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Book Review: Love, Inshallah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women by Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi

When I first came across this book, I felt a bit uneasy and I had a few concerns about its anthology because I think it’s good that many of us, myself included, are trying to defy and challenge stereotypes of Muslim women, but I wonder if  books of this nature are needed to accomplish this? Are we going a step too far? What purpose will such a book serve – if any? I also wondered what the writers intended by writing such a book? Did its Authors set out to send a message? And if so, what message were they intending to convey? Furthermore, if we do discuss issues such as sex or our love lives in the open – how much is too much? And are we as Muslim women, in the first place, allowed to have such open discussions? What’s the Islamic perspective and approach? What would be the appropriate forums? And what should these forums consist of or look like?  I was also curious about the women who contributed their stories. Why did they agree to participate? What were their initial feelings and thoughts about being a part of such a book? Did they have concerns about participating? And if so, what were those concerns? And now that the book is out, do they regret participating? How did their families react to the news of their participation?

Nevertheless, I was excited and surprised about a book of this nature – my curiosity would not allow me to ignore this book. Such bold revelations from Muslim women themselves – almost unheard of, and I felt like while many Muslims would like to continue pretending that the realities this book highlights does not exist, I think Love, Inshallah provides a reality check and a shocking revelation that Muslim women face some of the same carnal demons as non-Muslim women and that the realities of unlawful relationships, love and lust are not alien to Muslim women. Therefore, I think the Authors have definitely accomplished what they set out to do, and that for the Authors is an accomplishment and success in itself.

However, I think we need to go deeper. We need to not only challenge and defy stereotypes of Muslim women but we need to educate Non-Muslims about Islam every chance we get. It is only through education that we can truly and effectively defy and challenge negative  stereotypes and perceptions of Muslim women.  And this is where I felt this book failed. Instead one learnt more about cultural expectations, rather than Islamic expectations. A book of this nature would appeal to anyone – Muslim and Non-Muslim because the lifestyle practices of most of  the contributors as far as finding love and romance is concerned, does not represent the Islamic approach nor perspective on such matters. And, so, I was a bit  disappointed that there was barely any reflection of Islam in this book. I know the Authors pointed out that the book wasn’t intended to be an Islamic book, but the participants identified  themselves as Muslims, therefore, I was at least expecting to read more about a spiritual battle between practicing religion versus succumbing to ones carnal desires and culture. I didn’t get the feeling like most of the writers regretted their unIslamic actions, but rather it seemed to me the opposite.

I admired and respected these women for their raw honesty, for they owned their stories, embraced it and now sharing it with the world, from happily ever after stories, heart-breaks, being single, divorce, polygamy, sexuality and of course sex. Many of which are taboo subjects within Muslim communities.  Some of the stories were laugh out loud funny and well written like ‘The Birds,The Bees and my Hole’ by Zahra Noorbakhsh; and others, well, even though interesting, I quickly became bored. They reminded me why I never found romance novels appealing. Few of the stories I could relate to and I felt like some revelations and certain expressions of words used by some contributors were unnecessary – very explicit and raw, but I guess necessary in their own right for jaw dropping effect and to add some spice. I also felt the book lack diversity.

I particularly enjoyed and found interesting and inspiring the stories of some of the older contributors like Asiila Imani In the Chapter – THREE, we are given insight into her thoughts on polygamy. Her perspective and approach to polygamy always amazes me and causes me to pause and reflect on my own feelings about polygamy. Such a practical and sensible woman. She says on page 199, “even though I had heard that polygamy always ended in broken hearts, mayhem, and dismemberment, the idea of sharing a husband had never bothered me. I had never understood why women fought so much over men. If a man loved two women, the woman could either leave or share him. I believed women should be confident enough in themselves that they wouldn’t need to be the sole object of a man’ s affections. I knew there were men who loved and supported two families with equal devotion. To me, husband sharing sounded like a perfect blend of being married and single at the same time… In short, polygamy seemed not an unholy aberration, but a sacrosanct communion between a family and God…”

This is one of those books you’ll either love or hate – it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure makes an interesting read and highlights some of the 21st century challenges of some Muslim women in search of love. Go get your copy today, grab a cup of tea and let’s start talking!

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Review provided by Zainab John, Founder and Club Leader of Muslimah Voices Book Club (MVBC) – new book club for Muslim women.

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