I am the Night Sky & Other Reflections by Muslim American Youth (Shout Mouse Press, 2019)
I am the Night Sky consists of stories, poems, collages, and even the script–including character designs– of a cartoon (“Kabob Squad Takes Down Propaganda Man”). The selections are varied, artistic, and often subtle. All of the contributors are Muslim, and all of the pieces are about the experience of being young and Muslim in the United States.
In the piece called “In the Name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful,” Salihah Aakil has created five small, exquisite poems that take us simultaneously through the cycle of a day of prayer and the cycle of a lifetime. “The Undergrounders,” by Imaam Shanavas, is a parable about a group of happy, peaceful people who live underground, until living
conditions become impossible and they are forced to move to a new place (above ground) to survive. Above ground, they are viewed as a dangerous “other”. What makes this piece special is that the message becomes apparent rather slowly, so we’re rewarded with a satisfying “aha moment” when we recognize what the story is about. These are two examples; all of the text pieces have depth and are discussion worthy.
It was more difficult to appreciate the twenty collages. Each is reproduced in black and white, covering two facing pages, with the division of the book’s spine down the center of the image. I wondered whether the pieces might be more meaningful to the students who created them than to the readers of this book. It’s also possible that collage isn’t a form that resonates with me.
My one disappointment in the book is that, despite claiming to represent the tremendous diversity within the American Muslim community,” it isn’t very diverse. These students–nine female, one male–are all from Maryland. As far as I can tell from the artists’ autobiographies, all were born in the United States. If any come from families that struggle financially, the struggle isn’t visible in their work. And all ten students appear to be absolutely solid in their firm Muslim beliefs.
As a collection, I Am the Night Sky is unique in that the ten students came together for the purpose of artistically representing what it means to be young, Muslim, and American. In addition to creating the pieces in the book, the students and their mentors created a community. While I can see how the process of collaboration and community building would be beneficial for the students, it resulted in a loss of the students’ diverse voices. I didn’t feel that I was reading about ten distinct Muslim experiences; instead I felt that I was reading the work of ten students who shared the same experiences and narrative voice.
Potential audiences for I Am the Night Sky: Muslim students who might benefit from reading about experiences of other Muslim students, non-Muslim students open to learning about a belief system and culture different from their own, and teachers wanting to understand the challenges faced by Muslim American youth.
Sue Protheroe is AEP’s education coordinator. Her role is creating, updating, and disseminating AEP curriculum. In addition, she runs the educator and student contests.
Before joining AEP, Sue taught middle school social studies and language arts for 38 years. She is passionate about promoting cultural understanding, especially among young people. While Sue holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Iowa and a graduate degree from Iowa State University, she considers international travel to have been her most valuable education.
Sue dedicates her non-AEP time to a variety of interests, including swimming, cycling, yoga, reading, and drawing cartoons.