer such an icon in my hometown and remind myself that it is a little easier if you know what you’re writing about. I also remember the boy who thought he was giving me his worst picture and tell myself that inspiration often comes from unexpected places or people.