ANTHOLOGY
The Burqa Unveiled

Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi
Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women
(Soft Skull Press, 2012)

Love, InshAllah couples romance and faith with 25 real stories of the “secret love lives of American Muslim women.” The collection, which was edited by Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi, is most revealing in that there is nothing particularly secretive or shocking about the stories as a whole, which leads the reader to the conclusion that the somewhat sensationalist subtitle is also a bit ironic: the voices are as unexpected and varied as any group searching for its ever-after.

The best stories are concurrently occupied with the author’s plight and a wider lens. One narrator describes herself as “defiantly proud of being desi and Muslim in an Islamophobic and racist America, and to me, that translated into punk,” before recounting her bittersweet swansong with a serious Muslim rocker. Another tale reveals the complexities of interfaith romance in the United States: “Following the attacks, Muslims in America were vilified. Under increasing scrutiny, and whether willingly or not, we each became an ambassador of our faith.” Her fears are confirmed when her fiancé asks, “The Mosque? You want to take our kids to the mosque in Milan? Where all the terrorists hang out?”

Balancing her devotion and culture with her desire, one author muses, “I thought—if my faith was strong enough—I could pray, fast, or marry my way out of my sexuality,” before willfully denouncing the trope that being gay and pious is contradictory. Baring the Old-World tradition of arranged marriages is another recurring theme. One youthful voice admonishes, “I was too young then to understand that what I had just experienced was closer to a cattle market than to courtship.” Another broaches the custom with decidedly clear liberation: “Even though I was entering a semi-arranged marriage, the prospect felt neither constricting nor stifling. Instead, I was happy, and excited for the future to come.”

As a collection attempting to deconstruct the notion of the burqa as apparel representing oppression, Love, InshAllah is both enlightening and limited by its subjects. After all, these American Muslim tales represent only a fraction of that faith’s devotees. But given that limitation, the stories transcend stereotypical conceptions with humor and heartbreak; which is to say, with humanity. Whether introducing Catholic beaus to immigrant parents or cyber-eloping as an Islam-convert in a post-9/11 America, the collection does not unveil repressed, obedient girls, but willful women whose search for love is at once complex and joyful. As one reflective author states: “With Lil’ Kim blasting through my boom box speakers and the Qur’an sitting atop our mantel, I came to recognize the layers of our existence, even if I didn’t fully understand them.”

Contributor

John Emrys Eller