Coming of Age: Growing Up Muslim in Australia edited by Amra Pajalic and Demet Divaroren has been shortlisted for this year’s CBCA Eve Pownall Information Book Award.
Amra and Demet have brought together a diverse range of voices and experiences in this fascinating, challenging and sometimes surprising book.
From football stars to female kickboxers, established authors, activists, lawyers and even a Miss World Australia we see what it was like to grow up in the suburbs of Australia through Muslim eyes.
Teasing, bullying and isolation were sadly a common theme – whether for the food they had in their lunch boxes, their names, the clothes they wore or for their family routines, rituals and religion.
The challenge for me, in reading these wide-ranging bio’s was just how different most of their worlds were to my white, working class/middle class childhood experience. Even though we lived in and grew up in the same country, there were times, reading this book, where we seemed poles apart.
I also found myself confronting my own childhood memories and those kids in every class, in every school who were always on the outside, being teased and bullied. During my childhood they were usually the Greek, Italian or Vietnamese children, the underprivileged or those with a disability. It’s hard to look back and see the me that was too shy and too insecure of my own belonging to ever stand up to the bullies let alone defend the outsiders. I may not have joined in, but I did nothing to stop it either.
‘Marginalised youth’ at risk of being ‘radicalised’ are now regular news items in Australia. Is it possible that these stories in Coming of Age can help us to understand and identify some of these ‘at risk youths’? Can we empower children to not only stand up for themselves against bullies and harassment, but to stand up for others? How can we promote tolerance, empathy and social justice?
Surely one way is through education and information?
The more knowledge we give to our children (in particular), the more they accept that difference is normal, difference is okay and that difference is interesting not threatening.
Coming of Age provides a dozen such interesting, candid and revealing stories.
I’ve included this post in my Australian Women Writer’s challenge as half the contributors are young women.