Interview by Shoohada Khanom
Shoohada Khanom: Assalamu aleikum, Asmaa! It’s great to have you here. I’ve read your book A Temporary Gift twice and both times I’ve taken away different things. You can find my review here. So what is the main thing you want readers to take away from your book A Temporary Gift?
Asmaa Hussein: I think there are different things to be taken from the book depending on the reader. I once had a reader come up to me and say, “Thank you for making me believe in love again.” And that was beautiful. For those who read the book, I want them to leave it feeling hopeful in Allah’s plans for their lives. I want them to be able to encounter their worldly losses with dignity and trust in God. I want them to know that they can hold onto patience even if they’re immersed in grief or heartache, because it’s okay to be human and to feel. Allah ﷻ made us that way. And I want them to understand that this world is so brief; like a single dot in the grand scheme of time and space. And it’s up to all of us to use the little time we have to worship Allah the best we can.
SK: Insha’Allah. How have things changed for you since publishing the book?
AH: Life has definitely gotten busier, alhamdulillah. I went from being a new mom who occasionally wrote posts on social media to a woman trying to run a small but wholesome publishing company. That means answering tons of emails, learning about marketing—which is not my strong suit to be honest— and trying to come up with new books and content.
SK: Insha’Allah. So what are you currently reading?
AH: I’m part of a book club, and we’re currently reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
SK: Really? I’ve got the title on my list to read as well. So what was the last book you read?
AH: The last book I read was Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin.
SK: You’ve got great taste in books, I’ve got that book on my reading list too! Can you tell us three books, you think everyone should read and why?
AH: Three books everyone should read are:
- The Invocation of God by Ibn Al-Qayyim. This book gave me so much comfort and hope in my early days of widowhood. It’s translated into English beautifully because it is sometimes rare for books originally published in Arabic to have that effect.
- The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I read these books when I was in university. Sometimes, we shy away from the “difficult” or emotional reads because they leave us feeling really raw, but I think it’s important to read books—fiction or nonfiction) about slavery, civil rights, and the struggles of different communities around the world. I think it makes us more compassionate human beings with a better appreciation of true advocacy and allyship.
- Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa. This book is about generational trauma in Palestine. It was one of the most heartbreaking reads I’ve ever come across, but beautiful and so important.
SK: Brilliant, l’ll be adding those for sure. Is there anything about the writing life that you feel people misunderstand?
AH: I’m naturally a very emotional writer, which means that I write when inspiration strikes. Running a publishing company and coming up with new content is always difficult because it takes hard work, not just “inspiration.” Books take years to write and publish. So when you hold one of my books in your hands, know that it was made with so many tears and so much love.
SK: Alhamdulilah. Tell us a little bit about Ruqaya’s Bookshelf. What is it about and has it grown from when you first started?
AH: I first started the website as a blog of sorts, to write about my single parenting experience. It wasn’t easy to find other Muslim single parents writing about their struggles and reflections. From there, I grew it into a publishing company by putting out two of my first books: Bismillah Soup and Yasmine’s Belly Button. These two books were a project of love. I wrote them for my daughter, and it was a fun experience learning the ins and outs of how to find illustrators, and put a book together. When those books were published and started to sell, I thought, hey, I actually love doing this work, so let me write more! It was kind of an organic experience. I didn’t know that I would keep publishing books, or start accepting manuscripts from other writers. It just happened that way – and that was Allah’s beautiful and perfect plan for me so far, alhamdulillah.
SK: Yes I’ve noticed, you’ve recently opened up for submissions. Tell us what type of books you are looking for?
AH: I’m looking for advanced picture books (so around 800-1000 words) and short chapter books. I’ve gotten many submissions which just shows me how motivated our community is. It’s actually quite amazing.
SK: I can imagine, I love picture books too. Is there a reason why you chose those two genres in particular?
AH: To be honest, I chose them because I have experience with these genres. I’ve done a number of similar picture books so far and one chapter book. I think the age group for these to genres (ages 3ish-10ish) is wide enough that there’s a lot of wiggle room in terms of book topics and ideas to explore. I also think these are incredibly important formative years for kids. I still remember many of the books that I read at this age, and their messages stayed with me.
SK: Do you see yourself opening up to other genres in the future?
AH: Maybe someday if I’m able to expand my business and hire an actual editor and staff, I could consider it. For now, I’m trying to grow slowly and steadily so I don’t overwhelm myself!
SK: Now, welcome to the super-duper speedy round. Please answer with the first thing that comes to mind. Favorite food?
AH: Anything with chocolate!
SK: Favorite color?
SK: Something sweet?
AH: Dairy milk and Aero are by far the best. Also, homemade chocolate chip cookies!
SK: Favorite drink?
AH: French vanilla from our Canadian Tim Hortons
SK: Favorite genre to read?
AH: I love historical fiction
SK: Favorite word?
AH: Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. I like it because it means “the fear of long words,” and the irony is just on point.
SK: *Laughs* I can’t stop laughing. So on point! Please tell us what else you’re working on? Are there any new books or projects you would like to share with us?
AH: I’m currently working on a couple of new children’s books, but it can take a year or more to actually get them ready for sale! I’m hoping by next Ramadan they’ll be out!
SK: That sounds fantastic! I look forward to them both. Jazakallahu Khairan for your time, it’s been a pleasure interviewing you. May Allah pour more and more baraqah into your endeavors, ameen.
Bio: Born and raised in London, writer and children’s books author Shoohada Khanom has authored and traditionally published four children’s pictures books. Khanom is also the author of several review and reading journals. Today a mother of six, Shoohada lives a busy life, splitting her days between home educating her children and her motherly responsibilities. She shares her home in Bolton with her family, and anytime she has a moment to herself, she reads and writes. Visit her website at ShoohadaKhanom.com to learn more about Khanom and her acclaimed works.