View Full Version : When writing about Muslim characters

03-03-2012, 03:54 AM
I read a post earlier about a writer wanting to have a Muslim character in their story. I would say most importantly, figure out whether you want a Muslim character or a character with an Islamic background. There are Arab Christians,Jews (as strange as that may sound) Buddhist and so on. If their religion plays an important role, then specify if they're Muslim. If not, you may not need to specify their religion at all. There are several Muslim writers who have written books about Muslims, however, the characters practice the religion out of custom or not at all. In many books its just to add diversity or do something new.
Imagine a book where the main character is said to be a Vegetarian. But he/she eats a Whopper everyday, vegetarians will most likely feel insulted and others would wonder why is this character is considered vegetarian at all. Religion encompasses not just dietary restrictions, but dress code, marriage laws, business practices, etc. Of course, if the story is about a character who has a change of faith or is struggling with following it, then that makes it more understandable for the rules to be broken. Also, if the character is really young and doesn't really care about religion, (once again, if this is so, know why you want a Muslim character in the first place)
Also, there are no perfect Muslims. (This is probably good for readers who come across Muslim characters in books, too) Culture has a lot of influence on the religion. Make sure you learn the differences between the culture and the religion, and know ahead of time, not everyone is going to be pleased with the portrayal.
Lastly, if you want to write about an Arab Muslim, go ahead, please do. But don't forget there are Native Americans, huge amounts of African Americans, Chineses, Latinos, Europeans, etc, who claim Islam as their religion.

I hope this helps someone.

03-03-2012, 04:13 AM
Good advice and as with all stories, I would advise the writer to know what you write and write what you know...

03-03-2012, 04:55 AM
A great first thread for the new section, and thank you for saying it. I think there's a lot people take for granted when they think of "Muslims" as an entity, rather than as individuals.

03-03-2012, 10:25 AM
Good thread and important not to generalise. In the Western Cape, South Africa, many families are both Catholic and Muslim, so have great devotion to both Mary and Fatima. This is in part because of Group Areas removals under apartheid, where families found themselves thrown together in new locations quite distant from the city and lacking any facilities or infrastructures -- so Muslims began attending Palm Sunday celebrations and Catholics would participate in feast days to mark the end of Ramadan as it is known here. Interfaith marriages are common.

03-03-2012, 01:58 PM
I think the Muslim character Toby Whitehouse wrote into a recent ep of Doctor Who was a great character. I think they got the right balance for a modern woman brought up in a Muslim family within a largely non Muslim culture. She was certainly reminiscint of all my female muslim friends in attitude and reactions.

And this is, I think, the key to any character. Something like religion, unless they are an official officiate of a religion (and dressed appropriately), will not necessarily be the first thing you notice about them. Its part of a whole tapestry of things.

04-09-2012, 10:27 PM
Thanks for the tip!

07-04-2012, 02:59 AM
Great thread. I have a Muslim character in my first novel. I've had to do lots of research and still need to do more. Any suggestions on where to learn more of life in a Muslim family from some where like autonomous tribal regions of Pakistan?

My character is a teenage girl. In the first book she has been taken by aliens to receive training. Some things I have figured out. One question I'm not sure about is would she have to wear a burga? I suspect that my best solution is to say yes and then have her start the story prepubescent or as a child. That would allow me to explore the clothing issue as she starts having periods or her menarche.

07-21-2012, 04:23 AM
Thank you for this thread. I have two Islamic characters in my book, a brother and sister from Pakistan living in the United States. He is a faithful but flawed Muslim, while she wants to embrace a more Western lifestyle. I love writing their scenes, but I admit it's very difficult at times. I read as much as I could, I even wore a hijab one weekend just to get a feel for what it might be like for a Muslim woman living in the US.
Little things gave me fits, like a throw-a-away line about wanting a dog. I changed that to bird after learning dogs have not traditionally been considered a house-pet. I found that message boards on Islam were a great help. Most people spoke openly and were very happy to answer questions and explain things in regard to lifestyle and custom.

07-22-2012, 12:35 AM
Wow, you even wore a hijab? That's really getting into character! I'm glad to read this because for a long time I kept wondering if maybe I was being unrealistic. The original post is really a reflection of my personal opinion of what's okay for a Muslim character to be like. But what you seem to be doing sounds great, especially since you're doing the research behind it and not throwing Muslim characters in there just to be different.

09-29-2012, 07:37 AM
Great thread. Salt, I think, you make a good point. I loved the example with the vegetarian eating whoppers!

And, after reading lots of nonsense in otherwise good books, I am glad about every writer who bothers to research decently before they put a muslim character in their novel. One of my favourite mistakes, to be found even in non-fiction books about muslims and islam: first prayer at sunrise. And, for the same reason: fasting from sunrise to sunset.

Whatever, I am also ready to answer questions - and I think this subforum could be used for research, if anybody interested.

04-01-2013, 02:22 AM
A Muslim character can be and do whatever you want her to be and do! She can be a stripper or a prostitute,a homeless person, a doctor, the CEO of Coca Cola, a professor even the president of The USA.

Please don't limit your character to be a Hijab wearing Arab stereotype. There are over a billion Muslims in the world and not all of us fit that description.

04-01-2013, 05:33 AM
Also, if the character is really young and doesn't really care about religion, (once again, if this is so, know why you want a Muslim character in the first place)

This makes it sound like you're saying 'Why bother making a character a Muslim at all, if they aren't going to be super-religious?'

As far as I'm concerned, if writers want to add a Muslim to their cast, EVEN IF it's only a token Muslim for diversity's sake, PLEASE LET THEM!!!! The more (accurate) depictions there are of Muslims (all kinds on Muslims, not just hijabis and Arabs) the better! Even if they're only nominally Muslim because their parents are and don't practice at all, THEY ARE STILL MUSLIM and no one can take it away from them unless they renounce the religion themselves. I would not want authors to sit down and decide who's 'Muslim enough' and who isn't. That's the quickest way to offend your Muslim readers!

04-01-2013, 08:26 AM
I have a character in the thing I'm ostensibly working on who is Muslim, mostly because he lives in a particular area of Brooklyn and is therefore Syrian (or Lebanese), partly because I like the name Ibrahim for the character, and partly because I need Ibrahim to attend a particular type of holiday celebration, and Mawlid seems to fit and no one can tell me it doesn't take place at the right time of year.

04-11-2013, 09:04 AM
Stumbled upon this thread and would love to revive it, since I'm first-drafting a novel that has a number of Muslim characters. I'm writing near-future speculative fiction that takes place in Sudan, and I'm trying to do as much research as possible while facing the fact that, due to travel restrictions, I may not be able to visit Khartoum for a long time. I'd love to learn more about religious Islam vs. cultural Islam, especially from those who are knowledgeable about how that dynamic exists in non-Western countries.

L M Ashton
06-09-2013, 03:37 AM
Howdy! I'm joining this thread... Not because I'm Muslim - I'm not. Not because I'm writing with Muslim characters - I'm not at the moment, although that can change. But because I'm married to a Muslim from Sri Lanka. His entire family are Muslims and I have some insight into Islam and how some Muslims live, along with some cultural traditions. Of course, cultural traditions and how different Muslims practice Islam don't translate exactly from one area to another, so what I know won't translate into Muslims in the Middle East, but still. There ya go. :)

08-28-2014, 10:03 PM
Great post! I'm going to be working on a story with an American Muslim teenager and I'm a little terrified of it because I really don't know any Muslims (the culture/religion plays a role in the plot).

So I'm going to be looking for someone willing to read my work with that in mind. I'm very willing to return the favor and critique something of yours. Just putting it out there. I'm also open to reading suggestions, non fiction or fiction.

08-31-2014, 05:26 AM
I have quite a few Muslim characters. The protagonist of my WWII novel set in Bosnia is a Muslim. He's not strict at all, and since he's from Bosnia, he looks European. He refers to God as Allah numerous times in my text, and there is discussion of things such as praying, fasting, and mosque etiquette (for example, mosques usually require you to remove your shoes).

I've had other Muslim characters in my stories - mostly Turkish or South Asian since those two groups were the majority of Muslims that I've met. Sometimes people forget that Turks are Muslim because usually they're less open about it, plus they are often light-skinned and occasionally even light-haired (in one fandom I joined, I have a Turkish character who is blond and green-eyed). The Muslims I grew up with were mostly not that religious - they dressed in Western clothing (some of the guys wore shorts and many of the girls didn't wear hijab), listened to music, and frequently had non-Muslim friends. In many Western countries, more conservative Muslims have set up Muslim schools for Muslim students. Usually the less religious ones send their kids to public school. Unlike the UK or Sweden, we don't have Muslim-dominated neighborhoods (many parts of Malmo are almost exclusively Muslim immigrants), and most Muslims I know live next door to non-Muslims.

It's quite rare to see a book written by a non-Muslim that has a Muslim protagonist.