I’ve been gathering stories for as long as I can remember. As a child, I watched stories unfold in English and Turkish movies. I was heartened by Snow White’s bond with her seven dwarves, saddened by the homeless orphan Turkish boy who tiptoed onto the front steps of a stranger’s house to steal a bottle of milk. Stories tumbled from my mother’s lips, wrapped around me like my grandmother’s arms.

At high school, books were a capsule that transported me away from girls who tittered and laughed in the privacy of friendship circles that I hadn’t yet created. Books took me to different worlds, gave me new experiences and more importantly, new perspectives. Entering someone else’s mind, understanding another’s psyche, their emotions, seeing the world from their point of view helps us connect and bridge the gaps in our society.

I grew up with two languages and two cultures. At home, I was a Turk-Aussie, at school an Aussie-Turk. It was a balancing act that sent me crashing every time my worlds collided. There were no multicultural TV shows that I could relate to, no book to reassure me that I wasn’t alone, that there were Aussie-Lebanese, Aussie-Chinese, Aussie-Macedonians who felt the same.

This was the motivation behind our book “Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia,” a collection of 12 candid, real life stories published by Allen and Unwin. As editors, we wanted stories from Australian Muslims of all backgrounds to give young people from all faiths and cultures tools to help them in their own journeys of reconciling their identities. We wanted contributors who challenged religious and cultural stereotypes, whose stories dealt with universal themes like finding their sexuality, overcoming bullying, familial and societal expectations, body image and the forging of friendships. We also wanted to show that just like any religion, Islam has various branches and is influenced by culture, ethnicity and nationality.

The process of gathering these stories was an enriching one. Contributors responded to our brief with ideas that, in time, leapt off the page and into our hearts. Stories of love, friendship, courage, loneliness, identity and belonging. The human experience, raw, honest and real. Here were other people’s shoes to walk us through foreign, yet familiar, experiences. Stories that transform, enlighten, resonate and connect.  It is this connection that binds us as humans and as a society.

 

This piece was first published at Kids’ Book Review

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