Na'ima B. Robert

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Na'ima B Robert (born Thando Nomhle McLaren; 19 September 1977) is an author of multicultural literature and founding editor of the UK-based Muslim women's publication, SISTERS Magazine. Born in Leeds to a Scottish father and Zulu mother, both from South Africa, Robert grew up in Zimbabwe and attended university in England. She converted to Islam in 1998. Currently Robert divides her time between London and Cairo with her three sons and two daughters. Her husband Henry Amankwah died in April 2015.

Early life[edit]

Robert's family moved from England to Ethiopia when she was two years old and then four years later relocated to Zimbabwe where Robert received her formal primary education. Robert had a typical middle-class childhood with her younger brother and sister in the suburbs of the capital city Harare. As well as being immersed in Zimbabwean culture, Robert's parents instilled in the children their South African roots and a strong political consciousness.[1] Her father, Robert McLaren, was a senior lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe and her mother, Thembi McLaren, was an entrepreneur. After graduating high school in Zimbabwe, Robert returned to England for university and earned a first-class degree from the University of London.


During her university studies Robert travelled to Egypt as an amateur musician and singer playing traditional Zimbabwean compositions at a music festival. Her initial reaction to the hijab-wearing Muslim women was to be "appalled" but finally asked an especially beautiful Egyptian woman why she would choose to cover her beauty: 'Because,' she said, 'I want to be judged for what I say and what I do, not for what I look like."[2] After their exchange Robert says, "I began to think about my life, about my own self-image and how I wanted to grow and develop." Robert returned to London and began reading the Marmaduke Pickthall translation of the Quran, learning about Islam and Islamic law, and she gave "dressing modestly a try."[3] Over the Christmas holiday that same year Robert travelled to "Muslim Africa, to Guinea" where she found that "As someone still steeped in the ideals of Black nationalism, these Muslims appealed to my own African identity and my sense of Black pride."[4] In Guinea Robert began making the Islamic five daily prayers, fasted during Ramadan and upon her return to London announced her shahada (declaration of Islamic faith) in 1998.

Writing career[edit]


After teaching in the classroom and founding a private home school, Robert began writing multicultural picture books with Muslim themes for children. Her first picture book, The Swirling Hijab, was included in the Booktrust programme. Robert's picture books and young adult fiction have had cross-over appeal being accepted for inclusion in state settings, such as schools and multicultural training, as well as recognised as Islamic fiction amongst Muslims.[5][6] To date she has published thirteen picture books for children, many of which are used in dual language settings and are published in up to 31 languages, including Tamil, Kurdish, Portuguese, Japanese, Russian, Yoruba, Czech, Arabic, Polish, Chinese, Urdu, Panjabi, French, Swahili and Farisi. Journey Through Islamic Arts was awarded the UK National Literacy Trust Association WOW! Award for Best Children's titles.

After the success of her autobiography, From My Sisters' Lips, Robert began writing young adult (YA) Islamic fiction. Her first YA novel, From Somalia, With Love was inspired by a weekend retreat with a group of Somali youth, arranged by the Somali Integration Team.[7] From Somalia, With Love is one of the few novels available with Somali Muslim characters and subjects.[8] It was included in the World Book Day 2009 school's pack and was long-listed for the United Kingdom Literacy Association Award. Robert's second YA novel, Boy vs. Girl, challenged common stereotypes about young Muslims in Britain and featured a cameo appearance of Urban Islamic graffiti artist Muhammed 'Aerosol Arabic' Ali.[9] Robert's third YA title, Far From Home, is a historical fiction novel set in Zimbabwe and is featured in the 2011 Pop-Up Festival of Stories in London.

In 2005 Robert's agent encouraged her to write an autobiography which became the international Muslim best-seller From My Sisters' Lips. In addition to being a memoir, From My Sisters' Lips uniquely includes the personal narratives of several other converts and reverts to Islam, "[From My Sisters' Lips] systematically describes the process of reversion from first impression through conversion, hijab, and the manner of marriage in Islam. It opens the doors to the private thought processes and struggles that confront new Muslims and makes the difficult understandable and even funny. From My Sisters' Lips has been translated and published in Arabic. As the founder and editor of the UK-based international Muslim women's SISTERS Magazine, Robert and the magazine's contributors have pioneered in addressing commonly taboo topics within the Muslim community, such as child abuse, miscarriage, domestic violence, depression and self-esteem issues among Muslim women. Robert has given support to and created alliances among SISTERS Magazine and many Muslim community organisations, such as Mercy Mission UK, Solace, Nour DV, The Muslim Youth Helpline and Half Date. In addition to writing an editorial for each edition of SISTERS Magazine, Robert writes articles about Islam and Muslim related issues, such as Ramadan, Muslim holidays, hijab (Islamic scarf) and niqāb (Islamic face veil) for mainstream publications, including The Times Online, The Times newspaper, and The Observer. Robert has spoken to audiences about Muslim related issues on the BBC's Sunday Morning Live, Woman's Hour, Radio London, Channel 5, Newsnight, BBC Asian Network, GMT with Lorraine Kelly, and BBC Radio 4's The Moral Maze. In 2014 she launched her critically acclaimed YA title, She Wore Red Trainers, a love story which explores the Muslim identity.


Robert is a full-time observer of the niqāb (Islamic face-veil) and a vocal advocate for women's right to choose to fully cover. Soon after becoming Muslim in 1998 Robert began to wear the niqāb full-time in 1999. In her memoir, From My Sisters' Lips, Robert explained the effect of wearing niqāb, "[The covered woman] cannot be judged on her appearance because nothing personal about her can be seen...She does not feel the need to live up to society's changing expectations of women's bodies...So whoever relates to her must relate to what she has presented – be it what she says, does or thinks."[10] Robert is one of the founding members of Veiled Justice and has represented the East London Mosque on Muslim women's issues. She has spoken in support of the niqāb in numerous British media, including The Telegraph, BBC News, The Times Online, BBC Radio 4's The Moral Maze and Channel 4's Undercover Mosque series; as well as speaking to Muslim and international media outlets, such as for Islam Channel and AIM TV.[11][12] [13][14]

Robert's young adult fiction novel Boy vs. Girl includes the niqāb-wearing character, Auntie Najma. The Auntie Najma character has been both negatively and positively criticised as either an unrealistic portrayal or as a positive role-model for Muslim youth.[15] Robert has said that Auntie Najma, like the other characters, is an amalgamation of real sisters she knows personally.[16]


Picture books[edit]

  • The Swirling Hijaab (Mantra Lingua, 2002, paperback) ISBN 1-85269-119-0 ISBN 978-1-85269-119-6
  • Journey Through Islamic Art (Mantra Lingua, 2005, hardcover) ISBN 1-84444-350-7 ISBN 978-1-84444-350-5
  • Welcome to the World Baby (Mantra Lingua, 2005, paperback) ISBN 1-84444-633-6 ISBN 978-1-84444-633-9
  • Yum! Let's Eat! (Mantra Lingua, 2008, paperback) ISBN 1-84611-564-7 ISBN 978-1-84611-564-6
  • Ramadan Moon (Frances Lincoln, 2009, hardcover) ISBN 1-84507-922-1 ISBN 978-1-84507-922-2

Published as Thando McLaren[edit]

Young adult fiction[edit]



  1. ^ Robert 2005, p. 3.
  2. ^ Robert 2005, p. 7.
  3. ^ Robert 2005, pp. 9–10.
  4. ^ Robert 2005, pp. 17–20.
  5. ^ East Sussex 2008.
  6. ^ Khwaja 2009.
  7. ^ Robert & 2008-4.
  8. ^ Rawe 2009.
  9. ^ Ahmed 2010.
  10. ^ Robert 2005, pp. 123–125.
  11. ^ Sawyer 2006.
  12. ^ Suleaman 2007.
  13. ^ Bryony 2005.
  14. ^ Channel 4 2008.
  15. ^ Umm Imran 2009.
  16. ^ Saya 2010.


External links[edit]