Want to go beyond Rumi? These 5 Muslim American poets are redefining what it means to be a Muslim in the Western world.

Everybody knows Rumi, the most famous of poets. But ask people what other Muslim poets come to mind, and they’ll draw a blank. Each nation and culture has a smattering of poets to call their own, but none with the universal appeal of Rumi. In honor of National Poetry Month, here are five contemporary Muslim American poets writing in English. May their words permeate your hearts and souls.  

1. Ladan Osman

ladan-osmanOsman was born in Somalia and grew up in Columbus, Ohio. She earned an MFA at the University of Texas at Austin’s Michener Center for Writers. Her chapbook, Ordinary Heaven, appears in Seven New Generation African Poets (Slapering Hol Press, 2014). Her full-length collection The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony (University of Nebraska Press, 2015) won the Sillerman First Book Prize. She lives in Chicago. Read some of her poems here

Excerpt: 

I gutted you ten years ago, cut your limbs with a kitchen knife
and threw you in a dumpster across the street.
I watched the three-legged cat grieve you, head in his paws.

Amber, you dull-eyed monster, how did you find me?

2. Kazim Ali
Muslim American Poets: Kazim Ali

Ali was born in the U.K. to Indian Muslim parents. He received a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Albany-SUNY, and an MFA from New York University. Ali’s poetry collections include The Far Mosque (2005), which won Alice James Books’ New England/New York Award, The Fortieth Day (2008), and Sky Ward (2013).

In addition to poetry, he has also written fiction and essay collections. He received an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council, and his poetry was featured in Best American Poetry. He lives in Oberlin, Ohio. Read some of his poems here.

Excerpt: 

Hunger opens you to illiteracy,
thirst makes clear the starving pattern,
the thick night is so quiet, the spinning spider pauses,
the angel stops whispering for a moment—
The secret night could already be over,
you will have to listen very carefully—

3. Fady Joudah

fady-joudahJoudah is the son of Palestinian refugees. Joudah’s debut collection of poetry, The Earth in the Attic (2008), won the 2007 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition and was a finalist for ForeWord’s Book of the Year Award. His other books include Alight (2013) and Textu (2013). He also translated three collections of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s work in The Butterfly’s Burden (2006), which won Banipal prize from the UK and was a finalist for the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. His translation of Ghassan Zaqtan’s Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me (2012) won the Griffin International Poetry Prize. He lives in Houston, Texas. Read some of his poems here

Excerpt:

I’ll be a fig or a sycamore tree
Or without hands
By then doctors and poets
Would have found a cure for prayer

4. Tarfia Faizullah

Faizullah_TarfiaFaizullah is a Bangladeshi American poet. She was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in Midland, Texas. She received an MFA from the Virginia Commonwealth University program in creative writing. Her first book, Seam (2014), won the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. She has received a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize, a Copper Nickel Poetry Prize, a Ploughshares Cohen Award, and a Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Margaret Bridgman Scholarship in Poetry. A Kundiman fellow, she teaches at the University of Michigan and lives in Detroit, Michigan. Read some of her poems here

Excerpt:

Somebody is always singing. Songs
were not allowed. Mother said,
Dance and the bells will sing with you.
I slithered. Glass beneath my feet. I
locked the door. I did not
die. I shaved my head. Until the horns
I knew were there were visible.

5. Khaled Mattawa

khaled-mattawaBorn in Benghazi, Libya, Mattawa moved to the U.S. as a teenager. He holds an MFA from Indiana University and a PhD from Duke University. His poetry collections include Tocqueville (2010), Amorisco (2008), Zodiac of Echoes (2003), and Ismailia Eclipse (1995). He has also translated numerous volumes of contemporary Arabic poetry, including Shepherd of Solitude: Selected Poems of Amjad Nasser (2009) and Miracle Maker: Selected Poems of Fadhil Al-Azzawi (2004). He is the recipient of many Pushcart Prizes and the PEN Award for Literary Translation, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, the Alfred Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University, and a MacArthur fellowship. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Read some of his poems here

Excerpt: 

Night girl, night girl
your book is full now.
You have drawn all the pictures.
You have seen many weepers.
Stars held your sky in place and moons
floated on your lakes and washed them.

 

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