Kristine's Reviews > Love in a Headscarf

Love in a Headscarf by Shelina Zahra Janmohamed
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's review
Oct 31, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: firstreads-netgalley, true-life-stories, religion-and-or-lds, modern-lit, love-story, i-own, favorites
Read from December 06 to 08, 2010

Shelina is a thoroughly modern Muslim - a British Indian Muslim. Her ancestors were from India and converted to Islam and moved to Tanzania. When Tanzania was granted independence from Britain, Shelina's father chose to take the offer as a British citizen to move to England. Moving into that environment has caused her family to closely examine which Muslim practices are/were part of their culture, and which were actually a part of Islam. This was the second book I've ever read about Muslim women, the first being Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia, which could not be more DIFFERENT in portrayal of the life of a Muslim woman. I think this, more than anything, solidified my knowledge that Islam is quite wonderful, and all of the ugly atrocities in Muslim nations come from awful cultural traditions than anything the Qu'ran has ever said.

Shelina wrote this book about how as a modern Muslim woman, she chose the traditional path of an arranged marriage. When I read the book blurb I thought it would be more crazy tales along the lines of "hijinx ensue, lol". While she did include quite a bit of descriptions in first person voice of her experiences which were funny, much of the rest of the writing was expository. Not in a bad way - I sure do not know a lot about the Muslim faith (I know a little) and I appreciated the explanations. It seemed like those were the driest parts of the book, though.

What I do know about the Muslim faith was reaffirmed. It is a loving, peaceful, family-based religion. They adhere to a high standard of strict moral conduct: no drinking, immorality, immodesty, etc. The sanctity of motherhood and children is tantamount and life and society should be built around the traditional family unit. Listening to Shelina describe her standards, you could almost see her living in SLC and being mistaken for a Mormon (although the headscarf would be a dead giveaway). In fact there were so many similarities I was only left to one conclusion: whether you are an American Mormon or a British Muslim, we are all children of the same loving God - whether you call him Allah or Heavenly Father, he has the same standards and laws and loves us all the same. There were times when the similarities were quite striking. When Shelina went on her Hajj - her pilgramage to their sacred Kabaa in Mecca (which they call the house of their God) they all dress in white to remove materialism and individuality - so they all stand before Allah as equal spirits. They then perform symbolic rituals. Hmmmm.

There was part of the book she spoke about her spiritual journey. From blind obedience, to actively choosing conversion, to following the letter of the law, to following the spirit of the law, after that there was a little journey into mysticism. I started feeling a little nervous about that part . . . our LDS (Mormon) religion discourages delving into the mysteries of God (as, most assuredly, there is much our human comprehension is not up to the task) and stick to what we have been given as the path back to our Heavenly Father (that after all the good works we can do we still stand sinful and must accept the Savior as our mediator through Grace to gain admittance into Heaven). But the more I thought about it the more I saw the similarities of her journey with ours. In our religion after living the spirit of the law we are most assuredly encouraged to continue on our spiritual journey - one of stiriving to be more like the Savior and to literally develop a personal relationship with Him. This is a deeply personal and intimate spiritual journey that I could equate to that stage in her life. Where she discovered LOVE. God is LOVE. This is a beautiful story of discovery - both self discovery and spiritual discovery.

I wanted to end my review with an explanation of my four+star rating. Is the writing such that it's artistic and destined to be a classic in the auto-biographical genre? No. Lively and beautiful at times? yes. Dry and a little slow sometimes? yes. But there was one part of the book where she described her grandmother - her angel grandmother. Her grandmother who married a man of her loving father's choosing, who raised 10 faithful children of her own, and who rises every morning at 3 am for her daily prayer with Allah. I felt this woman's spirituality, her closeness to God. I envied it. What a beautiful example. This woman was geographically, religiously, and generationally apart from me and has inspired me to be a better woman. A better Mormon. A better Daughter of God. And to be inspired in such a manner - well, was rather shocking for me :-) in a good way!

p.s. I think Shelina and I were spirit sisters separated at birth! I call myself a feminist Mormon housewife (in every positive connotation of the word) and well, I think we may have been cut from the same cloth. A highly educated, faithful woman who defies cultural traditions to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and become one of the most influential Muslim women in British society? You go, girl! :-)
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message 1: by Dawn (new) - added it

Dawn Great review, Kristine! You definitely make me want to read it. Have I recommended to you the movie "Arranged?" From what you say about Love in a Headscarf, I bet you'd like this movie! Tell me if you watch it and what you think. :)
I wonder if you'd also like the book The Faith Club? Have you read it? It's not as profound, perhaps, but it is very interesting and I learned quite a bit. It's the true story of three women who become friends in NYC after 9/11. One is a Christian, one a Jew, and one Muslim. They come together to write a book for children to help explain their religions and that we are all children of God and can have respect and friendship for each other. But they also end up confronting their own prejudices and exploring their faith and becoming close friends who support and love and celebrate each other. We discussed it in the book club here. It's a good book for discussion.

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