The Little Drummer Girl Who Could

Daybreak Press publishes a Ramadan story of resilience and empowerment

Illustrator: Cameron Smith

Illustrator: Cameron Smith

Think back to your childhood bookshelf—what do you see? What lessons stuck? I see a rainbow fish who taught me to share my stuff versus flaunt it, a yellow bear exposing his midriff who showed me what being a good friend looks like, and an elephant who told me to look out for the little guy. Children’s books are powerful—they can pioneer one’s experiences of feeling represented and affirmed, and other times they offer a child’s first glimpse of a life outside their own. Oftentimes this worldview comes from an animal wearing human clothes, but how much more influential would it be if it came from someone in a marginalized community? After reading “Drummer Girl” by Hiba Masood—a book that encourages feminism in a Ramadan context, published this year at Minneapolis’s Daybreak Press—I wondered what an impact it would have had on my elementary school bookshelf. In the Islamophobic climate of our nation, this book is extremely important for Muslim and non-Muslim readers alike.

Open “Drummer Girl,” and you will find yourself in the vivid reds and whites of Istanbul many years ago. Soon you meet Najma, a girl with a dream to become amusaharati,” which is a drummer who walks the nighttime streets during Ramadan to wake up the people as a reminder to eat their pre-fast meal and pray before the day of fasting. Though Najma knows this role is traditionally male-dominated, she confides in her father, or her “baba,” that she would like to be her town’s musaharati. Her baba finds no issue with this, and she beats her drum throughout the streets despite the townspeople’s initial doubt and jeers that follow her. With her fearless resilience and fatherly encouragement, she comes to be her town’s revered musaharati well into her droopy, wrinkled years.

The audience of this story, according to Masood, has derived messages as diverse as the readers themselves: “For some readers, this is a very feminist story with essential empowering messages. For others it is a celebration of a good father daughter relationship. And for yet others, it is an ode to a universal desire: to know and follow your dreams. I am reminded of what Rumi said ‘What you seek is seeking you.’ ‘Drummer Girl’ is to readers what they are looking for.”

For Muslim children, this book represents many of their experiences and validates their tradition as one worth celebrating alongside the Christian holidays that clog popular media outlets. For non-Muslim children, it educates and relates another culture to their own. Many of Masood’s descriptions incorporate Arabic words, like illustrating Najma’s eyes as “the exact shade of a mabroor date,” (p. 4). These words are italicized in the text and defined in an index at the back of the book. This makes the book accessible to young readers who may be unfamiliar with the Arabic language and Muslim culture without dumbing down and oversimplifying the dynamic celebration.

A successful children’s book allows kids the opportunity to see themselves, and “Drummer Girl” does just this. Whether it be a girl who dons a hijab in Wisconsin or a blonde-haired boy who would rather dance than play baseball, this book offers warm representation to all through a narrative that is often missing or warped. Najma gracefully proves that a Muslim girl can show the importance of hard work and persistency much better than a little engine can.