These sisters started a publishing house to launch a novel featuring a Black Muslim teen Social Sharing

Juweria, Samia, Maymuuna and Aisha Yusuf gather around Aisha’s young-adult novel Race to the Finish Line, which is being launched by the Edmonton sisters’ new publishing company, Abāyo House, on March 12, 2021. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

When Aisha Yusuf finished writing her book about a Black Muslim teen who moves to a new town and grapples with racism and isolation, she couldn’t find a publishing company that would publish it. 

So she and her three sisters launched their own. 

“To this day, I still have never seen a Black Muslim girl on a front cover of a [young adult] novel,” Aisha said. “And in 2021, it’s unacceptable, it’s very unacceptable to not have that kind of diversity in the publishing industry.”

Aisha, 23, and her sisters Samia, Maymuuna, and Juweria started Abāyo House to publish Aisha’s first book, Race to the Finish Line.

The four Edmonton sisters with Somali roots are hoping the publishing house will turn into a beacon of belonging for other Black Muslim girls.

Race to the Finish Line is about Aaleyah, a 17-year-old girl who moves to a small town in the U.S. and teams up with her friends to discover the truth about a dark secret that threatens her and her family. 

The mystery novel is set to launch on March 12, the first of several books the sisters have in the works.

The cover features a Black Muslim teenager face-to-face with a person wearing what appears to be a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe, holding a torch near her face.

“Some people would say that it’s very shocking, but I feel like what’s even more shocking is how the book just actually reflects what’s been happening in our city,” Aisha said, a day after protesters, some carrying tiki torches, marched to the Alberta Legislature as part of an anti-restrictions rally on Feb. 20.

The rally, dubbed the Alberta Freedom Convoy, coupled with a spate of recent attacks on Black Muslim women in Edmonton, underscores the need for more representation in media and literature, the sisters said. 

“For us, a huge part of why we started Abāyo House, why she wrote her book, even the books that we have in the works that are yet to be revealed — goes back to, ‘We will not be intimidated,’ ” Maymuuna said.

“We will not be silenced. We have a voice and we will tell those stories.”

The sisters all have writing and communications backgrounds. However, their publishing house was started out of necessity, not passion. The siblings struggled to find stories in mainstream presses that reflected their experiences.

The Yusuf sisters hope their publishing imprint will also provide a platform for other Black Muslim women to tell their stories.

‘The next Harry Potter’ 

“Hopefully through us and through other mediums … students and kids of all different colours and adults can just see themselves as being the next Harry Potter, you know, just seeing themselves as being the next superhero,” Maymuuna said.