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Book Review: Love in a Headscarf by Shelina Zahra Janmohamed

A brilliant read!  It went beyond my expectations. I was hooked from the moment I read the first few pages. It offered more than just the Author’s journey to find love – her ‘Prince Charming.’ So many layers – love, history, Islam, culture. I was never bored.

Love in a headscarf is a memoir about the Author’s journey of finding ‘The One’ through an arranged marriage. She endured endless matches with several suitors along the way, only to be disappointed, heart-broken and at times frustrated with the arranged marriage process. I felt like I knew her – such a reflective soul – quite like myself in that regard. And for that, I felt a connection. And even though I could barely relate to the experience of an arranged marriage,  I couldn’t put this book down; and I couldn’t wait to know what happened next. I felt her every emotion. It was like I was right there with her every step of the way. When she cried I cried, when she laughed I laughed, when she was angry or sad, excited or disappointed, I felt the same.

The Author is skilled at creating an image in the mind of the reader which makes it easy for the reader to picture themselves present wherever she is or to imagine a scene or place she is talking about. At least this was my experience as I read every page. It didn’t matter what she was talking about, I had images and scenes in my head of the people she met, places she travelled to,  her family and not forgetting the Buxom Aunties…

Her experiences during the arranged marriage process helped her to find a deeper love and understanding of God and her Islamic faith. She also discovered more of who she was and gained new perspective on life and culture. She often reasoned with herself  and questioned things she didn’t understand in a bid to find answers, while trying to navigate between culture and religion and being  British. Many of her thoughts about the way she sees the world  and conversations she had with herself on her quest for Love I can relate to because I too share her views and had similar conversations with myself on my own journey to find my ‘Prince Charming.’ And we see how she matures and gains new perspective on the many complexities religion and cultural norms presented to her and how she coped – never losing a sense of who she was. Even though her Asian culture played a major role in her life and the life of her family and the rest of the Asian community, Islam was a core aspect of the Author’s life, and so, she  never separated  herself from Islam throughout the book. It was the main source which directed her actions and decisions about many things. She also challenged common stereotypes and misconceptions British society had of Muslim women as well as the stereotypes and perceptions of Muslim women and their role within society and marriage that emerged from within the Asian Muslim community. She challenged and questioned her own culture when it collided with Islam. And I admired her parents immensely for guiding and supporting her through the marriage process  –  choosing Islam over culture/ tradition in many  everything they did.

There are also several issues or topics that could be extracted from this book for lively discussions and debates.  For example, the wisdom from the Imaam I found in some cases to be thought-provoking. Like the concept of “love comes after marriage. He believes that “you know the meaning of love after you’ve made the commitment.” And that if love blossoms after the relationship has been formally agreed, then instead of putting all our focus on the ‘finding’ part, more of our emphasis should be on the ‘relationship’ part.

And finally, if you’re a non-Muslim who knows nothing or little about Islam, this book introduces you to some of the basic tenets of Islam in every chapter.

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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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