Asmaa Hussein is an author, inspirational writer, social worker and mom to Ruqaya. Her work can be found at Ruqaya’s Bookshelf.
Tell us a bit about yourself, Ruqaya and why you started Ruqaya’s Bookshelf?
I’m a registered social worker actually! I did my masters of social work a couple of years ago, but haven’t practiced much since. I turned my attention to writing because I find it more fulfilling, and I truly enjoy the process.
Ruqaya is a funny, rambunctious girl, mashaAllah. When she was just a few months old, she would show a lot of interest in books (especially gnawing at their corners!). As she got older, she would sit along flipping through all the books we had, one by one, staring intently at them as though her eyes were hungry for knowledge. I loved that about her, and that’s one of the reasons I started Ruqaya’s Bookshelf.
I also started Ruqaya’s Bookshelf because I couldn’t relate to a lot of parenting material out there (especially Islamic parenting). I would try to read books about how to approach parenting from an Islamic perspective but they’d all be talking about nuclear families (i.e. the mother’s role vs. the father’s role). Her father was no longer with us (may Allah have mercy on him), so that kind of content wasn’t relevant to me anymore. I decided that I wanted to write about my experience because not many other single Muslim moms were doing that.
What is your favourite book that you’ve published so far?
I think my favourite kids’ book so far is Yasmine’s Belly Button. I actually wrote this book as a love letter to my daughter. I wanted to find a way to explain to her just how deep our connection was to one another. Every time I read it or see images of it I’m reminded that bond – from when she was in my belly until now.
What are you currently working on – can you share?
It’s a secret! Just kidding. I’m working on two different picture books now, and an activity book. I’m just in the beginning stages so it’ll still be a while before they’re ready. Stay tuned inshaAllah!
How do you juggle your writing with everything else that you do? Especially being a single mum?
I do my work when Ruqaya is at school. When she’s home it’s really difficult to get anything done at all! I think I’m able to get things done because a) Allah (swt) has given me the ability, and b) I love what I do. My first two books (Bismillah Soup and Yasmine’s Belly Button) started off as just a fun project to do. But while I was immersed in the process of writing, editing, finding illustrators, etc. I realised that I was enjoying myself. When you love what you do, you find the time to do it!
What tips would you give aspiring writers?
Three very simple things:
- Read a lot. Exposing yourself to different styles of writing will expand your own ability.
- Practice writing. Just like any other skill or field, practice is what helps us improve.
- Keep it simple. Sometimes we’re overzealous when it comes to writing. We want to use really deep metaphors and wow people with our awesome range of vocabulary. The truth is, people connect to simplicity as long as the content is good!
What’s the funniest thing that Ruqaya has done?
Just recently her teacher told me that she hid a piece of playdough in her pocket during a Quran lesson. Then she proceeded to give every child in the class a small piece, and the kids were super distracted because of this. The teacher then asked Ruqaya to open her hand to see what was in her palm. She hid the playdough in her right hand and opened her left hand. The teacher asked her to open her other palm, so Ruqaya transferred the playdough from her right hand to her left, then opened her empty left palm. Very sneaky.
I probably shouldn’t have laughed, but I laughed a lot.
Where do you see yourself/Ruqaya’s bookshelf in 5 years?
I’m not sure… I’m working on one project at a time at this point, since I’m a one-woman show. In the future I would love for Ruqaya’s Bookshelf to be an established publishing company where Muslims writers can gather and work on producing great content for kids (and maybe for adults as well!). That’s a super long term dream of mine.
If there was one thing you could teach Muslim kids, what would it be?
Self-confidence. I think it’s so important for Muslim kids to know and feel like they’re confident in their beliefs and in their goals.
What do you hope the future will hold for Muslim kids everywhere?
I hope that our kids internalize this self-confidence and take it upon themselves to gain the knowledge necessary to becoming revivers of the Sunnah. I want them to be a united force that actively promotes justice and peace in their respective communities. May Allah grant them this ability.