Book Review: Love, Insha Allah

Book Review: Love, Insha Allah

The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women


Though Islam is growing in America, one bumps up constantly against ubiquitous incompatibilities between Islam and Western culture. Nowhere is this incompatibility more prominent than in an American Muslim woman’s search for a mate.


The stories in this book reveal the problematic position of American Muslim women who would like to get married. They must either make compromises, or take a hard line with respect to their religion, further limiting their chances for finding a mate in a society that is still composted of mostly non-Muslim residents. Some of these writers have shaved the edges off Islamic teachings , even to the extent of doing haram behavior, knowingly, deliberately. The instinct to find a mate and establish a family often takes precedence over familial and religious dictates regarding how to do so.


Islamic customs, which relied heavily on community relationships, now operate in an anemic facsimile of their original effectiveness. American customs for dating, sex and marriage, are not officially available to these women.To make matters worse, Muslim communities in the United States are composed of people from varying cultural and linguistic traditions. American Muslim women sit between a rock and a hard place; even men tiptoe across a loose tightrope when courting them.


When the Abrahamic religions were being codified, the human life span was much shorter. Young people did not have to navigate a prolonged period (named adolescence) between childhood and adulthood.  Mating occurred at  physical maturation. These days, physical maturation plays second fiddle to religious mores that were not written for adolescence or homosexuality. Add to that the economic and educational demands of today that also postpone marriage well beyond the best physical stage for it.


At least one of my readers will remind me that Islam is applicable to all peoples for all times, and to that reader I say, “Then it will have to find a way to reconcile human nature with the unnatural frustration arising out of modern  adolescence. It will also have to accommodate an increasing incidence of homosexuality.”


Homosexuality, by the way, does not recede when it manifests in a Muslim, and several of these writers are brave enough to talk about it. One would think that if Allah hated homosexuality enough to forbid it, He would give us better tools for coping with it in a halal manner, but this is not the case. Homosexuality will prove to arise from physiological  and genetic predispositions, and therefore will never be responsive to blame or volition on the part of those who find themselves claimed by it.


I respect the women who’ve told their stories, and I admire their courage in trying to find a third way, a way to live as Muslims and as Americans, partaking in the blessings of both identities and navigating the inherent troubles. Some women have tossed Islamic teachings out the window, while others have have cut themselves off from the benefits for which people choose to live in America.  None, however, have turned their backs on Islam, itself, and most have become stronger in faith as a result of their trials, regardless of whether they succeeded in finding a mate.


Not all the essays are marked by conflict or frustration. Several of the women met their husbands in the traditional Islamic way, through the help of parents and relatives, without having to date and sift through a succession of boyfriends. These women are the lucky minority. Several others met their husbands by means unconventional in either American or Islamic cultures; their stories prove that finding a mate need not conform to a strict prescription.


The women represented in this book are pioneers, and through them, especially with respect to how they raise their children, a stable American Islam will develop.  Oh, I know. There’s no such thing as “American Islam” or “Saudi Islam” or, or… Well, yes there is. How do you suppose Islam, or any other religion, survives over the centuries, migrates to different continents, and serves populations that have never have heard of one another? An Islam that thrives in the West is still evolving.  This book forms a link in the process, and will eventually be regarded as an historical document. I hope the children of this book’s authors will read their mothers’ stories with a sense of relief because they will not have to blast through the moral and social difficulties endured by their parents.





Blogging a Book

Blogs, Books, and Good Writing

Blogs and books don’t share much in common, at first glance, but they should share the most important, critical aspect of the written word: good writing. Now that blogs have “grown up” as a literary form, blog authors need to  pay attention to craft.

Nina Amir is a writer, coach and editor of both books and blogs. Her guidance not only improves the writing of blogs, but opens an avenue for bloggers to publish their work in book form. Since many blog readers are blog writers, I offer her website as an invaluable tool for those whose blogs could, or should, be published as books:

 http://howtoblogabook.com/hire-a-blog-coach/

I’ve read several blogs that deserve to be immortalized in books, and I’ve read at least one book that started out as a blog:  

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riverbend_(blogger)

I’ve considered using my own blog to construct a book, eventually. Book or no book, a blog should offer good writing. I encourage all who  write blogs to learn about the craft of writing, even if their blogs are simply places in which they release a pressing stream-of-consciousness. Readers deserve good writing.

Book Review: Kabul Beauty School, by Deborah Rodriguez

I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down. I think it is very well-written, contrary to some reviewers who think otherwise. The narrator’s voice remains in character, and the language flows nicely. Though the writing is conversational, it does not succumb to the repetitions and irrelevant interjections that cause actual conversations to become boring.

This book is as much personal memoir as it is an account of how the Kabul Beauty School developed. The author’s personality weaves in and out of her environment in a fascinating account of cultural conflict, cultural engagement, and the remarkably unpredictable results that emerge when people do not let go of their own cultural orientation while trying to function in foreign country.

Deborah retains her American perspective on just about everything; she continues to smoke and drink in a Muslim society, looks forward to celebrating Christmas, and feels little need to adjust her behavior with men in deference to the prevailing attitude of quiet feminine subservience. In this way, she is different from the authors who accept the religious and cultural attitudes of their adopted countries.

At the same time, Deborah becomes profoundly involved with many of the women who attend the beauty school. She also marries an Afghan man, only a few weeks after she met him, and in spite of the fact that neither speaks the other’s language. Many readers will frown upon a protagonist who makes such a vital decision based upon none of the commonly accepted parameters that predict marital happiness, but this decision, probably more than her other decisions, displays her personality perfectly. She is a risk-taker, and willing to assume the consequences.

One wonders how it has fared over the years, but I suspect both of them will accept the influences over which neither has much control to strengthen or dissolve the marriage.

The beauty school closes and opens, and closes again, amidst accusations and rumors regarding what Deborah did or didn’t do with respect to taxes and other aspects of the business. Who knows, certainly not the reader of this book, but none of that is important to the purpose of the book, which is exactly what Deborah says it is– an account of the terrible circumstances of the lives of Afghan women, and how the beauty school gave some of them a chance to develop themselves in a way that most women of the world take for granted

WNFIN Results

Statistics for the WNFIN Project
Writing Nonfiction in November

This is the first year I’ve participated in any type of writing challenge, and I am satisfied with the results. I’ve produced the rough drafts for several essays worth more effort, and I’ve improved my sense of emotional balance. Rather than write sporadically, I’ve written regularly, even when I didn’t feel like it, except for five days, several of which found me totally upset with my son-in-law, and of two which found me at work unexpectedly during my usual writing time.

I joined the challenge on November fifth, therefore I had twenty-five days of participation. The statistics are as follows:

Total words written: 17071

Average: 683 words per day for the 25 days to which I committed
Actual average:  898 for the 19 days on which I actually wrote
Least amount of words a day: 237
Most amount of words a day: 3339
Goal:  50,000
Short of goal: 32929
Days needed to achieve goal at present rate: 48
Total days to goal: 73 (~.2.5 months)

This interesting experiment made me realize the necessity of commitment and good-old-fashioned will-power needed in order to be a writer while still in the midst of responsibilities. I learned my own rate of production. The fact that I fell profoundly short of the goal does not distress me at all, because the goal was not my own. My intention here was to do as much as I could, and even though I couldn’t do much, I did some good work.

I suppose I am ready to set a goal of my own. The goal would be to write consistently, at least twenty-five days per month, on the average of 500 words per day. I can do this. I will even craft essays worthy of posting to this blog and/or distributing elsewhere. The main goal of writing, however, is to open life’s door to deeper levels, and to position my soul closer to center.





WNFIN— Progress Commentary


Excerpt from the WNFIN challenge:
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
597 words

Maybe my ambition to write  is nothing more than a diversionary tactic to romanticize my life now which is entirely devoid of romance. Maybe my desire to write is nothing more than a sublimation of my desire to escape the routine of working. Not yet a week into this writing challenge, I am threatened with doubt about my intention as well as ability to write. The goal is fifty-thousand words during the month of November. Granted, I joined late, which means that to reach the goal, I’d have to produce about two thousand words each day, which should not be too demanding for a real writer. I, however, have fallen short of even half that measure, and I can not rationalize by blaming my job or other worldly responsibilities that rob my writing of its due.

The truth is that I spend less time writing than I do surfing the net, playing Spider Solitaire, downloading music, watching Italian films and even  inferior American films. I also do my Arabic lessons on-line, and read dozens of emails and blog comments from various sources. I am currently not doing digital photo editing, but when I get on a roll, I do nothing but digital photo editing which doesn’t even have redeeming value, such as a  family album for the grandkids; it’s fractals and kaleidoscopes and combining unlikely layers into patterns and colors that thrill my eye. No one even sees half those images, except perhaps a few of them that I put on Flickr and are looked at by a minuscule slice of Flickr membership.

All of this activity entertains me, engages me, and inspires me, but at the end of the day, I have not written the stories I think I’d like to write, so what’s going on? Even my Intensive Journal certification course has fallen by the wayside, but that, at least, is an effort I always preferred to develop in retirement.

I love reading memoir, and this year I’ve read at least a dozen, with several dozen more sitting on my bookshelf and in my Kindle, waiting. I fancy myself adding to the tidal wave of memoir that now overruns literary circles, but here I am, right now, at the keyboard, giving myself the chance, and what do I do? I complain about my lack of production. So what can a rational soul think about a person like me, a writer like me?

Well, I do have talent, that is indisputable, evidenced in the fact that I’ve been positively reinforced for it all my life by people who own  credentials. I’ve even been published a few times, once by TIME magazine when I answered one of the their questions to readers about phobias. They wanted a few words– literally– about their reader’s phobias, so I crafted a statement about my phobia of nasal congestion, and several months later, my brother was on an airplane and read my blurb. He was so shocked he said out loud, “Hey, that’s my sister!”

The TIME piece, novelty as it was, is not something that would go into my portfolio, but it does stand next to the handful of magazines, chapbooks and anthologies that include my name. So, I have talent, and that fact makes my lack of production even more suspect.

I am rambling. Yes, I am rambling, and I hate rambling, but I am doing so in order to fill the screen with words in an effort to reach the daily goal. It’s not going to happen, not today, at least. Maybe tomorrow.