Girls of the Crescent, Zena and Mena Nasiri, on empowering Muslim girls through literature and their new book featuring inspirational Muslim women.
Detroit Free Press
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 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.
Lack of diversity
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 told the Free Press. “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.
A positive response
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 center.
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. “Eventually the whole project kind of blew up and we turned it into a nonprofit.”
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.
“We didn’t know how many were out there,” Mena said.
Donations around the world
Girls of the Crescent has donated over 700 books to school libraries and public libraries around the community.
Their work has also spread to other states and even different countries. The sisters have donated books to schools in Morroco, 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.
A book of their own
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.
“It goes back to fourth grade when we couldn’t find those books so we decided to write one of our own,” Mena explained.
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.
“And of course we have the two women we were going to do our project on — Fatima al-Fihri and Sabiha Gökçen,” Mena emphasized with a smile on her face.
Their project has truly gone full circle and the girls are thrilled about having their own book in libraries across the world.
Some of their favorites
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.”
One of Zena’s favorites is the “Ms. Marvel” series by Detroit native Saladin Ahmed.
“She’s the first Muslim superhero to have her own comic book series in the Marvel Universe,” Mena said. “That’s a very cool step.”
The sisters are looking forward to Amulet, the new superhero from Dearborn who will be joining Ms. Marvel in her comics.
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.
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