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Arts & Culture

Huda Fahmy asks 'Huda F Are You?' in new book

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

"Huda F Are You?" is the title of a new graphic novel by Huda Fahmy. It seems posed by the author's own life growing up in Dearborn, Mich. And Huda Fahmy, who also writes the comic "Yes, I'm Hot In This" on Instagram, joins us now from Houston. Thanks so much for being with us. "Huda F Are You?" - what does your mother think of this title?

HUDA FAHMY: (Laughter) Well, first, thank you for having me, Scott. She hates it. She's like, does that have to be the title? Why would you do that to your name? Your name is so beautiful. I'm like, you did that to my name. You named me this (laughter). And so I was - it was just - you know, it was pretty funny. But she's OK with it. She's fine now.

SIMON: Tell us about the family at this book. It's a big family. It includes what you call a girl band of sisters.

FAHMY: (Laughter) Yeah, definitely. This is a fictionalized memoir. So there are bits and pieces definitely that are based on my life, and that does include growing up with four sisters, which I think is just so much fun and - on its own. And of course, there are the downsides to it growing up that I can now appreciate as fun moments as an adult.

SIMON: Huda's family moves to Dearborn, Mich., and she goes from standing out among her classmates as a young girl in a hijab to one of hundreds or even thousands of girls in her high school who wear the hijab. What does that do to how Huda sees herself?

FAHMY: You know, I think she realizes and comes to this very important realization that her hijab - she's been letting other people really use her hijab to define her. And so she kind of internalized that, as well. And she realized that that could no longer be the case, that she couldn't just let this cloth - even though it is very important to her life and is very important to her beliefs, it is not the only thing about her that makes her who she is.

SIMON: Her classmates - there are girls from so many Muslim families there. And they - you know, as youngsters that age do, they form various high school cliques. There are the athletes. There are the gamers. There are the fashionistas. Does Huda feel a pressure to join up?

FAHMY: You know, she's so unsure. She just doesn't know enough about anything or about herself, and she just - she feels a lot like a fraud. And so, you know, she thinks maybe if I try out every, you know, little bit of each - get a taste, what - if she's interested in any of those things or not. And at this point, I think it's just trying to survive high school.

SIMON: Well, you mention she feels like a fraud. Why would she feel like a fraud?

FAHMY: You know, it's such a - it's a strange phenomenon that, as I grew up, I realized, OK, it's not unique to just me that a lot of young people and even into adulthood feel this way and that not knowing at all who you are and trying to, like, almost fake conversations just to fit in, just to feel like you belong and - but you don't really know if you like this thing. And it's - you know, it's confusing...

SIMON: Yeah.

FAHMY: ...And it's - you know, it's just part of this trying to figure out who you are, what, you know, your identity is, and in the process, feeling like, oh, man, I don't know who I am.

SIMON: What moves Huda to decide to look into the faith of her family more closely than she had before, do you think?

FAHMY: Oh, very much that - her mom's annual kind of making her, you know, bond with her sisters. It's kind of - she can't escape it. She realizes that, you know, this is something that - you know, her family is something that's important to her. She realizes that her faith is something that's very important to her. And she doesn't want it because her mom is telling her. And I think it took Huda a while, but she - you know, she's slowly kind of beginning to realize that it is something that - it is important to her as well. It's not just that it's her mom that's also telling her, hey, your family's important. Hey, your faith is important.

SIMON: Yeah. Even though Huda goes to high school with so many students who are also from Muslim families, there is an awful lot of ignorance that she runs into about Islam.

FAHMY: Yeah.

SIMON: And that puts her in a difficult spot, doesn't it?

FAHMY: Yeah, I think it's very difficult to - for me to write a story about a high school experience without unfortunately talking about Islamophobia or run-ins with prejudice and how it feels to be, you know, targeted. You know, I grew up when the attacks happened on 9/11, and unfortunately, the Islamophobia still exists. You know, it's - you know, how Huda handles it, it makes her question, you know, is this even a - is this even an aggression towards me? Is this even - am I making this up? Am I too sensitive? And these are very common feelings that kids have, that adults have when they experience racism or prejudice or hate.

And I hope that if - you know, if they do feel that and they read this book, that they'll feel the strength and the confidence to be like, you know, do not second guess yourself. Like, you get that feeling. You have that gut feeling. You know what it's like to be marginalized. You know what it's like. You know what it feels like, and you should definitely speak up and do something about it. And - or at the very least, know that it's wrong.

SIMON: I understand you have two young sons. What are your hopes for them when they do read the book, and just growing up there in Houston?

FAHMY: I know it'll be probably easier for my sons because they're not visibly Muslim. And so what - I hope that when they read this, that they'll know that, you know, these women who wear hijab, these girls who they're going to see who wear hijab or who are visibly just very different than the mainstream, that they feel that empathy and that compassion to understand, seeing it from their point of view, from - have it, you know, in their hearts to just kind of build that understanding that, oh, they might be going through these really tough times even more so than what I am, or that their experiences are definitely different than what I'm going through. And I hope that they can stand against injustice and stand against unfortunate instances if they see them.

SIMON: Huda Fahmy's new comic - I got to tell you, I enjoy saying the title - "Huda F Are You?"

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Regards to your mother, though. I think we all understand her reaction.

FAHMY: Yes.

SIMON: Thank you so much for being with us.

FAHMY: (Laughter) Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.