Book By Hiba Masood
Have you ever held a dream so precious, so seemingly impossible a feat that you feel your heart race in anticipation of confiding in someone? And what then of the person in whom you confide? Who would you choose?
One day a long time ago, a girl on the brink of her tenth birthday said to her father ‘Papa I want to be a writer’. I know that feeling because this girl was me. As a child you are asked countless times ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ and most children ‘play’ through the roles of adulthood imagining what they might one day do as a real ‘grown up’. Teacher, Police Officer, Fireman, Doctor… but it is rare to find a child who knows, like really knows what they want to ‘be’. And so it is with the latest book from Author Hiba Masood – Drummer Girl, a children’s book that offers a vision of truly listening to the child and giving them space to be their own leader, encouraging them to march to… yes…the beat of their own drum.
Famous for her hilarious and often times vulnerable posts on the widely popular Drama Mama, here in Drummer Girl, Masood pens a poignant tale of a girl with a dream and a plan to make it come true.
She weaves a narrative and sets the scene with the finesse of a storyteller who has grown up loving , hearing and telling stories. We first meet our little drummer girl, years after her drumming days have passed, she is Grandma Najma sitting on the steps of her small white house with the brick red roof, tapping strong wrinkled hands against knees carefully hidden under the folds of her long red skirt.
In her totally immersive story telling style Masood manages to make us lock eyes with Grandma Najma and with that one glimpse through her brown eyes ‘the exact shade of a mabroor date’, we are transported back to when Grandama Najma was a little girl, living in that same white house with her Baba, her Mama and two brothers.
Young Najma leads a typical village life and like all children looks forward to Ramadan every year. She delights in the rituals of Ramadan -sighting the Ramadan moon, stringing up fanoos lights, drinking fragrant cardamom tea in fancy tea cups and falling asleep to the sound of night prayers at the village mosque but her favourite part by far is waking up to the sound of the ‘musaharati’.
This is a man walking through the neighbourhood beating a drum and calling worshippers to wake for the pre-dawn meal. In Muslim populated countries with their tradition of the Adhan – the Muslim call to prayer – and in days before alarm clocks and smart-phones a musaharati was an essential thread weaving through the fabric of the festive month of Ramadan.
‘Every night in Ramadan, Najma would hear her father’s name being called out by the musaharati at their door’ ‘wake , o’Ali! Wake o’household of Ali, the time for the Lord’s bounty is upon you!’
The illustrations shine as much as the story endearing us to this little girl and the dream she secretly carries within her heart. That of becoming the ‘Musaharati’, beating the drum and voicing a call to waken the people for the most important and blessed meal of their fasting day ~ Sahoor (the pre-dawn meal).
She would hum the tunes of the musaharati and imagine walking through the neighbourhood waking up her friends and neighbours
‘Rise up from your beds let sleep leave from you,
stand up in prayer let your lord be pleased with you’
One day when Najma is twelve years old and Ramadan preparations have begun she feels a little troubled and takes her worries to her father.
She put her head on his knee and he stroked her hair, ‘Yes Najma? What is it that worries you?’
‘This dream is calling to me Baba. It has been calling to me for years.’
Yes she wants to be a musaharati but in her society, this is not so simple. Gender biases dictate what is permissible and even Najma’s friends think she has ‘lost her mind’. As with all things never ventured before, self doubt makes her wonder if it seems a little silly or foolish.
No woman had ever been a musaharati in her neighbourhood. In fact no woman had ever been a musaharati anywhere as far as she knew.
There is a tenderness between father and daughter that is depicted lovingly and brought alive by the illustrations. Tenderness and love and also a respect and yearning for approval. Like any girl on the brink of teenagehood, not sure of her father’s support but seeking it.
Baba tapped her gently on the nose and slowly smiled. Well… I don’t see why not.
Award winning illustrator Hoda Hadadi’s mixed media expressions, make not only Najma embarking on self realisation come alive, but also her impish brothers who constantly tease her for her dream and kind eyed father who chooses to stand with (and literally walk with) his daughter, even if it means going against the grain of his community. His approval means everything to Najma and soon an opportunity arises for her to take on her new role.
‘Like beads slipping by on a tasbeeh, the days passed and Ramadan came closer and closer’’
As her clear true voice rings out through the night air, there are neighbours who are astonished ‘was it really a girl’s voice they had heard? Some are scornful and laugh at her, others more welcoming throw candy and sweets down from their balconies in a gesture of appreciation. As the month progresses and the drummer girl continues to wake the faithful, all of them are drawn to her bravery and determination. Derision turns to love, respect and a collective neighbourhood pride and admiration.
After that first night, Najma has a beautiful dream, that is all affirming and deeply soul satisfying , an answer to silence all her doubts.
From thenceforth Najma is Drummer Girl, as much part of her neighbours Ramadan as their dates, their cardamom coffee and their nightly prayers.
And slowly we too walk with Drummer Girl, just as her Baba used to…
As the years passed her baba began staying at home, and she would go alone or with her brothers. As more years passed Najma’s husband began walking with her. Later her children walked with her, after that, her grandchildren.
And just like that we reach Grandma Najma again, at the same white house with the brick red roof and join her sitting on the front steps.
This beautiful almost cinematic imagery of life surrounded by love and the representation of a supportive, feminist father might be my favourite part of the whole book. For what is a good life if not surrounded by love and what is good work if not a labour of love?
The mood of the book is joyful throughout. A Ramadan story yes, with all the seasonal and festive feels, but the soul of the story lies in many motifs ~ believing in yourself, determination and being true to oneself in the face of ridicule and underlying it all a father’s role in building up a daughter’s confidence and self esteem.
Right from the start, both my six year old (son) and three year old (daughter) were enamoured by the story and illustrations. Gone are the days when parents starved for representation and Islamic Literature for their children would pounce upon any book remotely passable as identifying with their child. In recent years it has been heartening to see availability of more options especially with strong female protagonists. From picture story books to YA novels, the world of Muslim Children’s Literature is continuing to grow and Hiba Masood’s Drummer Girl is sure to win a place as a future classic amongst this genre.
You can buy a copy of Drummer Girl from here
We were so inspired by Drummer Girl that we have decided to make her the focus of our FIRST EVER GIVEAWAY! Watch this space for a Drummer Girl X Mamanushka themed contest. Details next week! (InshAllah!)