Amina Derbi was a book-nerd growing up. She spent her time delving into books, and while she thoroughly enjoyed some of them, she still felt something was missing.
Years later, Derbi, 25, said the same thing is missing: strong Muslim female protagonists.
Derbi said that Muslims are usually portrayed in the media with a negative light — a concept scholar and literature professor Edward Said wrote about extensively in his 1978 book “Orientalism.”
According to Said, orientalism is “a way of seeing that imagines, emphasizes, exaggerates and distorts differences of Arab peoples and cultures as compared to that of Europe and the U.S.”
While the book was written almost 40 years ago, the phenomenon still exists in both media and literature.
Derbi said that while there has been progress in terms of diversity in literature and media, it still isn’t enough.
That’s one of the reasons why she created the character Najmah Qamar in her first published book “The Storyteller and the Terrorist in Our Newsfeeds.”
She wanted young Muslim girls to have a character they could truly relate to.
In the young adult novel, Najmah Qamar is a teenage YouTube star that tells suspense stories online. When her stories go viral, they start coming to life and she gets blamed for the murders that consequently take place. Throughout the book, Najmah tries to clear her name while simultaneously save people from dying.
Derbi said Najmah’s friendships are tested across the lines of race, religion and gender. She also deals with a lot of social issues that are real, legitimate concerns Muslim American teens face today.
“I feel like Najmah’s story tackles a lot of serious issues that people are experiencing head-on like Islamophobia and certain political rhetoric that smears certain groups,” Derbi said.
Overall, Derbi wants readers to know that there’s always more to a story than labels and headlines.
“There’s always more to a story than labels and headlines.”
“If you want to understand any story, you have to dig a little deeper and do some analysis,” she said.