Yusuf is a young boy in middle school when notes begin appearing in his locker, notes that are hurtful, rude and racist. At first, he can’t believe they are for him but later, after discovering more from his Uncle’s journal in the aftermath of 9/11, Yusuf learns some hard truths. Saadia Faruqi has written a powerful book and a wonderful blog post for me as part of the blog tour. Read on for her words.
FICTION HELPS EXPLAIN HISTORY
Most children today don’t care much about the attacks of September 11. They weren’t alive when it happened, and have only heard about it from adults or on the news. Younger children may not even have learned about it in school. While this is true of any historical event – when did 9/11 become historical? – the question arises: how can we make these attacks seem real to our young readers?
I decided to write about the attacks of September 11 in fictional form for two reasons. First, fiction can offer empathy and understanding of historical events in a way that nonfiction cannot. Second, fiction can create a safe world for a variety of perspectives and ideas in a format that’s appealing to readers. In other words: you can make heavy subjects fun and interesting.
In YUSUF AZEEM IS NOT A HERO I had the difficult task of not only portraying the events of 9/11 but also the after-effects of it twenty years in the future – all from the perspective of Muslim Americans. It seemed like a herculean task, but I was determined to do it. As a Muslim American immigrant, raising first generation American children, I felt it my responsibility to tell my readers about the prejudice faced by my community as a result of 9/11.
The book is set in current times, when Yusuf and his small Texas town commemorates the 20th anniversary of the attacks, and struggles with the construction of their mosque amidst town resistance. Threaded into this story are journal entries written by Yusuf’s uncle twenty years ago, drawing parallels from the year of the attacks to events happening today. To ensure that I wrote those historical aspects accurately and authentically, I interviewed many people who were eleven or twelve years old – Yusuf’s age – when 9/11 happened. Those interview responses helped paint a more accurate picture of something that happened a long time ago, and ultimately created the journal entries.
I hope that by reading this book, readers gain a clear picture of why it’s essential to learn about the attacks of September 11. Whether they live in the U.S. or another country, they should understand how our world changed after that horrific day, especially for Muslims across the world. Only then can they pledge to do better in the future.