Omar S. Khawaja is on a mission to send Islamic children’s storybooks to 5,000 libraries across America. From a look at his online crowdfunding campaign, he might just achieve his goal.
Khawaja is an American Muslim and self-published author of “Ilyas & Duck”, a popular children’s books series that has been sweeping the nation since it was introduced in 2012. With Muslim cartoon characters and Islamic themes, Ilyas & Duck isn’t your average American children’s book. The heartwarming stories in this series take the dynamic duo on exciting adventures that culminate in profound realizations rooted in their Muslim identity. The books have captured the hearts and minds of both young Muslim kids and adults in a market with an increasing appetite for such engaging children’s content. Khawaja’s debut book, Ilyas & Duck Search for Allah, even won the prestigious American Moonbeam Award, a nationally recognized honor given to books for content with an emphasis on creativity.
With two successful children’s books under his belt, Khawaja could just sit back and relax. But following the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris earlier this year by so called “Muslims.” Khawaja received an email from his Illustrator, Leo Antolini that sparked the idea to send his Islamic themed children’s books to public libraries. Antolini wrote saying how happy he was to know someone like Khawaja who through his books is “teaching kids that they should embrace their faith while respecting others.” Leo, who is agnostic, continued on to say how he’s proud to be part of the Ilyas & Duck series that is helping build bridges for both Muslim and non-Muslims. This heartfelt email from a non-Muslim following such horrific events made Khawaja realize how his simple storybooks with a curious boy and a silly duck had the potential to reach across cultures and help shape the Muslim narrative. “I knew that my stories were connecting with young Muslim kids but until Leo’s email I didn’t’ realize how their simple, unadulterated nature could be used to communicate the peaceful and compassionate essence of Islam to a broader audience. I immediately thought of public libraries as a way to make this impact.” Khawaja noted that with thousands of libraries in towns across America, it seemed like easiest way to reach people of all backgrounds.
Source: Ilyas & Duck and the Fantastic Festival of Eid-al-Fitr
Khawaja’s desire to make a positive impact on others is what has that led him to this point in the first place. Ten years ago, despite the responsibilities of a home mortgage and expecting his first child, Khawaja left his stable, high-paying job in New York city to pursue a more meaningful direction in life. Changes are natural for any couple expecting their first child but for Khawaja the decision to leave his job at this crucial time was more than simply worrying about providing for his family. “I started thinking about how my son would view me as his father. Naturally I would be his role model but I struggled to find reasons for why I deserved that status.” For Khawaja, being a role model for his kids meant that he was actually living the life with characteristics and virtues he wanted to instill in his kids. “I was in a superficial career and just collecting a paycheck.” So rather than simply tell his kids about living with passion and making an impact on others, Khawaja set on a path to show them by first being the type of person he aspired his own kids to become.
Today, Khawaja has three young children and the impact he set out to make years ago has taken shape in the form of his Ilyas & Duck storybooks. “The books are helping our young Muslim kids build a strong foundation in their Muslim identity. One that underscores respect and compassion for people of all backgrounds. And in these challenging times for Muslims around the world, I think that’s a powerful thing.” Khawaja now travels all over the U.S. on book tours in an effort to reach as many kids as possible. “I feel blessed to be in position where I can directly see the impact in the eyes and smiles of all the kids I meet.”
Khawaja says his library campaign has the added benefit of giving young Muslim kids a much needed voice in the public. “It’s difficult to find a good selection of diverse children’s books in public libraries let alone one with Muslim characters.” Khawaja hopes that Ilyas & Duck will represent our young Muslim kids in the mainstream. “As adults when we see a Muslim in a Google Android commercial for example, we get all excited. That’s because even as adults we find comfort and validation when we feel included. My hope is that Ilyas & Duck books in public libraries will provide that comfort for our young Muslim kids.”
With your help, Khawaja wants to send Islamic children’s books to 5,000 public libraries across America. Watch Khawaja’s empowering campaign video and join the initiative by donating here. Be sure to share this important campaign with your friends!
Editor’s Note: Reem Faruqi, an Ilyas and Duck Fan, is a children’s book author of a Ramadan story, Lailah’s Lunchbox, which comes out in May 2015. She enjoys doodling, writing, and photography at www.ReemFaruqi.com. Her views are her own.