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You might think the library is the place where you’ll find every type of book in the world. But that wasn’t the case for two teenagers from Michigan (USA) who couldn’t find any books about Muslim women. Sisters Zena Nasiri, 17, and Mena Nasiri, 15, started ‘Girls of the Crescent’, a nonprofit organization that increases the number of books in libraries and schools with Muslim female characters. Now the ambitious sisters have taken their project a step further and wrote their own book that showcases amazing Muslim women from past to present.
Two years ago, Zena and Mena were given a school project to research an inspirational historical figure. “We wanted to do the project on some Muslim women because our mom would always tell us stories about them,” Mena said. “And they were really inspirational because we could connect with them.” Zena picked Fatima al-Fihri, a Muslim woman credited with establishing the world’s first university. Mena picked Sabiha Gökçen, believed to be the world’s first female combat pilot. However, they realized that the school and public library didn’t have any books about their heroes or any books with Muslim female main characters. “That was the first time we realized that there was a lack of representation and diversity in the books we had access to,” Mena said.
Sometime after the project, the girls reached out to the PTA of Rochester Community Schools and asked for funding to add books with Muslim characters in the school’s media centre. The response to the idea was very positive and books were placed in the libraries of most of the schools in the district. “We got around 200 books into the Rochester Community School District,” Zena said. The sisters had to do a lot of research and find books that had Muslim female characters. They made a list on their website and arranged books by age range and genre. ‘Girls of the Crescent’ has donated over 700 books to school libraries and public libraries. Their work has also spread to other US states and even different countries. The sisters have donated books to schools in Morocco, Hong Kong, France, and England. “We have a donation that’s ready to ship to Nigeria as well so we’re really excited about that,” Zena said. “We hope we can continue to reach people around the country and the world.”
For most of the local donations, Zena and Mena started reaching out to see which schools and libraries were interested in donations. Then people from around the world started reaching out to them personally. “For places around the world, it’s usually people finding us on social media and they want books for their schools and their libraries and they contact us,” Zena said.
Zena and Mena are excited to share their new project their own book that continues their goal of making female Muslim characters more accessible. The book is a biography of 50 inspirational Muslim women women going back to the Islamic ‘Golden Age’ to more modern figures. The book will feature women such as Raha Moharrak, who climbed Mount Everest; Ibtihaj Muhammad, who was the first woman in hijab to compete for the United States in the Olympics, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. Their project has truly gone full circle and the girls are thrilled about having their own book in libraries across the world.Zena and Mena and shared some of their favorite books that have inspired them in their journey. “Both of our favorite book of all time is ‘The Lines We Cross’ by Randa Abdel-Fattah,” Mena said. “We definitely recommend that one.”‘Girls of the Crescent’ is always looking for new books with female Muslim characters. They take suggestions on their website. They encourage people to reach out to their organization to add Muslim characters to their schools and libraries.