February Book of the Month: “Love, InshAllah” by Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu
There are countless untold stories in this world, but few are so self-censored as tales of the Muslim woman’s quest for love. A new anthology of first person essays called “Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women” seeks to break that silence by giving a variety of American Muslim women a rooftop from which to shout their stories.
The authors weave personal tales of love, touching on issues like sex, divorce, homosexuality, polygamy and rape. A handful of the writers use pen names, but, as the editors told me via Twitter, for each woman who did so, another broached the same topic using her real name.
I am young still, and I’m unmarried. Luckily, I have never faced sexual violence, nor have I ever fallen in love with someone my parents couldn’t love too. But I, like everyone else I know, have felt that ache in my heart that takes root when plans fall through, when lies are discovered or when doors are closed. I may not have the same experiences as the writers of “Love, InshAllah”, but my emotions have paralleled theirs and I believe I would be hard-pressed to find a woman who wouldn’t feel the same way.
Despite some initial weird feelings in which my personal biases and expectations colored my reactions to less mainstream stories, I found the collection to be beautifully organized and balanced across subjects. My only real gripe about the writing is that some of the authors weren’t able to capture the natural cadence of conversation at times. In the grand scheme of things, I can overlook that.
The frustration and (InshAllah) eventual elation experienced along the road to love are universal emotions. In the West, discussing one’s love story is normal and divulging details about romantic failures is welcomed. (Insert “Sex and the City” reference.) But for Muslim women, the taboo surrounding these issues is far from gone. Perhaps being part of American culture makes some feel they need to cling to their Muslimness lest they lose it. But as the women of “Love, InshAllah” prove, there is no single definition of Islam and no further requirement of being Muslim than claiming one’s faith.
To publicly challenge the popular misperceptions held by our contemporaries is not only wildly brave, it is essential. Brava to the writers of “Love, InshAllah”, who embodied the book’s title through their quest for love in a partner and in God. Their voices will be heard and they will be loved.
To enter to win a copy of “Love, InshAllah”, leave a comment on this review explaining why you want to be Divanee’s valentine by Friday, Feb. 17 at 11:59 p.m. EST. US only.
Amina Elahi is Divanee.com’s Managing Editor. Check out her blog, where she posts words and images that make her think.