Sometimes a book can weave its way into your consciousness so deeply that the characters and stories merge with you, mirroring back buried pieces of you, and expand your thinking in unimaginable ways. Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women, edited by Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu, is one such book.
A civil rights attorney and an international development consultant respectively, Maznavi and Mattu conceived the collection five years ago in a San Francisco coffee shop while discussing the romantic comedy 50 First Dates. They wondered what a Muslim version of the movie would look like. With a hunch and a desire to see themselves and their opinionated girlfriends represented in American media, they compiled the collection. While the stories are specific to American Muslim women’s love lives, any reader can relate to the humor, intelligence, and emotion reflected in them, each story as unique as its contributor. Each story illustrates how much life experiences and faith shape the way we love.
Love, InshAllah defies the popular construction of submissive and oppressed Muslim women through its 25 stories about South Asian, African American, Caucasian, Polygamous, Shia, Sunni, lesbian, orthodox, converted, and secular American Muslim women. The magnitude of thematic and individual diversity within this collection attracted a broad audience to the first leg of the book tour, which concluded in Los Angeles at Book Soup last month. While Love, InshAllah made its way into Sarah Khan’s Travel + Leisure column as an “intoxicating compilation” that ranges from “hilarious” to “heart wrenching,” the book also qualifies as a form of community activism. The collection has eased women out of a place of silence inside and outside of Muslim circles..
In most stories in the collection, God, Allah, serves as an ally to these women in their search for love, and proves to be a most loyal confidante. In “Three,” Asiila Imani enlists God as a co-pilot in her deliberations on whether or not to become a co-wife. “It Will Be Beautiful” by Yasmine M. Khan beautifully describes Khan’s marriage to a man with a six-year old daughter from a previous relationship. Melody Moezzi’s “Love in the Time of Biohazards” cuts through the romantic fantasies about love and zeros in on the commitment, devotion, empathy, and endurance it takes to authentically love another human being facing health challenges. The women’s requests, prayers, and negotiations with God underscore how deeply love and spirituality are intertwined.
Tanzila Ahmed’s “Punk-Drunk Love” uses storytelling as advocacy for Punk Rock values, showing how they reinforce her spiritual values as a Muslim American. In the story, Ahmed states, “I wanted to make the world a better place for my people, that wasn’t just an Islamic value -- it was a punk value, too.” She recounts following a Muslim punk band in her early thirties and falling in love with the lead singer, Yusef. Ahmed says she was motivated to contribute to the collection because, “As a Muslim woman, dating and having a love life can feel isolating if you feel like you are the only having these experiences.” As a community activist, Ahmed believes in the power of narrative and how political a personal story can be.
Editors Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi
The literary activism continues through the inclusion of gay and lesbian Muslim Americans' love stories as legitimate and representative of the Muslim American women's experience. “A Prayer Answered” by Tolu Adiba and “The First Time” by Navja Sol narrate the lives of two American Muslim women embracing their identities as lesbians while having radically different approaches to their sexual orientation and their spirituality. Adiba is an orthodox Muslim American who decides to stay closeted about living with her girlfriend. Sol is culturally Muslim American; she freely explores her sexuality in her youth and then decides to tell her orthodox Muslim parents. Sol does gain her parents' full support. Both writers confront the complexity of their lives and choices with courage and grace. Maznavi stated that an American Muslim religious leader in Chicago encouraged a conversation about homosexuality in the Muslim community by stating that LGBT Muslims should be welcomed into mosques and feel comfortable coming. Both Love InshAllah editors hope that Adiba and Sol’s stories continue and expand this conversation about acceptance and community inclusion for LGBT Muslim Americans.
While several stories use humor as a vehicle for storytelling, Zahra Noorbakhsh’s “The Birds, the Bees, and My Hole” cracks open the taboo subject of sex in her Muslim American household. Noorbakhsh illustrates the awkward sex discussion between parents and children with engaging banter and insight. Mattu expressed that second and third-generation American Muslim parents want open communication with their children when it comes to life-altering decisions about love, sex, marriage, and dating: “These parents want to provide a safe emotional space where their children can express anything without fear of judgment.”
The collection has also sparked intergenerational conversations in the American Muslim community between grandmothers and granddaughters, mothers and daughters, sisters and best friends. Mattu stated that women in the American Muslim community are expressing the need for more engagement, “more honesty and openness with each other. They want to move away from judgment and being ostracized.”
One reader tweeted the editors stating, “the amazing thing is that it's the reality of the world of Muslim women. I was able to connect with each story in some way either with my own experiences or that of friends around me. The dialogue between my mother and I has been amazing.” Like her, you may find that Maznavi and Mattu have accomplished something special and satisfying with Love, InshAllah.
For more information on Love, InshAllah and upcoming readings, please go to: http://loveinshallah.com/about/.
The previous issue of Hyphen is available in its entirety for your perusing pleasure. Almost as good as having it right in your hands!