S.K. Ali brings Muslim Representation to Young-Adult Novels at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

S.K. Ali (right) and Hafsa Lodi (left) discuss the release of Ali’s new book, Misfits in Love, on February 5, 2022 at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (AUD/Lujain Ammar).

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature opened on February 3 in Dubai, highlighting the work of a diverse line-up of more than 160 authors. The event, which runs until February 13, presented one author who has managed to capture the essence of romance and faith in the Muslim community.

Sajidah Ali, more commonly known as S.K. Ali, is a 49-year-old Indian-Canadian author of young adult fiction novels who has also written picture books. Her most famous books include her debut novel, “Saints and Misfits,’’ released in 2017, which received the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and “Love from A to Z,’’ released in 2019, and which was named the Best Young Adult Book of the Year by a number of media outlets.

On Saturday, the festival featured a panel discussion moderated by Hafsa Lodi about Ali’s “Saints and Misfits’’ sequel, “Misfit in Love.’’ “My first novel came out at a time when there was a big movement in North America called ‘we need diverse books,’’ said Ms. Ali during the panel. “Because there was this push from readers to publishers saying `We want books from all sorts of experiences,’ “Saints and Misfits’’ came out that year.’’

She was pleased to see that a wide audience learned about Islam through her work. “I was very surprised that so many young people who are non-Muslims connected with my work,’’ she said.

Ms. Ali has created the hashtag #Muslimshelfspace to encourage books written by Muslim authors. “It was a message to the industry to say, publish them, and we will buy them.’’ With the help of her first editor’s company, Salaam Reads by Simon & Schuster, Ms. Ali began to work on increasing the number of published Muslim authors. “It was Salaam Reads that showed the industry that, look, you make these books, people will buy them, and now every big publisher in New York, they all publish Muslim stories.’’

S.K. Ali’s journey did not start in literature, as she wanted to study fashion design. “I loved art and fashion a lot. I used to make my own clothes and clothes for family and friends as well,’’ said Ms. Ali. She changed her mind after the Gulf War broke out in 1990. “I started to get worried about the world and how everything was misrepresented about Muslims,’’ said Ms. Ali. She began to write articles and eventually majored in creative writing at York University. “I decided that I’d rather put my focus on something that betters the world, not that fashion doesn’t, but a bigger impact,” said Ms. Ali.

Through her work, S.K. Ali touches on subjects including Islamophobia, racism and sexual harassment. In “Misfit in Love,’’ she shines the light on discrimination and racism among the Muslim community. Many of her characters’ experiences reflect some of Ali’s own, and she believes that it is important to raise these issues through her books in order to support those who might be going through the same challenges.

S.K. Ali was surprised by the success of her books, and she is grateful for the continuous support that her readers have given her. She also appreciates all the feedback she receives on various social media platforms. “If you text her on Instagram, she will always respond,’’ says Shahed Thani, a 36-year-old Emirati who has received encouragement on her own writing from Ali.

Ms. Ali is excited to participate for the first time in the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. “I love how they are bringing a diverse group of authors, including Muslim authors from North America.’’

S.K. Ali (right) signs Sarah Madani’s (left) book as Madani relays her love for Ali’s work on February 5, 2022 in Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (AUD/Lujain Ammar).

S.K. Ali enjoyed the conversations with her readers in the UAE, and they in turn seemed excited to meet her in person. “I think her books are inspiring for me, as a Muslim woman,’’ said 22-year-old Mehvish Sarfraz.

S.K. Ali showcases her favorite book, Love from A to Z on February 5, 2022 in
 Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (AUD/Lujain Ammar).

Sarah Madani, 22, who read the book “Love from A to Z ’’ last October, said, “I was really inspired because most of the young adult books I read are Western character-centric, so to see someone having the same mentality, belief, upbringing like my friends or me or how we live here, was interesting to read.’’

As “Love from A to Z’’ continues to be a great success, S.K. Ali revealed that the sequel, Love from Mecca to Medina, will be out on October 18, 2022. The sequel will be the final book for the world of both “Saints and Misfits’’ and “Love from A to Z.’’ “I tried my very best to make a beautiful ending because I believe my readers, especially my Muslim readers, they deserve beautiful lives,’’ said S.K. Ali.

Ms. Ali advised readers to continue to support their favorite authors by directly purchasing their work. “Just support them because that is the only way writers can keep writing.’’

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