THE CHILDREN’S BOOK THAT’S HELPING US TALK ABOUT ISLAM

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By Peter Dewar

‘To infinity and beyond!’ You can say that again. I’m chatting with Amal Abou-Eid, young Newport mum and author of a new children’s book about Islam. Her baby son’s close-by, playing with a Toy Story action figure. And his tiny fingers have hit Buzz Lightyear’s sound button as it’s abundantly clear — there’s much more to Amal’s faith than I ever imagined.

My Muslim Mate helps children discover a little more about their Islamic classmates and strives to have the lives of Muslim families better understood. Going by the interest shown in Amal’s book, this short, charming read has something for grown-ups as well as school kids.

The main character, fair curly-haired Charlie, is narrator. He tells the reader about his best mate Khaled’s religion. Hijab in Richmond colours. Arabic lessons before footy training. Islam is well and truly at home in suburban Oz.

Through the eyes of two children, we learn about Islam’s five pillars: belief in one God and the prophet Muhammad PBUH (Shahaadah), prayers (Salah), charity (Zakaat), fasting (Sawm) and pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj). And as the short tale unfolds, the benefit of each devotional practice is explained. For instance, young Khaled’s dad says Ramadan ‘teaches Muslims to be patient, and reminds them to be thankful for all the wonderful things they have’.

Amal is gracious and eager to talk about Islam. The faith she grew to love as a girl has gifted her purpose and guidelines for a life of good deeds, the path to heaven — Paradise. Her generosity stretches as far as a stroll into potentially tricky terrain, say … the standing of women.

In accordance with Islamic custom, Amal goes by her maiden/father’s name rather than her husband’s. As for the hijab: ‘It’s a requirement of my faith, and I do it for God — it was never a matter of pleasing my father or my husband,’ she explains.

As a devout Muslim, God is central. In addition to five formal times of prayer each day, thoughts of the divine are never far from her mind. Islamic adherence ensures it. ‘For every step we take there’s a prayer for it: before we eat, before we sleep …,’ Amal says. ‘It’s constant remembrance of God’.

‘Heaven lies beneath the feet of the mother,’ she says, quoting scripture. The role of motherhood so revered by Islam now consumes her: Amal has three boys to care for. But, eight years ago, she was newly married. At the time, Amal was teaching at high school after completing a Diploma in Education with an Arts Degree and Marketing Diploma to her name. When children came along, the modern work/motherhood juggle eventually became unworkable. She resigned, but it wasn’t an end to Amal’s work as an educator.

An invitation came to facilitate a playgroup for Middle-eastern and Muslim women. As a young girl, home was in North Fitzroy where she grew up in close Lebanese family speaking Arabic, devoted to a creed she was taught in Islamic school. Amal was perfectly-suited for the task.

Teachers from her boys’ playgroup and kindergarten sought Amal’s advice on Islamic festivals.

Seeds for a book about Islam were planted.

After a brief skirmish with more formal study, Amal focused on writing. With two young boys in the education system, and one more on the way, there was an added incentive to begin — as a mother she wanted her Islamic family to feel as if they belonged.

My Muslim Mate was written and published within twelve months. Amal’s sister pitched in delightful illustrations. Aly Walsh of Aly’s Books, an independent publisher and another inner-west success story, supported Amal along the way. So far the tally sold is five hundred and counting.

All proceeds from book sales during Ramadan were donated to charity. Since the launch at Altona North library, Amal’s noticed her book attracts the attention of curious adults. It’s not uncommon for non-Muslim readers to remark, they’d learned something.

‘It’s becoming a book for everybody,’ Amal says.

You don’t need to live in the west to know, when it comes to cultural bridge building, religion takes a backseat to cuisine. Which brings me to Amal’s latest foray into the world of literature. Her tabbouleh recipe was among winning entries published in Hobsons Bay multicultural initiative, Life on a Plate. So, there’s something else I picked up during our enlightening chat: for flavour and extra crunch, adding diced green capsicum makes all the difference.

More about the author, or to purchase My Muslim Mate from Aly Books:
www.alysbooks.com/amal_abou-eid.html

Facebook address: My Muslim Mate

To contact Amal Abou-Eid:
mymuslimmate@gmail.com

My Muslim Mate is also available online at:
www.etsy.com/au/shop/mymuslimmate

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