Asalamualaikum Sister Umm Marwan. Please tell us something about yourself?  

Wa’alaikumassalam..First and foremost, jazakillahu khair for having me in your series of author interviews, Naila. It is an honor to be featured on your wonderful blog.

My name is Rabiya Fahma Dawood but I go by ‘Umm Marwan Ibrahim’ in the virtual world. I am a wife, a mother to three little ones, a freelance editor, and a children’s book author.

I was born as the youngest of three siblings and lived my whole life in the UAE. My parents raised us with strong Islamic principles and always stressed on family unity. They gave us enough freedom to be kids but also made sure that we were aware of our boundaries. 

My older sister Umm Afraz (Author, & Quran Life Coach) and brother Shaik bin Dawood (founder of a novel mobile app) have gone on to make their own dreams come true. They continue to be the inspiration and guiding partners I need in life. May Allah bless them in all their endeavors. Aameen.

For the most part, I had the privilege of a fun childhood and carefree teenage years. May Allah reward our parents immensely and shower His Mercy on them. Aameen.

By the Grace of Allah, I graduated from high school as the Gulf-topper in the Humanities stream, and from the Islamic Online University (now known as International Open University), completing my Bachelor’s in Islamic Studies as the second-rank holder of the batch.

Thanks to the tons of opportunities provided in the UAE as well as the internet, I’ve tried my hand at quite some stuff from volunteering at Islamic events, to teaching at Islamic weekend schools, conducting webinars, counseling at sisters-only institutes, social media-managing for Islamic organizations, and blog writing at IIPH. 

But I found my passion and calling in editing Islamic books. And as a mother and homeschooler, I enjoy the flexibility that freelancing gives me. All Praise is due to Allah.

 

Jazakillahu khayr for your kind words Umm Marwan.

So were you an avid reader growing up or was reading something you started later in life?

I was a die-hard bookworm when I was young. I used to read a lot of horror and mystery.

It began with R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps, and as I grew older, it shifted to his Fear Street, and later, Sidney Sheldon’s thrillers and Dean Koontz’s mysteries. I was also a fan of tear-jerkers.

Now, after motherhood (read: consecutive babies), I don’t find as much time to devote to reading as I’d love. But when I *can* sit myself down with a book, it would be either for some non-fiction (Islamic or secular) books or for short stories with mind-blowing plot twists.

 

What is the importance of reading? 

Reading, I’d say, is crucial for our growth and development–not just intellectual, but emotional and spiritual, as well.

Reading does a lot more than just broaden our vocabulary (which is great, too, in and of itself). But it also helps us to broaden our insights and perspective, and grow as a human.

When we read fiction, we are exposed to different cultures, different sentiments, different thought processes. And amazingly, this subconcsciously strengthens our emotional capacities of say, empathizing with others and their situations.

With non-fiction books, either our knowledge increases, or our productivity, or both. And in many instances, we achieve a sense of peace.

 

How can one be a good reader?  

Read regularly. Even if it is just a little every week. 

Also, this may be very obvious, but read what interests you. When the topic is something that grips your attention, it’d be much easier to develop a habit of reading.

On the same note, I’d like to stress on something (which I don’t see enough talk around): Choosing good books. Good reading comes with good, healthy, and wholesome content; not trashy, explicit, or inauthentic ones (if we’re talking deen).

And for that, reviews from awesome reviewers like you, dear Naila, come in handy 🙂

 

Truly humbled by your kind words sister Umm Marwan. 

How do we inculcate reading habits in children?

The best way to inculcate reading habits in little ones would be to read to/with/beside them.

Let them choose the book to read from your bookshelf, allow them to hold it, flip its pages, and basically feel a connection with it. Let them look at the pictures and discuss about it. Let them have fun with it! There are a lot of tips out there to inculcate reading habits in children. I personally love @abzeezbooks.

 

How important is it for an author to be a reader? 

Let me put it this way: An author must be a friend of books before she can write one. Authors must especially be aware of how the books of their genre are written. So if someone wants to write a children’s book, they may (and should) go ahead and do lots of research on how children’s books are written. But you should know that the first (and surefire) research technique (even before signing up for a master class) would be to just pick up a book and read it yourself.

Also, if you’re putting your work out into the world, you must know what already is out there (and by inference, what isn’t) so that you can deliver something that is both unique and relate-able at the same time.

 

Please tell us about your writing journey? Did you always want to be a writer? 

Oh, yes. I always loved writing. I used to keep lots of diary entries during my school years. English was my all-time favorite subject and I would struggle to keep my essays and letter-writing pieces within the word limit during exams.

Then as I grew up and got attached to Islam more, I developed an affinity to writing Islamic articles. You can find many of them at the blog at IIPH (International Islamic Publishing House).

So writing was always a passion and ambition. But becoming a published author was never really a mission more than it was a dream–which has now turned into a reality by the Grace of Allah.

 

Do you have a writing schedule?

The best time of the day when I can sit to write is in the mornings when my kids are asleep. The atmosphere is quiet and the mood is calm for me to be able to concentrate and get some work done.

 

Do you have/need a proper place to write? 

My ideal set-up for day-to-day work would be at a desk indoors, but I very much welcome (and need) a shift to the outdoor setting of a park every now and then.

 

Tell us something about your work with editing manuscripts. How did that come about?

As I had mentioned earlier, I always had a love for the English language. I can recall how I especially loved one particular exercise in my English exams which involved spotting and correcting the errors in a paragraph.

Years later, I realized that my hobby was actually a thing. I found out that I had a liking to and a knack for something called ‘editing’. Alhamdulillah, since then, I pursued editing opportunities from places like IOU and Muslimaat Magazine, and built my experience in the field under professional guidance.

Once I felt confident enough to venture on my own and make this a freelancing profession, I built my portfolio on WordPress: https://ummarwanportfolio.wordpress.com/

Alhamdulillah, now I work with independent authors as well as organizations in spreading the message and essence of Islam through the written word. Till date, I have edited (copy and developmental, combined) 2 fiction, 2 creative non-fiction, around 15 children’s picture books, and an Arabic-English translated booklet.

One of my mentors, sister Maria Karim, had said that I find pleasure in editing–a task that many usually find “mind-numbing”. She was absolutely right. Editing is both a passion and a calling of mine, I believe.

 

Tell us something about your first book? 

‘Dawood Loves His Books’ (published by Djarabi Kitabs Publishing) is a bright and colorfully illustrated (thanks to my talented and lovely illustrator, Nolitri Devi) rhyme story that aims to introduce children to the concept of the Qur’an, the role it plays in the life of a Muslim, the things that Allah has talked about in it, and also gives a description of Allah Himself using Surah al-Ikhlas as a base—everything a child would need to know about the Qur’an and Allah in the early years of his life.

So there’s actually an interesting backstory to this book. ‘Dawood’ is the name of my nephew. When he was around 7 years old, he couldn’t muster up an interest in reading. There was one day when he made a huge fuss to do his schoolwork because he needed to read. Seeing all of this, I had wanted to encourage him to develop an interest in reading and so I penned a short poem called ‘Dawood Loves to Read’.

Whether or not it helped my dear nephew then, this poem sparked something within me and I decided to turn it into something that would be beneficial to the kids of the Ummah at large. That is when ‘Dawood Loves His Books’ came to be.

I realized that our toddlers may know of the Qur’an when they see us reciting it or when we teach them surahs, but I wondered if they knew about its message; if they knew what Allah wants to tell us through it; and if they understood that the Qur’an is basically, their Creator speaking to them directly.

 

Why a children’s book?

As parents, teachers, and caretakers, we wish to educate our children about Allah and Islam right from their early years. We strive to have their foundational years strengthened with the love of Islam.

It’s very true that when you educate a child, you’re helping lay the foundation of the future leaders. As a former teacher (although, ‘once a teacher, always a teacher’, am I right?) and mother to young ones myself, I find the concept of writing and publishing children’s books to be highly rewarding.

With Dawood Loves His Books, I hope that when children read/listen to this book they realize how special the Qur’an is, and why it is so important in our lives. 

I hope they understand that even though the surahs they’ve memorized or have heard the grown-ups reciting are in Arabic (a language they may not know), it has a beautiful message that can be clearly understood and implemented in life.

I hope they get to learn a bit more about the One who gave them life and everything else in it. Ultimately, I hope that this book sows a seed of love in their hearts for their Creator and His Book.

 

What were the difficulties you faced when writing your book?

The story in ‘Dawood Loves His Books’ is narrated in rhyme. So you can imagine that I faced some difficulties when it came to getting certain lines to rhyme. And besides writing itself, I found some hiccups along each step of the publishing process too–from getting hold of a publisher, to marketing, to contacting stockists. The journey is ongoing, and I still have a lot to learn.

 

What helped you during those difficult times?

In order to steer around the issue of rhyme, I opted to go with a near-rhyme (also called ‘slant-rhyme’ or ‘lazy-rhyme’) style, so that it would give me a bit of leeway with word assonance without having to compromise on the intended message of the story.

With regards to the other issues I faced during the publishing process, all Praise is due to Allah, He would make a way out for me (as He always does for us) one way or another.

 

Were there any misconceptions you had before publishing your book? 

Not exactly a misconception, but an unsaid assumption; that your book could be made easily available to different parts of the world once you have published it.

 

What is your opinion on writer’s block?

Feeling stuck when writing a piece is something that is absolutely normal. It’s part of the writing process and shouldn’t be stressed over when it does hit. What I do every time I feel like I’ve hit a dead end is take a break, try as much as possible not to think about the written piece, and return to it with fresh eyes. And most often than not, I’m able to plough through with a clearer vision and greater ideas.

 

What’s been the most challenging part of getting your book published? 

I’d say it was choosing the publishing route right at the beginning. There are so many options now–from indie publishing houses, to traditional ones, to the completely self-publishing route.

It was tough weighing the pros and cons, as well as the feasibility of certain things, before I could make a decision.

 

What would you do differently on your next project? 

I may try out a different publishing route just to see which one suits me best insha Allah.

 

Any upcoming projects you are working on?

Yes! Got a few ideas, one of which I’d be working on soon insha Allah. Without giving away too much, let me just say that it’s another children’s book–which is based on a true story!

And just like Dawood Loves His Books features a surah (Surah al-Ikhlas) in the middle of the book, this next one will feature a Prophetic du’a so our little ones find it easy to memorize and use in their lives, insha Allah.

 

Self publishing or publishing through a publishing house? What would you choose & Why?

There’s no right or wrong answer to this. It depends on each author and their specific circumstances, opportunities, and feasibility to get things done a certain way.

In fact, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for multiple books of a single author, either. An author may find self-publishing suits them at one point, but publishing through a publishing house at another point in their life.

Personally, though I prefer self-publishing as well as publishing through indie publishers over traditional publishing.

 

Paper-back or Kindle? Which one do you like & why?

Paperback, because well, the feel of the pages.

I don’t have a say about kindle because I haven’t given it a try yet. So you never know, I may take a liking (maybe even a preference?) to it.

 

Which is your favorite book & why?

Don’t Be Sad by Dr. Aid al-Qarni is an all-time favorite of mine. It’s a classic with which I have quite a fond memory. I remember feeling soothed, consoled, and filled with so much hope whilst reading the book. It is truly a gem.

If I Should Speak by Umm Zakiyyah and Here With You by Umm Afraz Muhammed are both heart-touching Islamic novels. Truly unmatched.

 

Who are your favorite writer(s) & why?

This may be a non-traditional answer, but I absolutely love the writings of a number of fellow sisters in my social media, such as Seema Umm Rayyan, Tum Keen, Sanjida Shaheed, Manal Wazeer (and so many more). Their writings have touched me multiple times and I pray that Allah continues to bless their pen. Aameen.

 

Your opinion on the Muslim/Islamic books being published?

I love seeing the growth in the number and frequency of Islamic books being published throughout the world.

Having said that, I should mention that we, as Muslim/Islamic authors, do need to up our game in terms of producing authentic content that is par excellence. This also includes making sure that the illustrations are top-notch when it comes to picture books.

 

What tips would you like to give aspiring authors?

  1. Set your intention. Why are you writing this book? What is your objective with it? What do you want your target audience to get out of it? Work your content accordingly.
  2. Do not shy away from self-editing.
  3. Get professional editor/proofreader/illustrator to work on your manuscript. (Friends and family don’t suffice–unless they’re professionals)
  4. Know that it’s just the beginning of the publishing process that’s the toughest. Once you’re over that hill, things would roll relatively easy.
  5. Do your istikhaarah every step of the way.

 

Jazakillahu khayr sister Umm Marwan. 

Wishing you all the best, Naila!  May Allah facilitate things for you. Aameen.

 

Sister Umm Marwan’s book can be purchased via the following links:

Amazon: www.amazon.com/dp/1947148354

Bookstore: www.djarabikitabs.com/bookstore/dawood-loves-his-books

You may even contact your local (or online) bookstore to find out if they stock her beautiful book. You may checkout my review of it here: www.nailasdiary.com/book-review-dawood-loves-his-books/

 

Sister Umm Marwan can be contacted via:

Website: https://ummarwanportfolio.wordpress.com/

Facebook: www.facebook.com/umm.marwanibrahim

Instagram: www.instagram.com/umm.marwanibrahim/

 

Hope you enjoyed the interview. Anything new you learnt from it? Do share your feedback below.

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