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The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman's Journey to Love and Islam

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  4,312 ratings  ·  504 reviews
The extraordinary story of an all-American girl’s conversion to Islam and her ensuing romance with a young Egyptian man, The Butterfly Mosque is a stunning articulation of a Westerner embracing the Muslim world.

When G. Willow Wilson—already an accomplished writer on modern religion and the Middle East at just twenty-seven—leaves her atheist parents in Denver to study at Bo
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published June 1st 2010 by Atlantic Monthly Press
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Feb 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: iran, spirit, egypt, gender, 2011, islam
Despite what the subtitle of this book might suggest, this isn't a frothy little 'white girl has epiphany away from home' piece. Instead it's a wonderful, complicated, thoughtful exploration of Islam, politics, family, and belonging. Wilson became interested in Islam while in college in the United States, finding that it provided the best explanation for things she already felt and believed but for which she had no name. During a year spent in Egypt to teach English, she personally and formally ...more
Jennifer Abdo
Feb 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jennifer by: found at library
Shelves: memoir
If you're a Christian and still think all Muslims are secretly terrorists and the true Islam promotes terrorism, this is probably a book you should read. As an American convert to Islam, she has some good perspective and insights.

Again (as with Jehan Sadat), raised an atheist (Sadat being Muslim of course), I don't think she has a good grasp of Christianity when she talks about it. She contrasts Islam with Calvinism and Catholicsm and lists a bunch of things I as a Christian don't believe in eit
Jenny (Reading Envy)
May 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read2015, own
Growing up in a Christian home, I have read many Christian conversion stories in my lifetime. This was refreshing on many levels, but I think the part that was most compelling was reading how G. Willow was drawn to converting to Islam after being raised an atheist. At the same time she is converting to a new culture, since she moved to Egypt after college and ended up marrying an Egyptian. That is a lot of change in a short time, and her insights into the culture of Egyptian Muslims, the intrica ...more
Courtney Huber
Apr 18, 2011 rated it liked it
I appreciated learning about Islam and Egyptian culture, which was my primary reason for wanting to read this widely hailed memoir. I must say, though, I felt that the author skims the surface of some very important, complex issues. I often found myself thinking, "But, wait--what about...?" Aspects of Cairo's societal environment are frustratingly glossed over, such as how women are routinely harassed by men in the streets and frequently "groped" and "molested" during political protests. She bar ...more
Jul 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
This book resonated a lot with me. It tells the story of an American upper middle class woman that recently graduated undergrad w/ a history degree from Boston U. She decides to move to Egypt to work at an English school there. She converts to Islam, learns Arabic, falls in love with an Egyptian man, eventually marries him, and becomes part of Egyptian culture.

As the author discusses her first interests in Islam and the process where she learned more about it, partially thru her liberal arts edu
Jul 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
A highly thought-provoking book. Wilson does a magnificent job of using her own life as a way of presenting a very nuanced picture of Islam and life in the Middle East. The Boston Globe recently ran an article about her, and, reading the book, I was reminded of the comments left by readers, exposing a lot of fear and bigotry while accusing Wilson of simple-minded naivete. Her writing, however, shows her to be both wise and level-headed.

If I had any complaints, it would be that she tends to rush
Oct 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book, as of course anyone could guess I would. I don't know why it took me so long to read it - maybe because I knew I would find a lot to relate to in it (conversion to Islam, falling in love with, marrying, then eventually bringing to America a nice North African man, etc.) It was nice to read the experiences of someone who has been through so many of the same things that I have (but who writes a hell of a lot better!), but on another level, it was painful to read my way through s ...more
Oct 26, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion
The title promises more than the book delivers. It's been a while since I read the book, but I remember being disappointed by how little she discusses about her conversion to and love for Islam. This is mostly about her experiences living in another culture. Even the love story seems dispassionate, as if she is merely recounting facts. I ended up with the feeling that there was far more to the story.

This isn't to say that the book isn't worth reading. The author offers valuable insights into wha
Jul 19, 2010 rated it did not like it
The operative word in the title is probably "young". ...more
Oct 08, 2017 rated it did not like it
Honestly, I found this book infuriating for several reasons. I'll try to list them all.

1) G. Willow Wilson is so condescending towards other woman. She seems incapable of allowing women to make their own choices about how they dress or behave without passing some type of judgement on them. She describes western women as androgynous presumably because we wear pants and don't cover our hair. She describes Iranian women who reject the mandatory Muslim dress as "less than revolutionary" and "catty"
Michael Austin
Dec 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2016
I'm always suspicious when someone calls a book "indispensable." No book cannot be lived without. People do it all the time. But to the extent that books can be indispensable, The Butterfly Mosque is indispensable. Especially to Americans and other Westerners. Especially now, when fair and decent people of all (and no) faiths have a moral imperative to do everything possible to head off the epic clash of civilizations that so many people on both sides of the divide seem determined to push us all ...more
Book Riot Community
G. Willow Wilson moved to Egypt to teach after college. She already had an inkling to convert to Islam, but she was apprehensive about having to explain her choices to family and friends who would certainly not understand her religion or her burgeoning relationship with a Muslim man. Part memoir, part philosophy, and all heart, this book is one that is truly humbling. Wilson addresses the prejudices of the West and western media, the fallout after 9/11, and the ways in which differences in cultu ...more
Aug 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
First off, I have to admit that the entire time I was reading this book, I was racking my brain to try to remember if I taught high school English to this student. She attended the school where I taught when I was there, and her name is very familiar. I've taught now for about 30 years, I've taught a number of students and that high school was a large one. Her name is so familiar, but I'm thinking that whilst she was friends with some of my students, I didn't actually teach her. Pity. I loved re ...more
Jan 16, 2015 rated it liked it
This was an interesting read. I'm left wondering if the author's thoughts and beliefs have evolved today, does she still consider Sunni Islam a cold, threatening fundamentalist sect (she didn't state it, but she sure did imply it), does she still coin people who negate shirk as "Wahhabis". Have I ever mentioned I hate that term? While I enjoyed many of her insights into life in Cairo and agree on most aspects wholeheartedly, I feel many passages in the book come off as apologetic. She was consta ...more
Mar 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
I've recently been on a kick for memoirs- specifically ones that pertain to beautiful cultures. BUTTERFLY MOSQUE caught my eye because I was intrigued to see how an atheist would settle into Muslim religion. But mostly because on a deep level, it wouldn't be so far off from where I'm standing. So basically, I was just hoping to love this.

My first gripe would be that I wish this would have been longer, or edited better. The duration in which things occur is fast, a bit too fast. There's not much
Tuscany Bernier
Jan 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
I highly enjoyed this story. It helped me understand a bit better why so many born Muslims ask us converts why we converted to Islam. Truthfully, there as many answers as there are people as to why somebody would follow a certain religion or not. This book was an excellent reminder of such ideas.

However, the book also made me feel things on a personal level that I'm not sure I know how to put into words. Questions that make me curious if they even have a place in a book review since they were no
K. Lincoln
Sep 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
Religious converts make me squirm. Especially those whose conversion entails a major change not only in their beliefs but also in their culture.

As a closet Unitarian myself, I find religious certainty at once fascinating and unfathomable. Having lived in Japan, and experienced both Buddhist Americans (of Christian background) and Christian Japanese, I still find it difficult to imagine leaving behind the customs of my childhood to pledge myself --body and soul-- to a culture I have known only a
Oct 13, 2012 rated it it was ok
Curiously as a convert you would think the author would have felt inner peace, she never once mentioned that. In the first quarter of the book she mentioned a relationship with God, but as the book progressed that got pushed somewhere into the background. Not that I'm a religious person at all and I didn't expect the book to win converts but I would have thought that such a tremendous time in a person's life would warrant more page space. I suppose one could argue that this book is idealy for wh ...more
Marwa Owais
Jun 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing

There are so many peaceful moment I felt while reading this book, but the most amazing and truthful one was when she converted. She describes her as "In the darkness over the Mediterranean, in no country, under no law, I made peace with God. I called him Allah"

Reading the butterfly mosque & hearing the stories of conversion of men like Jeffery Lang, Muhammed Asad and so many others, one of the things I learned that you should always listen to stories like these to feel ashamed of yourself for no
May 05, 2011 rated it liked it
So, I'm a Muslim woman living in the US, no veil, not in the least conservative, etc. I'm always wary of those who have converted, they're usually a little too zealous for me. It was a little hard to swallow her conversion tale, it was all pretty glossed over - too smooth and existential. I really wanted to like her, I really did, I just couldn't quite get there. Omar was too smooth, too perfect. The relationship never felt explored,like why they really fell in love.

I did appreciate her introdu
May 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"I had gained so much more than I had lost." Truly love this book. Motivates me to open the Quran and read it again after she describes, "Nothing felt as right as what I had seen in the Quran." And I agree with Islam as antiauthoritarian sex-positive monotheism. It is because that opinion puts so much faith in honouring your own body and self; how grateful we should be to come to this world from a sacred marital relationship between our parents. I am not a saint to condemn sex before marriage an ...more
Aug 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Tori by: co-worker
to describe this memoir as one about g willow wilson's conversion to islam would be doing it a disservice. it is about that, but it's about so much more -- it's about navigating her identity as a white muslim american woman in egypt, about falling in love with an egyptian man, about negotiating the space (cultural, geographic) between east and west... so, really, it's about cross-cultural dialogue.

one of the better books i've read in a long, long time.
Dec 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs-bios, ocob
I’m having one of those synchronous moments when two books I’m randomly reading at the same time end up speaking to each other and I’m pushed to be some kind of referee. I’m going to leave a discussion of religion aside; I’m more interested in the social manifestations of religious practice. While Islam is philosophically attractive to me, its approach to gender roles has always felt problematic. Wilson’s memoir led me to some deeper insights on the issue, but I still feel unresolved, and I thin ...more
Akshay Rangamani
Jul 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Butterfly Mosque is an earnest, heartfelt narrative that describes Willow Wilson's religious, cultural, and professional journey. What strikes me most about the memoir is her clarity of thought at such a young age (I think she's in her mid to late 20s at the time of writing). I enjoy reading about the role of faith in people's lives, and how religion might provide its adherents with understanding and tranquility. Though it might seem like the discussion of how she converted to Islam was sque ...more
Dec 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
With nearly palpable descriptions of Cairene life through the eyes of a former atheist, her story is simply beautiful. Wilson is extremely insightful, candid and open-minded in her exposition of Islamic and Egyptian traditions and perspectives through the eyes of a newcomer; she is always sure to incorporate and understand divergent opinions and ways of life, which is why I found her journey to be both fascinating and refreshing in these times of misdirected hostility and unjust treatment of Isl ...more
Aban (Aby)
Oct 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
This memoir written by a young, white American woman, explores her journey from atheism to adoption of Islam as her religion. Once this decision is made she goes to live in Cairo, falls in love with a Moslem Egyptian, marries and adopts her husband's way of life. None of this is easily done, especially as the conversion and move occur soon after the horrors of September 11, 2001. In Cairo, Willow Wilson has to change from being an independent American to living within a culture which values 'int ...more
Sep 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It is a well written, sincere and honest book in my opinion. I loved it maybe it's because my thoughts are pretty much the same as hers, I guess.

"With Islam, I gave myself permission to live in the world as I saw it, not as I was told to see it."

"I learned to trust my religion because it became one of the central arbiters of my daily life."

"There was a divinity insensible of ethnic heritage, a truth hidden but not erased by geography. It demanded to be recognized and protected."

"My initial impr
SISTERS Magazine
Feb 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Written down to precise perfection, G Willow Wilson’s memoir about her journey to Islam is rich and intense. Reverting in Egypt, Wilson’s wonderful experiences of navigating through love, faith and culture add a new dimension of a convert’s sojourn. Her prose is lyrical and she has the canny ability to draw out profound lessons from each of the incidents. A bit controversial at times, Wilson is unabashed and rebellious. Her description of Cairo and the Middle Eastern culture also makes for an in ...more
Bunny McFoo
WARNING: this is not a complimentary review. Unlike 98% of the world I did not enjoy or like this book at all.

I can't rate this book. I'm giving it one star because I hated it and the author/narrator (lord but I hated her) but at the same time I don't really feel right about that because I interacted with this book in a way that I literally never have done before - I took notes on scraps of paper, I made notes on my laggy kindle, I made bookmarks.

I don't do those things - usually when I read I
Andrew David
This is an important memoir, one that I think offers a perspective we don't hear in our culture today--an American woman moves to Egypt, converts to Islam, and marries a Muslim Egyptian. It's the kind of memoir I would encourage anyone to read who has a passing interest in how the Western world and Middle East can begin to understand each other or for anyone who finds the very notion of a Western woman converting to Islam--that oppressive, war-mongering, radical religion--absurd.

That said, I'm
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