One of the most beautiful, freeing elements of writing is that our options are endless. We can write about ourselves, or people we know very well. We can write about others, people we’ve never met, living lives we’ve only envisioned. We can write to shed light, open eyes to see new things, some positive and uplifting, others negative. We can tell stories of the pious, or the sinner. Our imaginations know no limits!
For example, I’m currently in the middle of a story that’s so juicy, it’ll have my audience dreaming of what may happen next! It’s about the son of a Native American tribal chief who suffers from kleptomania – he robs all the members of his tribe late at night. When a member of the neighbouring tribe exposes him, the Chief is put in a difficult position about how to deal with the scandal.
You may be thinking, “Interesting topic. Are you familiar with Native American tribes and their systems of laws and penalties?”
And I’ll say, “Well, I did some research: I read some books, looked up some info on the internet, and I even managed to interview one Native American chief.”
Upon learning that, you’re undoubtedly thinking one of two things. Either you’re of the opinion that, “As long as you’ve done your research and portray that information in your story, then go for it.” Or you’re shouting out, “Learning about it through books and interviews does not make you an expert and you may find that you misrepresent, even unintentionally.” So which side is right? Just because we CAN write about anything, does that give us the RIGHT to? As someone who is not at all familiar with the Native American way of life, should I be writing about them, highlighting shortcomings in a scenario which I’ve completely made up? My personal opinion, is that it all depends on our intentions and the manner in which we fulfil them.
Being a mindful reader will lead you to be a more conscious writer.
As we are, first and foremost, Muslims, then our intention upon beginning any task, should be that it is for the sake of Allah SWT. You can undoubtedly have more than one intention: I want to write this to increase non-Muslim awareness/understanding of Islam AND I want to make people laugh, because laughter leads to happiness. I want to increase Muslim faith AND I want to reach a wider audience, I want to get reactions for my writing. I want to show support for my sisters and brothers in humanity, in hopes that perhaps one day they will be my sisters and brothers in Islam. I want to expose the crimes against humanity by the enemies of Islam so that societies will recognise that they are enemies to all of humankind. By making sure your main intention is for Allah SWT you will be more aware of how others will interpret it.
So what does that mean for me, in my story? I wanted to write about the Native Americans because so much of their daily lives coincide with our beliefs as Muslims; to be kind not only to one-another, but also to the earth. I wanted to highlight some of the similarities and, maybe by focussing on them as my audience, I could increase their awareness of Islam. Can I do that in the story I’ve outlined?
If I focus on laws which have been broken and strict consequences which must be applied, and depict my characters as an austere people, then I will probably fail all of my intentions. If I highlight them as heretics who only find God when an outsider comes to them, then I will surely lose them as an audience. But maybe, if I focus on the responsibilities all humans have to fulfil ramifications for their actions, understanding our own shortcomings through repentance and forgiveness, then maybe I can pull off an entertaining story that fulfils its purpose.
Just as you must be aware of your intentions and your message as a writer, you must be equally vigilant as a reader. Most stories, even fiction, require you to read between the lines to get to the author’s intentions. Just as you would keep questioning yourself as you write, as you read you should also keep asking, “Why is the author writing this? Why is so-and-so the hero and not the other character? What is the author’s purpose? Does she fulfill it? Do I agree with it?” Being a mindful reader will lead you to be a more conscious writer.
Always be aware that a story is never just a story; there will always be a message that you illustrate, probably more than one. By making your intention first and foremost for the sake of Allah SWT, He will bless your words so that the outcome of your piece will provide benefit both for you and your readers.
“And it is He who has made you successors upon the earth and has raised some of you above others in rank that He may try you through what He has given you.
Indeed, your Lord is swift in penalty; but indeed, He is Forgiving and Merciful.”
The Qur’an, Surah Al-’An’aam (Chapter of the Cattle) 6:165
Hend Hegazi is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in magazines such as Azizah and SISTERS. She was born and raised in Attleboro, Massachusetts and graduated from Smith College with a degree in biology. Her first novel, Normal Calm, was published in January 2014 by FB Publishing. Hend currently resides in Alexandria, Egypt with her husband and four children. You can catch her blogging at hendhegazi.wordpress.com.