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I wrote Growing Up Muslim: Understanding the Beliefs and Practices of Islam because teachers asked me to write it. During the book tour for my first book, The Muslim Next Door, I was surprised at how many middle-school teachers approached me and told me that, although they were required by state standards to teach world religions in middle school, they could find nothing age-appropriate on Islam. These teachers had never learned about Islam, and now they had to teach it! All they had were textbooks, which – generally – are terrible when it comes to Islam and Muslims. So please, they asked me, please write a book for middle-schoolers.

That’s how Growing Up Muslim was born. I loved writing it and I loved envisioning a hypothetical 12-year-old to whom I addressed my writing. That’s why the book is arranged in a way that I think kids will appreciate. It’s as much a book on demographics as it is a book about religion. Where do Muslims live? What do they eat? What do they look like? I’ve included some holiday recipes, too, as well as lots of stories of what it was like growing up Muslim and American in Southern California.

It’s organized from “outside to inside,” which means that it covers outward practices and beliefs first, and then gradually delves into more complex subjects that are important but somewhat more removed from preteen life, such as Islamic history and the definition of sharia. The material in the book is accessible, but never simplistic. Although I write in first person, illustrating my points through many stories and examples, I do have an academic degree in Islam, so it was extremely important to me that this book, like my first book, be academically reliable and appropriate for the classroom. I also went out of my way to discuss the many different interpretations on various issues, and I never say that my interpretation or, indeed, any single interpretation is the only correct one.

I recently received an email from a family friend, someone who had been in graduate school with my father. She congratulated me on the publication of Growing Up Muslim and added, “This looks like it’s about my level!” I had to smile, as I remembered my publisher telling me before I finished my first draft, “It’s going to be for ages 10 and up, but adults will read it, too.”

I hope you’ll read it, too!