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Do you remember your “Why”?

March 29, 2023 1:00 PM | Heather (Administrator)

Do you remember your “Why”? 

By Kefah Ayesh ( KEE-fah)

As the end of the year slump encroaches my passion, I force myself to remember my why

My why begins with a little girl who loved to read, yet never found books with any characters that looked like her. She sits in a classroom and sticks out like a sore thumb as the only muslim in her entire school. That little girl is my Why. I write and teach in an effort to amplify the voices of Arab authors and poets, so that other marginalized students can feel a sense of belonging.

Seeing oneself in the literature that surrounds them is vividly and fiercely affirming, empowering them with the conscience of their own presence. 

All writers traversing the human condition attempt to tell a story that is uniquely their own, yet unconditionally human. Each of them forging a path that embodies the essence of light, yet so many of those voices are silenced and muddied along the way.  Othered and discarded;  stereotyped and vilified: the arab voice in the typical literature classroom is nothing but an echo of soft cries that falls on deaf ears. Beautiful diction and mesmerizing syntax, seldom uttered in spaces meant to broaden horizons.

Libraries and literary tradition attest to the presence of Arab voices and their contributions to the field, yet the modern classroom all but negates their existence. Perhaps a daunting endeavor for teachers who already have too much on their plates, so let me help demystify a few things. 

Arab writers have existed since the 6th century and continue to exist today.  They do not only write about the past and exist on silk roads and ride magic carpets; they are American born and bred and write about a painfully divided existence. They also write about love and hope too.  So why aren't they in your classrooms, speaking their truth?

Here are a few novel recommendations that vary in genre, lexical difficulty, and themes.

1. We Hunt the Flame by Hafsa Faizal 
2. I Saw Ramallah by Mourid Barghouti 
3. The Inheritance by Sahir Khalifa
4. The Beauty in Her Face by Sahar Mustafah

In an effort to alleviate some of this pressure, a few resources have been listed below.

Sometimes, that nagging voice of why is the hardest to reckon with because ultimately it means more work for me, another lesson plan from scratch added on to an already mounting workload. Yet, that nagging why doesn't seem to let up. 

The literature classroom is a universe of its own. Unlike other disciplines, we hold the responsibility of cultivating students into open-minded, educated citizens of the world.  We do not merely teach vocabulary and grammar, but rather how to construct thoughts into powerful language that will one day pave new pathways that can ultimately make the world a better place.

Online Book Club


Study Guide Questions

Study Guide: I Saw Ramallah

Study Guide: The Inheritance

Study Guide: The Beauty of Your Face

PopMatters article

Kefah Ayesh ( KEE-fah) is currently a secondary education English teacher and English Department Chair at Al Ghazaly High School. She is pursuing a Masters in English and Writing Studies at Kean University ( May 23), and she’s passionate about inclusivity in literature and amplifying marginalized voices in the classroom. You can connect with her on Twitter @writnginclusive.


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