We are honored to interview Ammar Habib, who, by Allah’s grace, has won success and recognition as an author. He wrote his first novel at the age of 18 and faced 300 rejections before his book was accepted by a publisher. Today, several of his books are best sellers. We’re also happy that he will be writing for Muslim Ink in the future in sha Allah.
A Muslim novelist who has published so far eight books, seven of which became best sellers, ma sha Allah, congratulations, baarak Allahu feek, Ammar! What’s next?
Jazaak Allah Khair for your kind words! Alhamdulillah, I’m always working on multiple projects, but the one I’m focused on right now is a novel currently titled The Orphan of Kashmir. As the title suggests, the novel is set in the backdrop of Indian-Occupied Kashmir in 2004.
It takes place during a time when the Indian military was heavily oppressing the Muslims of the Kashmir Valley. It focuses on themes of destiny and fate mixed with themes of finding one’s place in the world. Following a 17-year-old boy who was orphaned as an infant, the novel is his coming-of-age story as he also realizes some secrets about his past.
The motivation for this project was the success of my 2018 novel, The Heart of Aleppo. This novel was a young adult novel set during 2012’s Battle of Aleppo, and it follows a young boy, Zaid Kadir, who is separated from his parents during the fighting and has to survive in the war zone as he searches for his family.
My goal is for readers to remember my work long after they’ve finished reading it
Alhamdulillah, that has been my most popular book, and I was encouraged by its success to start writing more novels of similar themes.
Having read several of your interviews online, I understand you write with a bigger purpose and want readers to hold some sort of a moral lesson. Why, just why do you do that?
Writing is an art, and just like any art, an author’s goal is for their reader to walk away from a book with a larger understanding. My goal is for readers to remember my work long after they’ve finished reading it.
I want my books to get readers thinking. I want them to question the things they see in the world around them, and I want them to learn about the perspectives that other people might have.
You also do not want to “slap readers” with this moral lesson theme. Can you explain more and how do you exactly achieve that?
Nobody likes to be “preached to” or “lectured to.” Because of that, you don’t want the reader to feel like you are manipulating them to feel a certain way. When writing, you need to show and not tell. That means you don’t write an argumentative essay telling them why something is right or wrong; you should show them those lessons through the character’s arc.
For example, don’t tell the reader that war is wrong and that refugees should be aided. Show the reader what a refugee goes through, show the reader how the refugee was once a normal person before their world was destroyed overnight, and show the reader how they could just have easily been in that refugee’s shoes.
Can you tell us a little about your background and how you grew up? I understand you were born in Texas, USA to parents from Pakistan.
Yes, absolutely. My father is from Karachi, and my mother is from Lahore. My father moved to America in the 1980s, and my mother moved to America shortly thereafter when she married my father.
I was born in Lake Jackson, Texas in 1993. Lake Jackson is a small town an hour south of Houston. Growing up was always interesting. My high school graduating class had over 500 students, but I was the only Muslim. I also did not have any family nearby. Therefore, all of my close friends were non-Muslims.
Although there were certainly times when I would feel as the “odd one out” so to speak, the benefit to this is that I learned so much about other religions and what their perspectives are. This helped me appreciate Islam so much more.
Classmates and teachers would often ask me many questions about Islam out of curiosity. This forced me to go the extra mile in studying my own religion so that I could answer their questions. I didn’t see it at the time, but this was actually a blessing from Allah because it forced me to increase my knowledge about Islam, making me a better Muslim. I learned not just the “what” of Islam, but I also learned the “why” of Islam.
I learned the basics of Islam from my mother. She spent a lot of time instilling basic Islamic teachings and principles in me when I was a child
You also teach Islam at your local masjid and Islamic center. How and when did that happen? How were you able to learn Islam?
It’s always amazing how we make our plans, but Allah has the best plans! I started attending an Islam 101 class with my family when I was in high school over 10 years ago. The class was run by Dr. Mahzar Kazi (the father of Sheikh Yasir Qadhi). In 2013, Dr. Kazi asked me to start giving one 20-minute talk every month to help him out since he was getting older. It slowly grew from there.
When Dr. Kazi moved to Dallas to live with Sheikh Yasir last year, he left his class in the hands of a couple of people, including me. The focus of the class is teaching Islam in a more practical way that people can apply to their everyday lives in order to become more productive members of society.
As far as how I learned Islam, I learned the basics of Islam from my mother. She spent a lot of time instilling basic Islamic teachings and principles in me when I was a child. As an adult, I try to take personal responsibility for continuing to learn about my religion.
Attending conferences and listening to lectures is a great way to learn, but that is only one side of the coin. It is also important to do independent reading and research about Islam to increase our knowledge and appreciation for our religion.
For me, I usually pick one topic to focus on at a time. I then spend a few hours a week studying that topic, reading essays/books about that topic, and reading hadiths and tafseer about that topic. Over time that’s how I’ve gained a better grasp about different aspects of Islam, and that is how I’ve learned how to communicate those learnings effectively.
How do you find teaching?
Alhamduillah, you learn the most when teaching. I don’t see myself as a “teacher” per se. Instead, I see myself as a student of Islam who has the privilege to share some of my learnings with others. I always tell people that anything good I say comes from Allah; however, anything wrong I say comes from me!
I think that the youth hear too many lectures, but they don’t see enough good examples of Islam in practice
Growing up in today’s world where youth face so many challenges in their faith and modesty, how did you deal with these issues?
Alhamdulillah, I have been blessed by great examples in my parents. When I was very young, my mother would always go above and beyond to make sure I had a proper foundation of Islam. She would drive my brother and I to an Islamic school, which was well over an hour away. She was also always an example to us about what a Muslim is and how they should act. I think the best thing Muslim parents can give their children is a proper example to follow, and that is what my mother gave me.
My father was also a great example and inspiration in many ways, alhamdulillah. He was an example of what a Muslim husband and father should be. Though nobody is perfect, my parents did their best and sacrificed to give my brother and I an Islamic foundation.
Because of that and because of Allah’s blessings, I’ve had the strength to overcome many challenges that western society tempts the youth with. Without going into too many details, it’s not an exaggeration that many aspects of society are constantly trying to seduce young people away from Allah, and it can sometimes be a daily battle not to fall into temptation.
Having Taqwa helped me overcome some challenges, and I think it is crucial to instill it in our youth
The best way to combat these issues is to help the youth build confidence in their religion. We shouldn’t just teach them Islamic teachings; we should also teach them the reasoning behind its teachings. For example, don’t just teach them to pray. Teach them why we are advised to pray and the benefits of prayer.
As I mentioned earlier, the best thing we can give the Muslim youth is an example. I think that the youth hear too many lectures, but they don’t see enough good examples of Islam in practice. As adults, it is our responsibility to give that to them.
By giving them examples to follow, we can help them build Taqwa (consciousness of Allah). Having Taqwa helped me overcome some challenges, and I think it is crucial to instill it in our youth.
You mention that your biggest fans are your family members. How much of their support mattered in you becoming an author? What is their support like?
It’s definitely meant a lot. Coming from the South Asian background, most young men are pressured into going into the engineering and medical realms. However, my parents never pressured me into pursuing that route. Instead, they advised me to follow what I felt like my calling was.
They never held a negative attitude toward my writing career. Even when I was going through the hundreds of rejections that I went through before my first novel was picked up by a publisher, they were always generally uplifting and encouraging.
For that, I am forever in their debt.
Alhamdulillah, I have been blessed by great examples in my parents
Have you considered writing fiction for Muslim youth? May be encourage Islamic teachings and values through your books?
I have absolutely considered doing this. Writing some short stories aimed at Muslim youth which teach/show Islamic lessons is something I am planning to do later this year, In sha Allah.
Thank you very much Ammar for the lovely conversation. May Allah bless you, your work and your family.
Memories of My FutureProduct on sale
The Heart of Aleppo: A Story of the Syrian Civil WarProduct on sale