Many of you will have heard of Michael Sugich, author of ‘Signs on the Horizon’ and ‘Hearts Turn’. His books are beautifully written, inspiring all sorts of senses of warmth, hope and wonder. As many of his narrations concern the Awliya, I asked him if he might read through Beyond the Forest. He very kindly agreed and to follow is his review.
“The tabaqat, biographies and stories of the sages of Islam, have been an inspiration to Muslims since ancient times. These vivid anecdotal narratives have inspired and educated Muslims from the earliest period of Islam down to the present. The saints or awliya of Islam have always been role models for ordinary Muslims. They share their wisdom and knowledge through their profound honesty and beautiful character. They are our exemplars and we know about them through storytelling. Yet, this powerful teaching resource and tradition has been all but lost to young people today, particularly younger children.
Gifted young British author and poetess Noor Yusuf (The Soliloquy of the Full Moon) has set out to restore this tradition with the publication of Beyond the Forest, the first in a series of ‘Adventures with the Awliya’ illustrated children’s storybooks aimed at bringing awareness of these inspiring role models to young Muslims. Written for primary school juniors (7-11 years), with richly coloured illustrations by the author and artist Zainab Ahmed, Beyond the Forest introduces the Awliya of ancient times to three young children—cousin, brother and sister—through a time machine device, which in this case is a mihrab in a retired schoolteacher’s mysterious house in the forest in the neighbourhood of the suburban family home.
In a series of adventures, the children find themselves interacting with these great Muslim saints: Ibrahim ibn Adham, Abdal Qadir al-Jilani, Rabia al-Adawiya and the South African saint Sufi Sahib (with a special guest appearance by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi). Every encounter retells an anecdote in the biographies of the saints with the young visitors as eyewitnesses. In each encounter the children learn something. This is a gentle and genial way to introduce young children to the men and women in Muslim history who have always been, and should continue to be, our role models in life. Beyond the Forest and the ensuing ‘Adventures with the Awliya’ series are an important addition to Muslim children’s literature in English.”