x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Taghred Chandab is an author with ambitious goals

The writer Taghred Chandab aims to build bridges between Muslim and non-Muslim communities with her new children's book.

The Australian Taghred Chandab. Jaime Puebla / The National
The Australian Taghred Chandab. Jaime Puebla / The National

To the casual observer, Taghred Chandab's book The Perfect Flower Girl is just a cheerful account of two young girls and their involvement in their aunt's wedding.

But the author has loftier goals for her work, as she feels it teaches a message of tolerance and understanding of Muslim culture to its readers.

Chandab used to work as a journalist and radio producer in her homeland of Australia. But being a Muslim of Lebanese descent, she soon became aware of the reputation her community had in the country.

"It was just one PR disaster after another PR disaster for Muslims in Australia," says the 35-year-old, who moved to Dubai in 2009.

"Especially after 9/11, the media was accusing the Lebanese community of isolating itself and being responsible for all this crime.

"As someone who had grown up in this community, I wanted to dispel these myths and offer a true insight into the lives of the Lebanese people."

To counter all this bad publicity she and her colleague Nadia Jamel wrote the book The Glory Garage: Growing up Lebanese Muslim in Australia.

The work was a biographical account of the conflict between the customs of their Middle Eastern-born parents and the liberalism of Australian society. It soon attracted plenty of attention from the media and helped engender a debate about the status of Muslim immigrants in their adopted country.

But, as a mum of three young children, Chandab firmly believed that prejudices are formed at an early age. So for her second book, she decided to aim for a younger readership.

"I thought, how can we change the perceptions of Muslims? If we can plant seeds in the minds of children, then they may form views of their own and not have their views dictated to them by the media," she explains. With the help of the illustrator Binny Talib, she wrote The Perfect Flower Girl, which tells the tale of the sisters Aman and Mariam as they prepare to act as flower girls at their aunt Sarah's wedding.

"People started to ask me if I would release a book specifically aimed at children," she says. "I thought about writing a non-fiction work, like my previous one, but then realised that a fiction one would probably have more impact.

"Two of my nieces were flower girls at my brother's wedding, so I thought this would be a good idea for a book as it was something that was positive and bright and about Muslims."

In her book, both Aman and Mariam are somewhat wary and apprehensive about their impending duties on the wedding day. Their continual questioning is used to detail the customs surrounding Muslim weddings.

So readers learn about the food that is served, the clothes that are worn and the rituals surrounding Lebanese nuptials.

But Chandab believed children of other creeds and religions would notice similarities with wedding ceremonies they had attended.

"Weddings are such a colourful, happy, joyful time all around the world, so I hoped people would read my book and see that there is not that much difference between our cultures," she contends.

The book has already been published by Allen & Unwin in Australia, the US and Europe. But now she is seeking a distributor for the Middle East.

In this region, she believes that her book will provide an insight into how Muslims living in other parts of the world assimilate into other cultures. For example, in contrast to the gender segregation of nuptials in the Gulf region, her book reveals that Lebanese-Australian Muslim weddings tend to be mixed.

"For people living in the Muslim world, they don't often understand what is happening to Muslims in other countries. Quite often, they are not exposed to how they live their lives or the negativity that Muslims encounter over there.

"So I really hope my book will educate westerners about Muslim society, but also show Arabs how their brothers and sisters in the West are living," she adds.

hberger@thenational.ae