Wednesday, December 17, 2008


How is it possible that six children with five different faiths become friends and share their life experience in peace and harmony? Author Rukhsana Khan respond to this important question through her last book for young readers Many Windows published by Napoleon and co-written with authors Uma Krishnaswami and Elisa Carbone. The story introduces us to six linked stories of six kids who share a classroom, a teacher and a love of basketball. TJ, Natalie, Jameel, Deepa, Benjamin and Stephanie, each comes from a different faith, but in sharing their stories, they open windows into their world. What is really remarkable of this book is that each child's faith instead of being a barrier in social relationship and understanding becomes an open window on their interesting and different cultures promoting friendship, sharing and tolerance.

KABILIANA - When did you start knowing that you wanted to tell/write stories?
RUKHSANA - When I was about 13 I had a teacher who told me I should be a writer. I had never even considered it up till then, but after that I began to dream about it.

KABILIANA - How was your childhood? Did you use to read books? Which were your favorites?
RUKHSANA -My childhood was lonely and isolated. I grew up in a small town with few friends. We were the only Pakistani Muslim family in town. I loved books! I liked all kinds of books from picture books like Ping, to Nancy Drew mysteries and then historical fiction like Geoffrey Trease and Maia Wojcheschowska to action adventure and fantasy like Tolkien. I also loved the classics like Charlotte Bronte and Mark Twain and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

KABILIANA - Did you grow in a family where somebodye was telling you stories?
RUKHSANA- My father is a storyteller, although he doesn’t do so professionally. He also read to us every night from the Quran (our holy book).

KABILIANA - How did you think about writing a book whith characters of different faiths like those of Many Windows?
RUKHSANA - This was actually Elisa Carbone’s idea to write a set of stories about kids from different faiths who were friends, like the three of us.

KABILIANA - How did you involve Uma Krishnaswami and Elisa Carbone?
RUKHSANA - Uma and Elisa were on board with the project from the very beginning. It was originally going to be a much more balanced piece with each of us writing two stories. We each wrote one story of our respective religious celebrations and shopped the project around but got no interest. Then when I approached Napoleon, she agreed to publish it but being Canadian and relying on Canadian grants, she needed me to write 80% of the book because I was the only Canadian on the panel, so I took charge of the project.

KABILIANA - You are from Pakistan and raised in Canada where you currently live, how did you grow in a non muslim country? Did your faith ever caused you difficulties in friend's or other social relationships or as a writer?
RUKHSANA - Yes, many times my faith seemed like an obstacle. In fact when I wanted to become a published author I had family members tell me I’d never make it because of the way I dressed. I’ve often felt that it has closed some doors for me. And yet in other ways people have been able to see past the superficial differences and accept my stories too.

KABILIANA - Nowadays we live in multicultural societies where children of different cultures meet and attend the same school. What do you think about those countries where religion (we intend the main religion of that country for expamle Catholicism in Italy) is taught at school?
RUKHSANA -I grew up during a time when Bible stories were taught and Christmas was established as the ‘norm’. I know the feelings of alienation and imposition that some kids feel as a result of this. But we were always taught to respect them and yet maintain our own faith. I think religion can be taught in schools as long as it’s taught in a respectful but not imposing kind of way. Where children who don’t share the same religious values are not looked down upon for being different. That didn’t happen when I was growing up. I was often looked down upon for not eating pork and for having different values even though when I was very young I didn’t dress that differently. I think it’s right that schools try to accommodate the religious practices of their students of all faiths.

KABILIANA - How did your children, differently from you, live their cultural heritage in a foreign country? How is Canada nowadays in terms of understanding, tolerance and confrontation among different culturess?
RUKHSANA - All three of my daughters are grown and have decided to not only wear the Islamic head scarf but also cover their faces. They did this of course as a result of their own choice. They are even more strict in some ways, in terms of religious observance, than I am. I think Canada is pretty understanding and tolerant. I have travelled all across the country and seldom felt any sort of confrontation from other people. People tend to be very warm and friendly, although my daughters with the way they dress find it much less accommodating.

KABILIANA - Rukshana how in daily life faith can become a bridge of connection instead of being a barrier in human understanding and tolerance?
RUKHSANA -That’s easy. Most of the religions share similar values. Generosity, hospitality, honesty, etc. If people apply their religious principles in dealing with others, respect them, treating them as they would want to be treated, it’s really not very hard to get along at all. I constantly remind myself that God has given everyone freedom of choice, and He is the ultimate judge, and we will all return to Him. All I need to do is live my life to the best of my ability.

KABILIANA - In many countries around the world still millions of children don't have access to books, in some other countries fundamentalists regimes don't allow female to attend school... what can a writer do to encourage and promote literacy in those difficult realities?
RUKHSANA -I don’t think there’s much other people from other cultures can do to change literacy among females in other cultures. What needs to be done is for people from that culture to make the change. For example, the approach I would use in dealing with Muslims who don’t want to allow their girls to be educated is bring forward the example of the Prophet (peace be upon him) from religious scriptures and show how this is not part of our faith. Show that all Muslims, including girls, are encouraged to become educated, and point out the historical fact that many early Muslim women were scholars of the faith, so education is encouraged.

KABILIANA - If you would have raised in Pakistan do you think you would have become a writer as well?
RUKHSANA -I doubt very much that I would have been a writer in Pakistan. My extended family circumstances are not very ‘literary’. They’re mostly tradesmen. That’s one of the reasons my father took us away from Pakistan, so he could explore educational opportunities for us in Canada.

KABILIANA - In your writings, Islam seems to be your wallpaper, how is it possible to write about universal values through a specific background without influencing the reader or without imposing the reader a specific point of view?
RUKHSANA - It hasn’t been hard at all. In writing about Muslim characters I recall my own feelings of being Muslim. Being Muslim is something I take for granted, and then I write the story, tell the story within that parameter and I often try to use aspects of being Muslim to create a bit of humour or suspense. For example, with my book Muslim Child (also published by Napoleon) when writing about the prayer I wrote about a boy who has to fart during the prayer. That’s a big deal because before we pray we have to make an ablution and if we fart or go the bathroom, it nullifies the ablution and we have to go back and wash again. So in the middle of his prayer this boy has to fart but he doesn’t want to wash up and pray again so he just squeezes and hopes nothing slips out. It’s very funny. Any kid can relate to such a dilemma, so I accomplish two tasks. I educate the reader about a major aspect of Islam and I tell a funny story at the same time. I’m not imposing anything. I’m just relating this child’s circumstances.

KABILIANA - What will you suggest to who is thinking to get involved in children's writing?
RUKHSANA -I would tell anyone thinking of being a children’s author that in some ways perseverance is more important than talent. When I was beginning there were other authors who were better than I was, but they couldn’t take the rejection. I outlasted them and now I have almost eleven books published. But after a while, talent is what separates your work from the mundane, so don’t forget to keep trying new things and working at your craft.

KABILIANA - Can you tell us at least three illustrated books or children's stories you liked in the last year?
RUKHSANA - Oh I’ve read so many, it’s hard. I really liked Mo Willem’s “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus”, Christopher Paul Curtis' Elijah of Buxton, and The Tale of Despereaux. By Kate di Camillo.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Valentina for this great interview. A small correction--it's "Six Kids, Five Faiths, One Community." This is because TJ's faith is pretty indeterminate. If I had to pick, I'd say he could be the evolving humanist in the group!

Sarah Blake Johnson said...

Thanks for the info on such a fascinating book. I enjoyed the interview.
It looks like a book my family would enjoy, especially as we live overseas and my children attend international schools--and are experiencing the type of life this book delves into.

I have found what is stated in the post (about how children from different cultures are very open to sharing their beliefs and showing respect and being friends with those who are different than them) can be true.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a wonderful book! Thanks for posting this interview!!

Soggetto Nomade Kabiliana said...

Thank's Uma really I made a mistake in copying the subtitle. And yes people like TJ are those who really follow the hardest path ending often with a strong perception of the society they live in.

Thank you Sarah, it is a great read especially because it shows how children really are... they are the real mediators of this multicultural world's society, they handle better then us the confrontation among different cultures... sometimes I should say certain parents try to dismantel that kind of genuine approach they naturally have in front of the "new".
Share a good read with your children and if you wish let us know.

Welcome Suzanne and thank's for passing by.

Katia said...

Great interview, Valentina, touching upon such an important subject (as does the book.) Thank you.

Soggetto Nomade Kabiliana said...

Thank you Katia for following our interviews. Yes the book deserves and as you said the theme is very important and it's definetly easier to discuss on it through a series of stories. Good Read.