DID YOU KNOW?
- The stereotype of Muslims as a backward race and Islam as a stagnant religion are so prevalent that the contributions of Islamic civilizations to modern times are completely ignored. During the “Islamic Golden Age” (8th to 13th century) Baghdad, Cordoba and Cairo were the major intellectual centers for science, philosophy, medicine and education for the entire world.
The Middle Ages was also a time of significant advancements in art, theology, philosophy, music and literature across the Islamic empire. From the orange juice on the breakfast table to hospitals, universities, the first flying machine and much more were first introduced by Muslim thinkers, inventors and scientists. Driven by a desire to travel and learn, Muslims placed a high value on seeking knowledge.
In this book list, we feature books on Islamic innovations and ideas that continue to be used in the modern world. We also highlight stories of well known Muslim philosophers, inventors and thinkers from Ibn Sina and Al Ghazali and contemporary Muslim leaders such as Malcolm X and Mohammed Yunus.
INSPIRING MUSLIM LEADERS AND THINKERS
1001 Inventions and facts from Muslim civilization – An informative and visually delightful book that traces the contributions of Muslim scholars, philosophers, artists, scientists and more. Using a mix of facts, photos and fun, the books brings history to life. It celebrates an underappreciated time when people from different countries, cultures, religions and backgrounds worked together for a better world . Translating Arabic books into Latin and preserving Greek texts were the foundation for Europe’s Renaissance. From mapping over 160 stars, to sailing the high seas, developing soaps, cosmetics, the world’ first hand glider and cafe bookshops, there were many inventions from the Muslim civilization which are used by us to this day! (Picture book, suited for ages 8-12, see lesson plan here)
Al Ghazali: With beautiful miniature paintings by Demi, this book introduces readers – young and old, to Al Ghazali, an exemplary 10th century philosopher and thinker of the Islamic World. He spent years searching for the Truth and harmony between the inner and outer aspects of Islam and is credited with making Sufism an integral part of Islam. Al Ghazali’s critiques of Arabic philosophy, logic and physics encouraged critical thinking and his writings emphasized living in harmony with all beings, seen and unseen, humans, animals and plants – a value we all could learn from today. (Picture book, suited for ages 8-12)
The Amazing Discoveries of Ibn Sina: Ibn Sina or Avicenna as he is better known in the Western world was born in Persia more than a thousand years ago. He was a child prodigy who had memorized the Quran by the time he was ten years old, and finished his medical studies by the time he was sixteen! His contributions and new ideas to the fields of medicine, chemistry, astronomy, physics and philosophy live on to this day, such as the observation that light travels faster than sound, and use of anesthesia.
His famous work, the Canon of Medicine was the standardised text on medicine used all over the world. As the author (Fatima Sharafeddine) emphasises: “It is essential, in my opinion, for new generations of children to be introduced to such historical figures, especially since school curriculums in most part of the world do not include them.” (Picture book, suited for ages 8-12)
Razia and the Pesky Presents: Razia Sultan ruled the Delhi Sultanate in the 13th century, and was its’ only female ruler. Her ascent holds much historical value as her ancestors were slaves, not nobility. A lot of information about her reign comes from the writings of Ibn Battuta (see below) who describes her as a bold young woman, an able administrator, progressive in her views, trained in military warfare and beloved by her subjects for whom she established many schools, academies and public libraries.
Using this backdrop of history, and her own sparkling wit and humor, Natasha Sharma takes us back to Razia’s reign, where someone who is upset about a female ruler leading the Delhi Sultanate and is sending Razia pesky presents which challenge her throne. How does Razia find the sender of these pesky presents and understand what they want? A fun historical twist and great introduction to Razia Sultan! (Chapter book, suited for ages 6 and up)
The Amazing Travels of Ibn Battuta: Do you ever wonder what it was like to travel hundreds of years ago, in the days long before cars and aeroplanes? Ibn Battuta, a great traveler from the 14th century paved the way for modern age of discovery. He travelled for thirty years throughout the Islamic World – from North Africa, through India, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, South East Asia to China surpassing the travels of Marco Polo and covering distances and lands rare for travelers at the time.
This book traces his travels gleamed from Ibn Battuta’s own writing Rihla, compiled from diaries of his travels. It has timeless appeal for his remarkable observations and deep understanding of different societies and his appreciation for the richness and diversity of the world. (Picture book, suited for ages 7 and up)
Taj Mahal: A Story of Love and Empire: The reign of Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal Emperor of India was the golden period of Mughal architecture He commissioned the building of the Red Fort and Jama Masjid in Delhi and most famously the Taj Mahal, a lavish tomb built in honor of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj Mahal, a harmonious integration of Indian, Persian and Islamic influences is a considered ‘the jewel of Muslim art in India’ and was described by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore as ‘a teardrop on the cheek of time.’ This book looks at the artistic contributions of the Mughal empire in architecture, literature and painting and the story of love and loss. (Picture book, suited for ages 9-12)
Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X: We love picture book biographies as they help children understand and see that someone who was once like them grew up to make a difference in the world. Written by his daughter, this inspiring book celebrates a vision of freedom and justice, and shows the childhood story of Malcolm X, one of America’s most influential figures.
When confronted with intolerance and a series of tragedies, Malcolm’s optimism and faith were threatened, and he had to learn how to be strong and how to hold on to his individuality. This lyrical story should be discussed in every classroom because it carries a message that resonates still today—for all of us to live to our highest potential. (Picture book, suited for ages 6-10)
RELATED: See MUSLIM KIDS AS HEROES book list
Malala a Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal a Brave Boy from Pakistan: Two Stories of Bravery – Two real life heroes – Iqbal Masih and Malala Yousufzai meet on the pages of this two-in-one picture book by renowned author-illustrator Jeanette Winter. Iqbal spoke up against the child slavery in the carpet trade while Malala championed the girl’s education. Both were violently attacked, and while Malala survived , Iqbal did not.
The book deals with these harsh realities of many children’s lives in a simple age-appropriate text accompanied by bright visuals and colors which lend to the moods of the story. The double spread in the middle links the lives of these two brave children and is a reminder for all of us to fight for the right to education and freedom for all children, everywhere. (Picture book, suited for ages 6-10, see lesson plan here)
Twenty Two Cents: Mohammed Yunus and the Village Bank: This picture book biography of Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the micro-credit lending Grameen Bank is an inspiring tale of empowerment. The book begins with his childhood and includes background information about the political and economic situations of the time. This is a great book for introducing kids to breaking free from the cycle of poverty. It is also an inspirational message of how one person can improve the world. Readers of this book will be encouraged to start asking their own hard questions and perhaps find their own solutions to current and future problems. (Picture book, suited for ages 6-10, see lesson plan here)
Alia’s Mission: Saving the book of Iraq– The heroic efforts of Alia Muhammad Baker to save over 30,000 titles from the Library of Basra is multi-faceted tale about the human cost of war. Iraq was a center of learning during the Golden Age of Islam and the destruction of these books and the library is an irreplaceable loss of history and culture of a nation. Illustrated in black and white, with different shades of grey in between, the dramatic story story conveys the impending doom, while also highlighting one person’s commitment to save “the collective memory of her people.” (Graphic novel, suited for ages 5-10. Also see The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter – Picture Book 4-7 years)
Muhammad Ali: A Champion is Born – A well written and equally vibrantly illustrated picture book about the Greatest boxing legend of our time, this story takes us back to his childhood. It recounts the story of Ali as a young boy racing down the streets on his favorite bike. When it gets stolen, he vows to get it back and won’t back down. Not without a fight. (Picture Book 4-8 years)
For updates to this list, look up our book Muslims in Story: Expanding Multicultural Understanding Through Children’s and Young Adult Literature
Our book will equip public and school library staff, including educators and collection development librarians, to make real change in their communities by validating lived experiences of Muslim kids and building a stronger sense of empathy, respect, and understanding towards Muslims.
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