Interview with Hijab Boutique author, Michelle Khan

The interview below was originally posted on http://woodturtle.wordpress.com/

Why did you want to write a book about hijab?

I think hijab is beautiful. The styles. The fabrics. The religious concept behind it. I personally am not a hijabi, but I know women who do adhere. This story idea blossomed when my Bangladeshi-Canadian family doctor decided to become a hijabi as an adult. I wanted to explain this process of change through the eyes of a child. I wanted to teach the values of Islam surrounding hijab. So I did my research, and learned.

I also used my main character, Farah, to point out the frustrations some kids face as a result of their mother’s devotion to hijab. For instance, Farah labels her mother “b-o-r-i-ng” in respect to how glamorous the other students’ mothers appear at Miss Peabody’s Academy. Soon enough, both Farah and readers learn how interesting Mrs. Khan actually is. Her life experiences speak for themselves.

Do you see yourself as a feminist/womanist? And if so, how do you describe your feminism/womanism?

I believe in the power of women. I believe in equal rights. I believe in freedom of choice. In other words, I am a FEMINIST!!! However, you won’t find me burning my bra under the false stereotypical image of what it (cough) means to be a feminist.

I think as a feminist it’s really, really important not to judge other women. We shouldn’t become enemies within ourselves. For instance, Farah Khan (the main character in my book) learns via her mother that some people are quick to judge hijabis by rationalizing that Muslim females are “oppressed” women. Farah now knows better than that. In actuality, many feminists believe hijabis are the ultimate feminists because they refuse to be seen as sex objects. Neat concept, huh?

On the flipside, I’ve learned a lot about European culture through my wonderful fiancée, Alan. In many of our conversations, he’s remarked how some women from his origins (Italy) feel the freedom and choice to reveal their bodies is a form of feminism. It’s ironic how two opposing sides of the same coin fit under one umbrella of “feminism.”

The bottom line is: We’re not here to judge. Rather, as women we should feel compassion for one another. Our world would be much better that way.

What is your religious background and do you consider yourself to be religious now?

I don’t think my religion should be a promotional tool. I don’t want people to purchase my book based on the fact that I am Muslim or not. I want people to take an interest in the “The Hijab Boutique” because they want to read a good story.

Yes, I do believe in a Higher Power. When I pray, I do it with passion. It comes from my heart. Insomuch, I’ve burst into tears with emotion at times. Read: The concept of religion fascinates me. Dearly. In fact, I took religion courses while studying at University of Toronto. Someone once asked: “Why do you want to study such a silly topic?” At the time, I was dumbfounded. My answer today: “I don’t regret it one bit.” I only believe this knowledge has added dimension to my character.

Do you have any children? If so, how have they influenced your writing?

No, I don’t have any little ones yet. I’m not sure if I ever will. I can’t seem to make up my mind! However, like religion, children fascinate me. I’m always curious to know how their thoughts operate. I love how they absorb the world around them. I admire their energy. I can’t get enough of their carefree attitude. Is it any surprise that I write for
kids? (Insert laugh.) You’ll often find me gabbing or playing with some special kiddos in my life. We interact like friends. I guess I have that luxury since I don’t have to enforce rules!

In any case, I’m often told that I’m a “big kid at heart.” Being in touch with youthful innocence helps me tune into writing children’s literature. While penning “The Hijab Boutique,” I made it a point to think like Farah all the time. In the same way, an actor does to make a screenplay come to life. This is just my way of nitpicking details out of my characters.

What made you decide to write an Islamic children’s book?

This story came to me very naturally. Scene after scene, played in my head like a machine. Islam is a very beautiful, rich religion. Why wouldn’t I want to write about it?

Review of ‘The Hijab Boutique’

The Midwest Book Review has included a very positive review of THE HIJAB BOUTIQUE in their August 2011 edition.

‘”The Hijab Boutique” is a creative story about a Muslim girl named Farah who fearfully tackles the problem of presenting a project about her mother on International Women’s Day. The problem is her mother is so ordinary! But surprises abound in “The Hijab Boutique,” and the best surprise is the creativity of both Farah and her mother in solving some very real life issues. Educating her classmates and others in the Muslim women’s ways of wearing fabric known as hijab becomes part of an amazing and beautiful solution. “The Hijab Boutique” is a wonderful book that will appeal to young readers age 10 and up. Black and white illustrations add to the message’s impact. One of the striking attributes of “The Hijab Boutique” is its sensitive treatment of the topic of respecting cultural differences, and rethinking automatic responses.’

We knew it was great, but a good review is always nice to have!