Platforming Muslim stories and experiences: Interview with the founder of Muslim Voices in Publishing, Nazima Abdillahi

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What led you to set up Muslim Voices in Publishing, and what are its aims? 

Part of me wanted to create a space that would allow me to connect with other Muslims within UK publishing, but another part wanted to build a platform that celebrates the work of Muslim publishing professionals and creatives. So I thought ‘why not do both?’ And that’s how Muslim Voices in Publishing came to be. In simpler terms, I think the main aim is to platform Muslim stories and experiences.

To what extent does the UK publishing industry feel like a welcoming space for Muslim people at the moment?  

Islamophobia is a very serious and very real issue in present day society. Being Muslim, especially a Muslim woman, is often equated with being oppressed, and that’s ridiculous – as is any stereotype that’s applied to an entire underrepresented demographic. Sadly, these stereotypical narratives are common and how we are perceived by society has a real effect on work life within any industry – including publishing. After all, our unconscious biases and perceptions do not occur in a vacuum that can be left on the doorstep on the way into the office, but actually influence our decisions more than we realise.

Fortunately, there are difficult – but necessary – discussions on inclusivity and accessibility happening within the publishing industry. Hopefully this will result in increased accessibility and further transparency, opening up the world of publishing. I think it’s important to recognise the seemingly small accomplishments that leave a big impact, too. With Ramadan around the corner, I’ve heard endless stories about the time back in 2019 when BAME in Publishing and Hachette’s THRIVE teamed up to bring Iftar (the meal at sunset when Muslims break fast after a long day of no food or drink!) to people at all levels within the industry – junior staff and senior staff, Muslims and non-Muslims alike – and I can’t help but feel hopeful, really.

How does the industry need to change, and what steps should be taken to bring these changes about?  

I think this is a question a lot of people have been trying to tackle, and more so in recent years. As a creative industry, publishing should be fuelled by diverse ideas and therefore, diversity should exist at every level. There is more work to be done on making publishing more accessible, for authors and illustrators as well as those interested in being part of the inner workings of publishing (whether that’s editorial, marketing, sales, design, rights etc.) However, I, personally, think that there is often such a strong focus on ‘increasing numbers’ that companies forget the importance of internal reflection – do ALL your current employees feel seen? welcome? heard? Of course, there need to be efforts in place which encourage individuals to join publishing via non-traditional routes, but there also needs to exist an accommodating and non-toxic workplace environment for them to flourish.

Are there any key advocates or change-makers whose work you’d like to highlight?

Thankfully, there are several individuals putting in the work to make publishing more welcoming and generally, just a more joyful industry to work in. However, I would like to give a very special shout-out to Tanjiah Islam and Zakirah Alam who have launched Hachette’s new Muslim network, as well as to all the individuals putting in the extra work because they truly care.

How can people get involved with Muslim Voices in Publishing? 

You can join our mailing list by filling out this form here.

Check us out on Twitter and Instagram, as well as the Muslim Voices in Publishing blog, where you can find our latest updates, discussion posts, author Q&As and top tips.

Do you have any plans for the coming year that you’d like to share with our readers? 

We have a few exciting things in the works that we hope we’ll be able to share soon. One thing I can share is that we will be launching a small book club specifically for Muslim women in publishing, which we’re very much looking forward to. We’ll post about this on our usual channels so that anyone can feel free to read along and share their thoughts. The chosen books will have a focus on Muslim authors and illustrators, and we can’t wait to discover and share these wonderful stories!

Nazima Abdillahi is currently a fiction editor at Hachette Children’s Group. She is also the founder of Muslim Voices in Publishing and is eager to amplify underrepresented voices and build a list that is an honest reflection of the world we live in. 

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