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Interview with Author Aliya Anjum

Updated on August 13, 2011

The Internet Makes for a Small World

The internet has made the world a global culture. With it we can reach out to all corners of the world and meet people we couldn’t have done any other way. That is how I met Pakistani author Aliya Anjum. She commented on an article from a series I wrote about the role of the Islamic culture in the movement of herbs and spices from the islands of Southeast Asia and also its role in the preservation of many of the writings of the ancient Greeks and Roman scholars.

She has written three e-books that I found extremely interesting and wanted to discuss her life and books in more depth. This is the results of my interview with her.

Old City of Peshawar
Old City of Peshawar | Source

Aliya, talk a little about your family and their influence on your life.

“My father was a colonel in the Pakistani Air Force and I was born in the city of Peshawar where he was posted. Peshawar is in the north east part of Pakistan. I grew up, however, in Karachi. Karachi is a global city very much like New York. It is located along the coastal region of Pakistan. Not only is Karachi the commercial center of my country, it is also the largest and most diverse of any city in Pakistan.

Karachi pakistan
Karachi pakistan

What role did your family play in your writing career?

I have been writing short poems and snippets of stories since I was 8 years old. Both my parents played a significant role in both my love or reading and writing. My mother was a home maker and a very avid reader. At an early age she introduced me to her love of history and literature. From the age of 4 or 5 she often bought books for me that she thought I would enjoy. Some of my favorite memories are of going with my father to the bookstore several times a week. I always came home with at least one book.

Because of my parents, I became an avid reader of books from all over the world. Not only did I read all of Louis Lamour’s books but those of Enid Blyton, a British author and Tintin an author from Belgium. These books fueled my imagination and lead to my interest in the written word.

Although you have been writing for a long time, you recently made the decision to write full time. You mentioned that your articles have been published and winning award since you were 17. However you have begun writing full time just recently. Describe for my readers and myself, what you did before becoming a full time writer. Did you study writing in college? If not what and where.

I have not studied journalism or creative writing. This is an innate talent, you could say. Before I became a full time writer in 2010, I was working for the Pakistan government and also teaching part time at an MBA program. I do thoroughly enjoy teaching part time and plan to take that up again in 2012.

Which book was your first?

I first wrote a collection of short horror stories in July 2008. A few days later, I then began to work on my book on Muslim inventions, which took a total of three years to finish.

Except for your travel book both of your books required a lot of research. How and where did you do your research?

My books are all research based. Even the travelogue has a lot of historical information in it, which would familiarize the reader with Greek history. My research is a mix of books by reputable authors and scholarly online sources, such as the Encyclopedia Britannica amongst others.


Your areas of study are a long way from writing. What made you decide to make the leap from the security of full employment and a steady income to what you love to do, writing?

I have a passion for writing and I hence I decided to take it up full time. There is financial sacrifice involved of giving up a pay check, but then to follow your passion you have to step out of your comfort zone and take bold risks. A part time writer consumed with the pressures of work cannot do justice to writing. All three of my books are in the non-fiction genre and I have recently published a fiction work of a short story, but that is also based on true events. Non-fiction requires tedious research. It is not possible to juggle that with another full time career.

How long did your research for each book take?

As I explained the book on Muslim inventions took about three years, working on and off as I had a full time job then. I began to write the book on Muhammad's Wives in 2009 and with breaks it finally reached culmination in 2011.

Athens from the Acropolis
Athens from the Acropolis | Source

I found your travel book on Greece particularly interesting. I guess it is because I didn’t realize that Islamic women traveled unescorted. What made Greece the object of your travels? What drew you to Greece? Tell us a little about your exploits there.

Yes its true Muslim women do not undertake solo travel very often, however, travel is a passion of mine and I thoroughly enjoy it. For that matter, even western women do not travel solo often. Funnily enough, on my first trip my mother worried for my life and limb, but she was more relaxed this time. As you can see from my books, I am a history buff, for which I traveled to Spain and Turkey in 2009 to see Muslim history. In 2010 I decided to visit Greece, to see western history upclose and personal. Greece is an enchanting country with wonderful people and amazing natural beauty. I was there for two weeks and it was my best trip so far, I have so many beautiful memories of the people and places. I visited Athens, the Greek island of Santorini, the one whose pictures of blue domed churches are famously associated with Greece. I also visited the town of Nafplio, which is historic and picture perfect.

The Acropolis from Athens
The Acropolis from Athens | Source

Tell me, when you were researching the prophet’s wives, what did you learn that surprised you? Did you learn things about his wives and the prophet himself that you did not know before? Did writing this book change your outlook on women and their role in Islam?

Muhammad (peace be upon him) respected women greatly and he forbade Muslim men from abusing or exploiting their wives. While this fact is known to educated Muslim men, many succumb to cultural diktats which promote bad behavior towards women. In my personal capacity, the accounts of the wives of the prophet only reinforced the value Islam places on family . Unless women are honored as wives and mothers, the family system cannot thrive. Islam places the economic responsibility on the man, while allowing women to work if they so please. This is so that the traditional family structure is in place, however, women are not stifled under tradition. Being a working woman, I now appreciate the role of stay-at-home moms greatly.

Purchase this e-book now!

Manuscript on astrology and mathematics from library at Timbuktu
Manuscript on astrology and mathematics from library at Timbuktu

You and I connected because of my hubs on the history of herbal medicine and the important contributions by Islamic scholars after the fall of Rome and its connection to your book Muslim Inventions in the Islamic Golden Age (750-1500AD).

Could you describe for us some of the inventions and lasting contributions to research, literature and medicine that came out of this golden age?

Muslim were the bridging civilzation between the ancient and modern west and their contribution during the middle ages is astounding. It includes robots, airmail, algebra, sophisticated surgery, literature such as the Arabian Nights and the world's first formal universities, amongst countless other things.

It all began when a Muslim Caliph in Syria circa 700 AD began his quest for knowledge by procuring all available knowledge of ancient cultures. Caliphs after him continued the tradition and what began with translation, soon transformed into discovery and invention. Muslims pioneered Chemistry and Algebra and greatly developed existing sciences such as astronomy and medicine etc.

Can we look forward to any more books? And if so what are they about?

I have since then published a short story titled "Arranged Marriage" which is based on true events of four women I met in the US. I am also working on another short story which I plan to publish very soon Inshallah (God Willing). After this work, I plan to Inshallah publish a collection of young adult horror stories, which I wrote in 2008 and which won a prize by Pakistan's National Book Foundation.

I see that your books are available as e-books. What made you choose this method of publishing?

I am a Pakistan based author, reaching out to a global audience. The best way to get to a global audience is through technology, which has connected people like never before. Take for instance our own interaction which was made possible only through the use of communication technology. E-Books are a low cost medium, which is rapidly expanding and the popularity of e-reading devices also makes possible the spread of new work such as mine.

Is self publishing hard or expensive to do? I know that I am interested in how to go about it and I am sure that my readers are.

Self publishing is extremely hard. Traditional publishing does not burden the author beyond writing a book. In self publishing you are your own editor and marketing agent. Juggling all these roles is very challenging. It takes up a lot of time and effort to market your book/s by distinguishing them for hundreds of thousands of others available in the market and it is a never ending task. I chose e-books, as I was geographically removed from my market. Others can self publish hard copies and sell them through friends/family and book stores events etc. E-books can be sold through your own website or you can choose an online marketplace to sell them such as Amazon, as I did.

I would like to thank Aliya for taking the time to talk to me about her books and e-publishing. Getting to know someone even briefly from another country and another culture has enriched my own life experience and helped me see that people are people.


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