The ladies are here. The chai is on the stove – the smell of cardamom and cinnamon is growing stronger in the air. A quick look at the table; kebabs, cholay, hummus, tea sandwiches, and cake – check. The hustle and bustle starts, everyone has a hot cup of chai and a full plate and that is when the stories begin – our life lessons.
And everyone sits quietly, listening to her bravery, happiness, frustrations, sadness, and confusion. Even though not a single woman sitting knows her experience – they nod, smile, and get angry or sad with her. Not because we need another story to talk about but because she needs someone to hear her and this is her moment.
This is about courage. Courage found in between the words and pages of the anthology, “Love, Inshallah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women.”
Editors Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi compiled 25 stories that ranged from American Muslim women in their twenties into their sixties. Each story told the tale of love gained, lost, and discovered. And not a single story is similar – each experience is truly its own.
From the Iranian who came out of the closet to her parents about her sexuality; to the girl who found love in a so-called arranged marriage. The stories reached across different generations, cultures, and personal dogmas of Islam but the message was clear that not a single American Muslim woman is the same.
The stories are like a visit to a family friends’ home and discovering their diary; it was raw and almost cringingly personal.
Love, Inshallah is not provocative by sending shock waves of ideals, sexuality, and religion – it is provocative because it shows that a woman under the “so-called” veil of Islam is just that, a woman. It is recognition of not just American Muslim women but women everywhere, who want to feel love and be loved.
The writers do not make it easy for the reader to confront the issues of their experience that have plagued many Muslim women. It is beyond culture, tradition, being secular or orthodox, and race. It is about being a human, being a Muslim woman, and being an American Muslim woman.
Essentially, the book stripped the stereotypes that are usually associated with a Muslim woman living in America: submissive and repressed. Intentionally or not, it did do more than that – it connected Muslim women to each other – being happy, shameless, honest, hurt, lonely, confused, and most of all brave.
Ayesha Mattu, an international development consultant, and Nura Maznavi, a lawyer, came up with the idea over coffee a few years ago and now sat among a large crowd of men and women at a SAJA (South Asian Journalists Association) event in New York, last week.
With raving reviews in the Huffington Post and the New York Times – Love, Inshallah has tapped into a growing readership. Mattu mentioned during the SAJA discussion that a woman came up to her and said that she saw a Muslim woman crossing the street and for the first time in her life she did not see the hijab – she saw a woman.
Both editors include their own love stories as first generation Americans born to immigrant parents from Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
“Love, Inshallah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women” was released on February 14, and is currently sold out on Amazon.com. Although the book has not reached an international market, Mattu and Maznavi have future plans to do Love, Inshallah stories from different Muslim countries across the world.
The author is a former Dawn.com staff member, now based in New York.