I am Huda Ayaz, a fifteen-year-old Pakistani Muslim hijabi, born and raised in New York, and the author of five books.
Ever since I could read, I had a dream to write my own book. I read books that swept me away to worlds of magic and creatures I’d never be able to see myself but loved to imagine I could anyway.
In Kindergarten, I began writing and reading stories of all sorts. While I usually ignored author biographies, I soon became intrigued by writers’ lives and achievements. Slowly, I came to the realization that books came from somewhere. They’re the product of people’s imagination and don’t simply exist—they’re created. People put work into creating them—oh, correction: adults.
Every book I read was written by people decades older than me. It created an image in my head of what authors were.
Additionally, an interest in literature was (and is) on the decline. Very few of my friends cared about books anymore, more focused on the newest movies. I don’t know if I’d still be as infatuated with reading as I am now if it wasn’t for my family who support reading and my dad who especially brought books home for us to read. If he didn’t have a book with him, he had a story. Hearing all of these tales from such a young age triggered my imagination too.
When I was eight, I became serious about working on writing a novel of my own. I wanted to create something unique, a world that was completely made by me, so I created Freeze-land, a planet of snow, fairies, clouds, and winter (If it wasn’t obvious enough, I’m a bit of a winter fanatic…). I began my first novel with the main character waiting for snow, just like I always was, and from this strung out my debut novel, Freeze-land: A New Beginning. It took me a few months, but soon enough I had completed the first draft . . . and then came the editing. I’m beyond grateful no one initially explained what actually publishing a book entailed because I don’t think I would have even attempted the mountain of work if I did. My nine-year-old brain assumed that all I had to do was write out the book, print it out from our home printer, and ta-da! A book!
But no, it was much more than that. First came writing and, only after months of editing to the point that I could probably recite the book word for word, was it sent to print. And, no, not from my home printer, but an official publisher so that I was finally able to hold an actual book created completely by me.
Now that I’ve told you my story I’m sure you’re wondering: what does this have to do with change?
Growing up, I never realized how much kids are underestimated, but it’s true: people don’t think it’s possible for us to accomplish anything great because of our “lack of experience.” When I told people that I was publishing a book, I wasn’t taken seriously. Teachers smiled only to turn away and forget my claims and my classmates didn’t believe me either. Throughout all this, I had my family who saw how much work I put into this dream and took my dedication seriously. Even now that I’ve published five books, people still doubt they were written by me. On the other hand, I’ve heard from so many who decided to start work on writing a book. The fact that I was able to give inspiration to even just a few people to start work on something they’re passionate about, to surpass the constraints of age people have placed on us, is a feeling that I don’t think can be beaten. My personal achievements are one thing, but what I’m able to do for others are a complete other.
Although I seem to be trash-talking adults, they’re right about some aspects of how kids don’t have a complete understanding of everything. Being a young Muslim in an Islamic school, I never knew how much the world lacked exposure to who Muslims really are. This realization only came to me last year, when I moved and started going to a public school.
If you know anything about my books, you’ll see that, with one exception, none of my characters are Muslim, which makes me seem a bit hypocritical, but when I was writing Freeze-land: A New Beginning, it seemed completely normal to have these typical characters. Now, it’s hard to wrap my head around: I attended an Islamic school and came home to a household of Pakistanis. Yet for my entire life, I only wroteof white characters because it’s all I was ever exposed to. In my fifth book, Angie Moon and the Legends: The Speedster, I included a hijabi character, but even this was difficult as she remained a side character since it felt so strange to see her in a sea of non-Muslims. The very idea of having a Muslim side character was unfathomable, let alone a Muslim main character. Now, I’m working on writing projects with Muslim characters going through the same experiences my favorite characters went through. If one type of person can be written about, why can’t all the others?
The different types of people need to be normalized because, in the real world, people should be accepted despite their differences. The idea that age should constrict us from achieving our goals just because that’s how things have always been, must be tackled.
It is every person’s obligation to work toward making a change. Whether that’s in one person or in many, every step toward creating a better world counts.
Malala said it best: “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”