October 23, 2020
Rabi al-Awwal in October lends itself to a gathering of harvest filled with salawat. It falls over the growing things as a final watering, so replenishing that, even as they are drawn from the earth, the produce seems to remain alive.
If you’re wondering about my friend here, we are conferring on our favourite praises of the Prophet (s) during a trip to the farm on a rainy day.
October 20, 2020
I look forward to returning to Princeton, even if only virtually, for their annual Mawlid. This year they host Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, who is the keynote speaker, before whose talk I will do a reading from the Soliloquy. Tune in insha’allah!
August 15, 2020
The Young Muslim Writers Award is a national competition that is very close to my heart. At the start of my writing journey, I entered it three times; it was an incredible learning experience leading to so much. It has been running for over a decade and it’s open for new entries. This year, I’m very excited to be one of the judges. Come on, all you young writers – send me some stories to read! It closes on September 30th. You can enter here: https://ymwa.org.uk/2020competition/
August 6, 2020
I had a nice surprise to see the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, being presented with Beyond the Forest – as an Eid gift I expect!
July 31, 2020
Eid Mubarak! Tune into the finale of Eid Factor 2020 where hundreds of children from all over the world have sent in clips of their singing. I had an awesome time being one of the judges of this competition. Such talented children masha’allah! There is a 5-9 and 10-16 category. The older group is more in depth in terms of musical advice from the judges. I’ve been working with a youth choir for a few years, so for any aspiring singers, you can find some tips here that I’ve gathered over that time.
July 28, 2020
Many thanks to all the children who entered the Art and Writing Competition! It was very enjoyable to read the stories and poetry, and see the effort put into the artwork. All of them were keen to emphasise the importance of consideration towards others and keeping a positive attitude. I am now happy to announce the winners!
May 22, 2020
This was initially written for a documentary airing on Channel 4 on Ramadan in Lockdown. It doesn’t appear in the final cut but I would like to share it. I have tried to encapsulate, for Muslims and non-Muslims, some of the feeling of experiencing Ramadan in these conditions, as well as the spiritual blessings that are descending. There is a lot of variation in the metre and rhyme scheme; it’s a more fluid style than my previous pieces. I’ve put it into this video so it can be heard rather than read. It’s called ‘Be not Afeard’, meaning ‘don’t be afraid’, taken from a line in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
April 12, 2020
A Day out of Doors
After too long a wait, the sun has finally come. When I opened the curtains, golden light streamed into my room. I rushed round the house to open all the rest of them too, so our whole house could turn into a warm, glowing honey pot. The boys didn’t mind that I had woken them up; they started bouncing on their beds and asking (demanding) to go outside and play. None of us were keen to go into the garden though. It is overgrown with weeds and brambles; although the bluebells and forget-me-nots are lifting their heads out between the grass, we can only admire them from afar. None of us has been able to brave fixing the garden for months now and it has become a thorny jungle.
Dad said maybe it’s time we go along with the National Trust’s invitation. They had opened all their parks and gardens for people to enjoy during the isolation. But, said Mum, and this was an important but, we had to make sure we remained in that same isolation even outside the house. The pandemic wasn’t over and we had to maintain its rules. This meant no going to crowded places or around other people. I understood, of course, and I drummed it into my brothers’ heads until they were solemnly nodding my instructions back to me. We packed the car with a picnic and drove off to one of the Trust parks in the area.
April 7, 2020
Dios bendiga el Internet
As part of the Neighbourhood Watch, Mum and Dad have been taking it in turns to knock on peoples’ doors and check in. I try to go too because I think I can be quite good at helping. It certainly turned out that way today. It was five houses down on the opposite side of the road that we checked on today. The house was one of the prettiest on the whole street, with flowerpots hanging on either side of the door and pansies lining the pathway up. I was glad to see them in bloom; maybe spring was finally showing up. A woman opened the door and kept her distance just as we kept ours. “Hello there, just coming to see if you’re all doing alright and if you need anything?”
April 7, 2020
The Pie & Pastry Postal Service
I was up and dressed by 8 o’clock in the morning, even though there was no school. The minutes on the clock just wouldn’t pass fast enough. Today was the day my friends and I began our deliveries. I wasn’t due to leave for Mrs Shawwal’s until 10am so I sat on the chair by the door and waited. Mum, after reluctantly agreeing, said I should go into a good action with as many blessings as I could. To pass the time, I took down my Quran off the shelf. This was my very own Quran which I had been given I finished reading the whole thing the first time. My Quran had pictures of birds and trees, and short translations of all the passages (though I knew some Arabic words because Mrs Shawwal gave me a crash course). My favourite page was the first with the Fatiha, because it was decorated the most, so usually I just read it over and over.
April 3, 2020
Dad had mentioned starting up a ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ to look out for all the neighbours on our road. It turns out, other people had had the same idea and they were springing up all over the place. It’s like in a matter of a week, we formed a whole network where everyone was checking in on each other. For the last few days, we had been doing Uncle Brian’s shopping too. I felt a bit bad because his list was always so short. It just alternated with items like: ‘bread, milk, soup, apples, tomatoes, beans, biscuits, teabags, handwash and toilet roll.’ At the top of every list, he would write ‘cat food.’ The strange thing about that was that Uncle Brian didn’t have a cat. I asked him about it after seeing it a few times.
April 3, 2020
A Master Plan
As soon as I got home (and washed my hands (and washed them again)), I pulled out my craft paper and pens, and got a map of town on the computer screen. Here was my house, here was Mrs Shawwal’s shop. Here were my friends’ houses, and here were the houses of some old people I knew. My master plan, as I called it, was simple. Mrs Shawwal would prepare packages. My friends and I would collect them at different times of the day. We would cycle there, pick up the packages and deliver them to the houses in our area that needed them. No-one would have to go out, my friends would all be on separate routes – so no risk of being together – and all of us would take the precautions advised. The winning part of my plan – to get the parents on board – was this simple, logical syllogism:
March 28, 2020
Business out of Bond
Mrs Shawwal put the kettle on. She was very much like most of the other old ladies I knew. Roundish in figure, wrapped up in a shawl and a headscarf like a babushka doll, very talkative, hospitable and generally confused by slang or techy talk. The weirdest thing about her though, which broke all my expectations, was that she loved watching zombie apocalypse movies. I don’t even remember how it came up, just that it left me speechless.
March 26, 2020
Empty Spaces, Abandoned Places
I decided to phone Mrs Shawwal because she doesn’t have any one really to look out for her. Her husband died a few years ago and she hasn’t got any children. She might have brothers and sisters but I think they live in Egypt. However, when I checked ‘Dalliance contact’ online, I couldn’t find any number listed. I specified a bit with ‘Dalliance café shop contact’ and ‘Dalliance shop Mrs Shawwal’ and ‘Dalliance café shop Mrs Shawwal contact number’ but only weird and irrelevant things came up.
I told Mum that we should drive by, but she’s worried about taking the boys out since we can’t leave them here.
March 25, 2020
School, Work, Home
The house is in chaos. I think we are more in danger inside than out! Dad’s office has moved to the study room which means that I can’t work there because he needs quiet to have phone meetings and write reports. It’s not like the sound of my pencil on paper is going to be much of a racket, but everyone is a little on edge. My schoolroom has been moved to the kitchen table. The teachers are emailing us work every day, but we still can’t see our friends. It’s like the worst of both worlds.
March 22, 2020
Tea with Milk
6pm: Dad goes to neighbour’s.
Dad visited Uncle Brian at six o’clock. I know this because I am marking down events meticulously. People have been telling me that we are living through history and that it hasn’t been like this since the Second World War. Because we learnt about that at school, I know how important record-keeping can be so people in the future understand what it’s like to live through a Global Emergency.
When Uncle Brian opened the door, Dad stood a few metres away. Sometimes you don’t know you have the virus until you’ve already spread it to others, so we can’t do polite things anymore like hug, shake hands or actually greet someone at the door. Old folk like Uncle Brian are too old-fashioned to be cautious like this though. He invited dad in for tea and dad had to just smile and say maybe another time. Uncle Brian is a real sport. We share a front lawn and he always mows both sides. He’d probably mow the back too if there wasn’t a fence. He also rolls our bins in after the rubbish and recycling have been collected.
March 20, 2020
There is only one word on everyone’s minds at the moment. It’s on the news, on our phones, in our conversations, check-pointing us at supermarkets, schools and airports. It seems uncomfortable to talk about other things when the whole world is gripped in crisis, so the other option is to talk about the very same thing in a more comfortable way.
Here is a story: it is the semi-fictional journal entries of a child, based on what is happening. Unable to engage in the ‘war effort’ in many ways, here is one in which I can. The stories will come in chapters, or snippets between the episodes of breaking news, for calmer reading amidst the panic of the pandemic.
Things are moving faster than the chapters can keep up with, but let’s see how it goes. The story will take inspiration from real life scenarios; a little of the sad and grave aspects, a lot of the uplifting, rallying together aspects, all told from the voice of someone who kinda does and doesn’t get it at the same time.
Monday saw the most recent event for the Beyond the Forest book tour in Barking, East London. I was honestly feeling the nerves as I walked into the room to see nearly a hundred children loudly talking and laughing. When there are adults in the room, there’s automatically a bit more calm, but an exclusive child audience can be very unnerving – particularly when said children range from 5 to 17 years old!
However, since the pre-schoolers and sixth formers alike had come, I wanted to engage them all as best I could. We talked about the book, the Awliya, the ideas behind the stories and the motivations behind the people. We talked about stories from our heritage – both religious and cultural – and how a spiritual & internal life can go hand in hand with everything else they have going on. There was some conversation about the creative process and how talents and interests can be developed, whether or not they were interesting in writing (which many of them actually weren’t!). (more…)
March 2, 2020
Coming up next week! If you’re in the East London area, come by for the next Beyond the Forest book event. If you have / work with / are children, we’ll be talking about literature, creativity and belonging, and having a Q&A and a story reading. No registration required. Hope to see you there!
February 26, 2020
As part of our national UK book tour of Beyond the Forest, we are proud to present our next city… Cardiff!
The Muslim Council of Wales in collaboration with Cardiff and Vale College and Nur al-Habib Foundation bring a unique opportunity to Wales to experience a new direction in Islamic Children’s Literature. Meet the author, Noor Yusuf, and get your signed copy.
Promoting positive role models & diversity in children’s literature. (more…)
February 25, 2020
On Saturday we held a book event for Beyond the Forest in Sheffield, hosted by The Hubb. With some 60-70 attendees and a whole host of children, it was a very enjoyable day. Along with an interview and book reading for parents, children and youth workers, there was also an activity for the children afterwards. I had expected a group of 6-10 year olds, but was enthused to see an entire variety of kids, the oldest being 13 and the youngest 3 years old! More surprising, all of them, even the pre-schoolers were fully engaged, asking all about the creative writing process, advice on reading and creating their own stories, more technical questions on the particulars of publishing and even leading into some profound discussion on spirituality and our purpose (when did kids get so philosophical??). Here are some highlights:
During an activity where we went around the room, making up the next line of an improvised story, some excellent sentences were given ranging from ‘the wind howled sending a cry through the trees’ by a 12 year old boy, to ‘suddenly a shriek came from the darkness, breaking the deafening silence’ by a 10 year old girl. It evoked such an atmosphere, and was followed by a series of descriptions as ‘the wolves were howling, the snow was falling, the air was freezing’ to which twin 4 year olds added ‘the doors were squeaking’ and ‘the flowers were growing.’ (more…)
February 20, 2020
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. (more…)
February 15, 2020
Upcoming Sheffield Book Launch for Beyond the Forest!
The Hubb in Conjunction with Nur al-Habib Foundation.
A unique opportunity to experience a new direction in Islamic children’s literature. Featuring the talk:
Read! (To Your Children)
The Centrality of Stories in Islamic Education
By Shaykh Dr Asim Yusuf (more…)
January 5, 2020
The cover of Beyond the Forest depicts a white fawn and there is a significance to this. As a character, the fawn plays a small but key role in drawing the children into the dense Coppice in which their adventures begin.
The description of a creature, sometimes specifically white, and especially deer, is a motif found across Celtic legends. Encounters with these creatures usually prefigure meetings with otherworldly beings – in this case the Awliya Allah of days gone by. Similar traditions are found in folklore across the British Isles, where such creatures appear as triggers for the beginning of an inward transformation or represent the lofty goal of humanity’s spiritual quest. (more…)
December 15, 2019
Many children who have grown up near a woodland have, at some point, been sure of the residence of some mysterious people or creatures within it. My father once told me how, on a dare, he had gone searching for a fabled giant who lived in a cottage in the woodland behind his school. My mother’s childhood home also backed onto a forest, giving a magical dwelling to all the characters she read about in her childhood. And I was entirely convinced that the tree at the bottom of my garden was the real Faraway Tree.
The thing about trees is that they are mystical enough, without the addition of any mythical beings. The trees themselves are old. The soil from which they grow is ancient. They have witnessed the life and death of innumerable creatures, undergone countless cycles of growth and change across the seasons. Who knows what angelic gardeners roam between them, tending to them unseen, and increasing them in their blessing? (more…)
November 1, 2019
Suddenly they heard the sound of hooves and horns. Men appeared between the trees, armed with bows and arrows.
Jem turned to Mika. “I don’t think we’re in your forest anymore.”
When Jem goes to spend his summer holidays with his cousins in the countryside, he‘s expecting adventures. But not like these… (more…)
by Andrew Booso
The soliloquy has an inspirational English history, from its use in the writings of Shakespeare to Gang Starr’s Soliloquy of Chaos. In the same way that Shakespeare and Gang Starr present contrasting forms of western art, one does not often connect a mawlid (the celebration of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him) with the Prophetic Mosque in modern-day Madina, as summed-up in the contrasting perspectives of Sufism and Wahhabism; but my reading of the wonderful Soliloquy of the Full Moon: An Original English Mawlid (Nur al-Habib Productions, 2015) by Noor Yusuf in such a blessed and apt location represented to me how polar opposites can be so often crossed in significant part if we truly communicate with one another. This eloquent and moving piece of art—inspired by Barzanji, the Dala’il al-khayrat, Shakespeare and Milton, amongst others—is a testimony to the importance of original and good Islamic art in English in this age, especially if the art aims to uplift people’s spiritual essences and not merely entertain.
There is no better introduction in English to the mawlid than Marion Holmes Katz’s The Birth of the Prophet Muḥammad: Devotional Piety in Sunni Islam (Routledge, 2007). She argues that Sunni mawlid works developed after the Shiites, and the earliest Sunni work of this type seems to be by Quda‘i (d. 454/1062), while Ahmad Sa‘ad argues in the Soliloquy’s preface that Waqidi (d. 207 AH) and Abu Bakr ibn Abi ‘Asim al-Shaybani (d. 287 AH) wrote such works—yet Katz talks of the ‘pseudo-Wāqidī narrative’ (p. 37). Nonetheless, Katz highlights the later widespread practice of such celebrations in the Muslim world and the many treatises that were composed for public performance on such occasions. The Soliloquy of the Full Moon seems to be the first original English attempt along the lines of the texts popular in Muslim lands (as noted by Muhammad Isa Waley in the foreword to the Soliloquy), such as the mawlid of Barzanji (translated into English by my old dear friend and teacher Dean Othman, Manaqib Productions, 2009). Thus the Soliloquy covers many of the conventional mawlid topics: the lineage, birth, nursing, Ascension, features and character of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him); and is then interspersed with songs (qasidas). (more…)
February 6, 2019
Competition time 🤓
This is a call to those around the world who have and recite the English Mawlid. I have received pictures of the Soliloquy in Makkah, Madinah and Jerusalem but I want to expand the collage, so here is a fun little challenge for anyone with a book and a phone.
1. Find a prominent place or landmark in your country or city – this can be a mountain, monument, building, symbol or something that represents where you come from. (more…)
February 6, 2019
Delighted to announce the next international performance of The Soliloquy of the Full Moon at Princeton University in America. We are being hosted on Saturday the 9th of February in the Princeton Chapel, along with the excellent singer Sidi Nader Khan, for a day of love and celebration of the Prophet, peace upon him. This is an open call for those in and around the New Jersey area to come and bring friends!
September 7, 2018
A few months ago, I gave a copy of The Soliloquy of the Full Moon – the English Mawlid – to someone who seemed at a crossroads about religion, having come from a Catholic family, but who had been influenced by Islam as well as other spiritual paths. He was glad to receive it, promising that he would read it as I asked. Recently I had a conversation with him, asking if he had managed to do so.
‘That’s an interesting thing,’ he said. ‘I haven’t yet.’ I was a little disheartened, though I kept my expression clear. I thought he would say he hadn’t the time but he continued with a surprising story. (more…)
June 22, 2018
The Soliloquy of the Full Moon
The First Original English Mawlid
Love of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, is the beating heart of religion. The purpose of mawlid celebration is precisely to inspire this deep love of and reverence for the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, – to transcend outward aspects of his words and deeds to reveal something of his inward reality. To assist this noble endeavour, for over a thousand years, traditional works of mawlid have been composed in every language spoken by believers. English-speaking Muslims – long bereft of a work to call their own – can now fully enjoy the experience of mawlid in the highest rhythms and prose of their native tongue.
The Soliloquy of the Full Moon is an epic poem composed over twelve nights in Rabi al-Awwal 1436H. Over a thousand lines, it celebrates the virtues of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, the signs preceding his advent, the wonders of his birth and nursing, the first revelations and his night journey and ascension. It is the first work of its kind written in the English language – Barzanjian in form, Shakespearean in cadence – composed by the author at the age of only 15. May it be read, celebrated and reflected upon for generations to come.