“The Spotlight” brings to light and documents the stories of Muslim women of the past and present. In this instalment, We present the story of Hafsah Faizal, a Niqab-wearing Muslim woman, who rose against all odds, holding on to her identity as a Muslim woman and writing herself a success story.
Ten years ago, when she first ventured into the online world, Seventeen-year-old Hafsah Faizal said to her mother, “I want to show other girls like me that they don’t have to sacrifice their identities to make it.” Ten years later, at the age of twenty-seven, she is the Founder and lead designer of Icey designs, which boasts many bestselling author clients and has been featured on HuffPost Style, Brit + Co., Buzzfeed, and Bookriot. She is the first niqab-wearing New York Times bestselling author. She has been on TIME Magazine with Roald Dahl and Arabian Nights and is also the first niqab-wearing woman to make the Forbes 30-under-30 list.
“The odds are designed to stop you, to make you give up.” says Hafsah “That doesn’t mean you should. The odds compel you to leave success to those conditioned to achieve it. But where’s the fun in that? Where’s the challenge? What is your success worth if you haven’t fought tooth and nail for it?“
Who is Hafsah Faisal?
Born to Sri-Lankan Muslim Immigrants in 1993, in Florida, a state located in the Southeastern region of the United States, Hafsah Faizal grew up in California as the oldest of four children. She was homeschooled starting at age 13, the very year she first started building her design skills, ultimately leading her to establish her own web design company, Icey Designs, in 2010. “Designing is in my blood, thanks to my father,” Hafsah said in an interview with Spine Magazine. “So I started tinkering with design at an early age— thirteen, to be exact— simultaneously learning the ropes of code”
That very year, she also started running a book blog called Icey Books and wrote her very first novel, a young adult science fiction called Unbreathable which she self-published in 2013 under the pen name Hafsah Laziaf. The novel was set in a distant future where Earth was destroyed and humanity settled on a new planet devastated by food shortages and oxygen scarcity.
“I find it strange when people are surprised by how supportive my family is when it comes to my writing. How my parents didn’t usher me into a marriage. How I can write in English as if my niqab equates some sort of illiteracy. How I’m my own person.“
– Hafsah Faizal
Hafsah wrote four other manuscripts before starting the first draft of We Hunt the Flame, the book that threw her into the limelight. “I wrote and queried four manuscripts, all YA and science fiction,” Hafsah says “That was before I realized fantasy is where my heart thrives.”
Hafsah found her literary agent through the Twitter book pitch contest #DVPit, finishing up the first draft of what would eventually become We Hunt the Flame just before the contest started. Inspired by ancient Arabia, the novel tells the story of a hunter who disguises herself as a man in order to travel into a dangerous forest and restore magic to her people. The story is set in a world reminiscent of ancient Arabia, avoiding ties to South Asian cultures that she states are often wrongfully entwined with stories about the Middle East.
“Being a designer makes me a very visual writer. I tend to spend copious amounts of time when it comes to describing architecture, characters, and symbols— even the embroidery on an outfit’s cuffs! I honestly don’t think I can love one more than the other. Designing feeds the visual half of my soul, and writing sates my literary half.”– Hafsa Faisal
In May 2019, We Hunt the Flame, the first of a planned duology called Sands of Arawiya was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux and debuted on the New York Times bestseller list. It amassed so many favourable reviews, earning a star from Booklist, School Library Journal, and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.
The sequel, We Free the Stars, the masterful conclusion to the Sands of Arawiya duology, is to be released on January 19, 2021. “Now that my debut series is over, I’m working on a new story (codename #gunsandtea)” Hafsah said on her Instagram post recently, “I will be sharing more details about that VERY soon. It’s a fun project that’s a lot darker and grittier than WHTF, with a gang of misfits tackling colonialism, among other things“
Hardships and Obstacles
Nothing is yet known about the challenges that Hafsah has had to face as a Niqab-wearing Muslim woman in literature, tech and business. But she recently stated on her Instagram post, without dwelling on the details, that she has overcome so many hardships and obstacles. “I’m often asked if I face extra hardships and obstacles being a niqabi in publishing.” Hafsah said “The short answer, as someone from any minority can tell you, is yes. The long answer is far too nuanced, but let me answer with a question in turn: why should that stop you?“
In an interview with Bustle, Hafsah also stated that she gets a few messages every day from several people who say that their parents either asked them to add the veil or they felt they wanted to, but then they felt like they wouldn’t be able to do anything. “But seeing that I have done it, that I’ve run my own business and that I’ve gotten a book published,” Hafsah said “Seeing that someone else could do it makes them feel like they can. And I’ve actually seen a couple of people whose profile images were unveiled before, and they’re wearing the veil in the next one.”
“Are there women who are forced to veil? As much as there are women forced to do a number of things in different parts of the world. Islam isn’t a bunch of rules and restrictions, but a way of life. A guide through every hardship and joy.”
– Hafsah Faisal
In an interview with Spine Magazine, Hafsah revealed that she has a long list of inspirational go-to’s.
“I’m inspired by the people who can take the ordinary and twist it into something extraordinary,” she said. “I’m in awe of the people who are boxed in by society, but find amazing ways to break free. I’m inspired by photography, art, and stories that have the ability to swallow me whole, seeping into my bones, and transporting me elsewhere, making me think in a whole new way. And lastly, I’m immensely inspired by anyone who, when asked how [it feels] to be an overnight success, smiles as they relive the countless years and endless struggles they persevered through, when no one knew their name and no one lent them a hand.”
- Hafsah Faisal, Wikipedia
- AUTHOR/DESIGNER HAFSAH FAIZAL ON WRITING WE HUNT THE FLAME
- This YA Author Wants You To Rethink Your Vision Of The Middle East
TMWT is an online media platform spotlighting the stories of Muslim women of the past and present. We aim to be one of the most authoritative and informative guides to what is happening in the world of Muslim women. We hope to cover key issues, spark debates, progressive ideas and provocative topics to get the Muslim world talking. We want to set agendas and explore ideas to improve the lives and wellbeing of Muslim Women.