Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women Paperback – Feb 17 2012
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Praise for Love, InshAllah "24 portraits of private lives that expose a group in some cases kept literally veiled, yet that also illustrate that American Muslim women grapple with universal issues." --The New York Times "Love InshAllah [goes] to a place where few, if any, books have gone before. Lesbians, co-wives, converts to Islam, Shia, Sunni, black, brown and white: Every voice is unique. Collectively, they sing of strength, passion and love. One can't help but to sit back and listen, captivated." --Samina Ali, author of Madras on Rainy Days "A beautiful collection that reminds us all not only of the diversity of the American Muslim community, but the universality of the human condition, especially when it comes to something as magical and complicated as love." --Reza Aslan, bestselling author of No god but God and Beyond Fundamentalism "Individually, the stories in Love, InshAllah will entertain, educate and perhaps shock you. Together, they are a tribute to the collective power of storytelling, inspiring and empowering women of all backgrounds to claim ownership of their bodies, desires and dreams." --Firoozeh Dumas, author of Funny in Farsi and Laughing without an Accent "This book is an irreverent, witty reality-check. The women in this book are not only fulfilling a mission close to my heart--telling their own stories as Muslim American women, shattering stereotypes, building bridges--but they are doing so in a way that will entertain you, shock you, and make you fall in love with them." --Zahra Suratwala, author of the I Speak for Myself series "Love, Inshallah is an important book that America needs to embrace. It debunks many of the myths about Muslim-American women and their sexuality, which has been demonized, fetishized, and grotesquely misunderstood. Deep, funny, sad, revealing, and illuminating, this book will touch your brain, your heart, and perhaps several other organs." --David Henry Sterry, bestselling author of Chicken "With a sonic boom, Love, InshAllah breaks through the tired sound bytes and stereotypes that can drown out authentic voices of Muslim women. This refreshingly diverse collection of stories about heartbreak, happily-ever-afters, and everything in between, affirms that no one--orthodox or progressive, gay or straight--is immune from the universal hunger to love and be loved."--Nafisa Haji, award-winning author of The Writing on My Forehead and The Sweetness of Tears "Frank, engrossing and refreshingly honest, Love, InshAllah is a book full of hidden surprises. For a topic as fraught with controversy as Muslim women's sexuality, shockingly little has been published on the subject by Muslim women themselves. Love InshAllah is a welcome and timely remedy." --G. Willow Wilson, award-winning author of The Butterfly Mosque and Alif the Unseen "These are gorgeously powerful women who love men and women, fight and laugh, lie to themselves and hold back nothing. You'll fall for some and be frustrated by others. You will see yourself in them. And, I wager, you will not be able to put down these stories of women risking themselves for love." --Dr. Laury Silvers, University of Toronto and author of A Soaring Minaret: Abu Bakr al-Wasiti and the Rise of Baghdadi Sufism "In Islam, women are seen as the manifestations of God's attributes of love and beauty. These remarkable stories capture what love means to Muslim women today. As the Sufis say, the quest for the beloved is ultimately the heart's longing to unite with God. Listen with an open heart as these Muslim women reveal their journeys into the divine mystery of love." --Kamran Pasha, author of Mother of the Believers and Shadow of the Swords "Love, Inshallah is unbelievable in its audacity. Not all of our authors find love, and God and God's Will are just as often felt by their absence as by their presence. The brutal honesty that these women portray is refreshing and frightening. Nearly every story reveals another aspect of the human condition, and makes you appreciate that even among people who share the same faith, love can mean something very different." --Dr. Hussein Rashid, Hofstra University and Religion Dispatches "Love, InshAllah is the most moving and emotionally honest book I have read in a long time. These bold new voices share stories that are romantic in the very best sense of the word -- by turns intimate, sexy, funny and sad." --Clare Winterton, Executive Director of the International Museum of Women "Given the damage done by Muslim men, non-Muslim men, and non-Muslim women claiming the sexual lives of Muslim women as their political territory, these stories provide a desperately needed corrective. The authors have created their own spaces. The achievement is profound. Love and religion get mixed up in beautiful, painful, confusing, and liberating human ways. A crucial literary intervention for anyone who can't see Muslim women as human beings." --Michael Muhammad Knight, author of The Taqwacores "Love, InshAllah is beauty on paper. You know how books are referred to as page turners? I've not met many until this one. Each story is as captivating as the next, the writers bravely peeling back the corners of the heart, inviting the reader into their diverse worlds. Please read this book. It will help you access your vulnerability and the secrets of your own love story."--Kathy LeMay, author of The Generosity Plan "This illuminating anthology edited by Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu presents stories by American Muslim women on dating, love, marriage, heartbreak, remorse, lust and longing. It's a work that should be applauded, not only for its rarity and timeliness, but also for its ability to celebrate these utterly normal, healthy, messy, and all-too human discussions about love and sexuality which for too long have been buried under a veil of shame, fear, and self-imposed censorship." --Wajahat Ali, author of Domestic Crusaders "Love, InshAllah showcases tremendous diversity. Each story weaves a different tale about love, sexuality, and the negotiation of faith and identity with lived realities. Yet what makes the book special is its celebration of differences and the ultimate transcendence of love. It is this common experience that connects not just the writers, but also the readers, pulled in as we are to these resonant, human stories told with exceptional skill." --Asma T. Uddin , founder and editor-in-chief of AltMuslimah.com "Deeply touching and intimate, the twenty-five stories in Love, InshAllah reveal the elegance and universality of love and faith. Written by American Muslim women of all ages, races and ethnicities, they reveal the full range of human experience. A perfect book to upend the stereotypes of veiled and abused Muslim women, these tales are filled with hope and humor and life. I loved it!" --Irving Karchmar, author of Master of the Jinn: A Sufi Novel "Ayesha and Nura have curated a selection of stories and voices that will be both utterly familiar and new to readers, whether they are American Muslims or not. How we understand what love and America look like is expanded and made more representative of this country we all share thanks to this collection." --Alia Malek, author of A Country Called Amreeka "These essays are meaningful, poignant, and powerful. I'm so grateful for these glimpses into the lives of American Muslim women, all of whom feel to me now like cousins I'm glad to finally know." --Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, author of 70 Faces: Torah Poems "A compelling and moving anthology. Queer, straight, Sunni, Shia, polygynous, monogamous, strongly practicing or barely observant--this book captures it all. The writers' humanity and struggle comes searing off the pages, showing that while the path to love is never easy, it can be beautiful. While each story belongs to the unique woman who wrote it, their stories are united by a thread of hope; the very basis of 'inshAllah.'" --Susan Carland, Monash University "Love, InshAllah provides us a rare glimpse into the intimate lives of Muslim women from very different backgrounds. The stories show that although the roadmap may be unique, the destination is universal--to love and be loved for who we are." --Manal Omar, author of Barefoot in Baghdad "Love, InshAllah takes us into an uncharted world where each woman's search for love burns as hotly and uniquely as stars in the night sky." --Jensine Larsen, founder and CEO of World Pulse "If you thought that you knew everything about Muslim women and love, life and relationships, then think again. This collection is challenging and provocative. You'll be surprised, even shocked at their stories and the honesty with which they lay open their joys, as well as their vulnerable and sometimes wounded hearts." --Shelina Janmohamed, author of Love in a Headscarf "Brilliant! Taken individually, the stories elicit the cringes, smiles and tears of readers. As a collection, Love, InshAllah paints a careful narrative of tensions, struggles, fears and ecstasy in the lives of these women as they search for love, peace and the Divine. This anthology may raise controversy and ire among some readers, but it fearlessly paints a portrait of Muslim life that can only find a home in US literature." --Dr. Arshad Ali, Teachers College, Columbia University
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With the very conscious agenda to dismantle stereotypes and perceptions about Muslim women and love, Love InshAllah gives a glimpse into the richness, plurality, and self-actualization inherent within American Muslim women's love lives. It holds the enormous potential to astonish both Muslim and non-Muslim audiences, albeit for different reasons. This post is one Muslim woman's reaction to reading about her fellow Muslimahs' love lives in this remarkably candid, courageous, and soul-stirring collection.
Love, InshAllah, at first, brought me face-to-face with a glaring prejudice I have unconsciously created about what for me is fair game for love stories.
When Bollywood started to produce movies that involved more explicit love scenes, I remember my best friend, the least prejudiced person I know, saying "Aurgh, I don't want to see that!" I chuckled: "So, what, it's okay if white people do that onscreen?" She tried to explain what she felt: "No, but that's brown people. That's us!" Thanks to the media's disproportionate portrayal of what particular acts should look like or whom they should involve, having intimacy is being acted out by people of "our kind" can be temporarily disorienting for even the least ideologically prudish Indo-Pakistani Muslim ladies like myself.
I confess that, on some level, that's what I was feeling when I read Love, InshAllah. It's one thing to know, abstractly, that those stories are out there. Before reading this collection, I did know about gay Muslimahs, about the niqabis who have multiple sexual partners, about Muslim children having to live dual lives because they could not conform to their parents' standards. But it's one thing to have these faint blobs of abstraction floating around in one's consciousness. And it's quite another to be reading a succession of those stories by the women who own them. For reading such works constituted an experience I could never have readied myself for.
I, of course, mean that in the best way possible.
Being a single person who's been feeling a bit shortchanged in the love department lately, I did at times have to face the demon of loneliness while reading the stories. And being a Muslimah-which for me means having an inner universe that is shaped and conditioned by the moral tenets of the Islamic faith-means that the moral quandaries raised in some of those stories make reading them a gut-wrenchingly conflicted experience. Yet, ultimately, reading Love, InshAllah created a glowing, steadily increasing burn of recognition of myself in the stories as a whole.
The beauty of this collection lies in how pluralistic it is, and how any attempt to explain the experience of reading these stories will fail to do justice to this collection in its entirety. Therefore, I have decided attempt to group the stories based on my experience of reading them. These categories are far from perfect, but they help provide some insight into how varied the reading experience can get within the scope of such a collection.
1. Deceptively Traditional Stories: These stories moved me because they revealed the beauty of what might, on the surface, seem to be unappealing ways to meet a significant other. Aisha Saeed's "Leap of Faith" is a dream for any South Asian girl who's had to go through strangeness of having her parents play matchmaker. "Otherwise Engaged" is an endearing account of Huda Al-Marashi's yearning for a date with and formal proposal from the boy she was set up to marry.
2. Too Good to Be True Stories: Stories that seemed too good to be true to the point of irrelevance. Although I recognize that they were a necessary part of the collection and are as true as the other stories, they're not the kind of situations most Muslim women are lucky enough to be in. Ayesha Mattu's "The Opening" and Angela Collins Telles' "Love in the Andes" both involved meeting gorgeous non-Muslim men who ended up converting to Islam. Again, while I'm extremely happy for them and for all the women who have been so blessed, I'm too aware of the thornier issue of women who fall in love with good, worthy non-Muslim and are forced to choose between love and deen.
3. Stories that are Not for the Faint-hearted: This collection of stories are better skipped by those who are squeamish, especially about Muslim women. In Tanzila Ahmed's "Punk-Drunk Love," Taqwacore sensibility intersects with the heartbreak and the transience of intense passion in a way that that seared my heart. Najva Sol's "The First Time" recounts her coming to an understanding about her sexuality in a way that pulls no punches.
4. The Real Stuff of Married Life Stories: These stories dealt with what married life (as far as I can tell) is really made up of. Melody Moezzi's "Love in the Time of Biohazards" is a beautiful portrayal of true spousal devotion in the face of pancreatic complications. "Love at Third Sight" by Patricia M. G. Dunn provides much-needed lessons about what real love, in the context of marriage, is, and the kind of trials or uncertainty one might have to go through in order to actualize this form of love.
5. Self-Defining Stories: Rather than relegate these stories to some overloaded form of a "miscellaneous" category, I wanted to highlight some gems in this collection, freestanding entities that made impressions I won't easily forget:
Aida Rahim's "Brain Meets Heart" is a story about how she and her daughter found the right husband and father (who incidentally is none other than Hijabman!) for themselves. I felt that this story brings out the much-needed voice of the smart, independent, admirable Muslim woman who doesn't become any less of those things just because she happens to be a mother and a divorcee.
Nura Maznavi's "Last Night on the Island" I found to be a wonderful story not just for its plot and narration, but because it functions as a portal into a grander narrative about being single. To see this included in a collection of love stories was something I had not expected, and this act of inclusion deeply moved me.
"Sex by Any Other Name" is a wonderfully uncomfortable read that explores virginity, perceived ownership of such a virtue, and the complications and anxiety that result when these phenomena are continuously confronted.
Asiila Imani's story "Three" traces the usual journey of love towards an unusual and controversial form: polygny. Given that a considerable number of Muslim women hold Imani's perspective and have had experiences similar to hers, I was especially glad to see the inclusion of such a voice in this collection.
Suzanne Syeda Shah's "Kala Love" is a raw, powerful account of complex family relationships, a pronounced clash between first and second-generation immigrants, the trauma of assault, and redemption through faith and sex. Because there was not only redemption, but redemption through a worthy man, I feel that this story epitomizes what-to me-is the real stuff of romance stories.
When I look back at the climate that surrounded my education on love and sex, I am bemused by the skewed ways that women of my religious and cultural background learn about these things: the way we would devour romance novels, the ridiculous myths about female anatomy that would circulate the unmarried girls' side in dinner parties, the simplistically treated assumption that one transforms from being `innocent' to being someone who knows of these matters over the course of a wedding night. To realize that I made the transition from that background to being part of a Love, InshAllah post-publication world gives me a great deal of hope and self-affirmation. It is now, by virtue of this book, becoming a world I want to raise my daughter in.
At first I wasn't sure if should put myself through reading this book, thinking that it would only make me confront the demon of emotional loneliness. And to an extent, it did. Amazingly enough, however, by the time I reached the end, it had done the opposite. It instilled me with a sense of hope and empowerment I couldn't have gained in any other way. Although a little disorienting at first, it eventually lead me to breathing sigh after sigh of relief, knowing that my story-be it that of failed love, triumphant love, or singlehood-is part of a narrative that can never be conveyed simplistically, a narrative whose beauty comes from the plurality of experience and candidness about the places they come from.
This collection may be subtitled, "the secret love lives of American Muslim women," but this book brings those lives out in the open, making them secret no more. I applaud its honesty and its celebration of female sexuality from within the Muslim universe. And I hope it paves the way for more such works about Muslim women in other places and countries and other conceptions of intimacies, starting, perhaps, with Canadian Muslim women.
stories with cheesy endings (yawn). To my surprise, each story was
strikingly unique, heart-felt, and honest. Most importantly, the stories
were well-written and captivating. Once I started reading the anthology, I could not stop.
Any American or otherwise "Westernized" Muslim girl will be glad to read this and realize... we are not alone.
These allegations of Muslim women’s oppression due to the Islamic faith has led Westerners to convince Muslim women to adopt Western lifestyles, values, and norms in order to escape such oppression. As Laila Alawa stated in response to this in the Huffington Post, “I am a proud Muslim-American woman, and I am tired. I am tired of being told that I am oppressed. That I have no voice. That I need to be liberated” (Alawa).
Thus, this illustrates the conflict American Muslim Women have as they struggle to balance the perceptions that others have placed on them, their own perceptions of themselves, the norms of America, and the values and beliefs of the Islamic faith and that of their home countries. These intersectionalities are especially crucial of American Muslim women in relation to sexuality, romance, dating, and marriage. The book Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women by Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi, a compilation of 25 American Muslim writers and their stories of romance, dating, and sex, illustrates the issues that American Muslim women face as it aims toward eliminating the stereotypes that people may have of American Muslim women and their love lives.
The book’s purpose is critical and important and I would have to say that the authors did a great job in compiling stories that demonstrate through the narratives of American Muslim women that their love lives are just the same as any other person’s love life—with all the diversity, craziness, passion, hope, and loss. And that in doing so, it distills stereotypes of American Muslim women as being submissive, oppressed, and forced into arranged marriages.
I thought the book itself is very empowering for all who reads it, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, as the stories include a diverse range of experiences and stories of arranged marriages, interracial relationships, relationships with people outside one’s religious group, homosexuality, relationships with different ideologies, polygamy, and also discovering one’s sexuality.
For instance, one story “Leap of Faith” was great because it breaks down the stereotype that American Muslim women are forced into arranged marriages. Aisha, an American Muslim, had the freedom to choose between love marriage and having an arranged marriage. In her story, she illustrates how she understands marriage based on two sides: her Pakstani culture norms of brief courtships and that of the American culture of having to love someone before one gets married. Though, her family’s ideal of marriage is that arranged by them, Aisha grew up in the American culture of disdaining arranged marriages as it seemed like the “bygone era” as expressed by her high school classmates while discussing the book, Pride and Prejudice. Despite this, Aisha chose to marry a man arranged by her family that she knew for just six-weeks. She was not forced into it, she had options, and she took a “leap of faith.” This was a story that effectively illustrated American Muslim women’s love lives’ intersectionalities in having to face the ideals of society, family, and the community. This was done while still distilling stereotypes of oppression and forced marriages of American Muslim women.
Though, I do believe that the book is great as it demonstrates the diversity of American Muslim’s love lives and it does break down stereotypes of oppression and submissiveness perpetuated on American Muslim women, I believe that it also paints a very flowery picture of American Muslim women’s love lives and this may be detrimental as it can lead to the generalization that all American Muslim women do not face oppression and hardships put on them by society, family, and religion when it comes to their sexuality. Therefore, this may hinder dialogue on why some American Muslim women do in fact still face obstacles in their love lives due to societal, political, economic, or religious pressures. It is also important to remember that Western lifestyles, ideals, and values are not the sole reasons for these American Muslim women’s increased freedom in their loves lives, even though the book makes it seem as though these Muslim women have gained more power and choices due to the fact that they are in America. And one must remember that this book is mainly “American Muslim women”, not “Muslim women”, thus these experiences must not be generalized into Muslim women in other countries.
Overall, Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women by Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi contributes to scholarship about Muslim women by providing stories of their experiences, lessons, and struggles between society, family, religion, and culture that can bring much insight for others into these women’s love lives. Also, these stories can also aid in one’s own reflection of one’s own love life and society in connection to similar intersectionalities of race, religion, culture, gender, and sexuality.
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