Who doesn’t enjoy reading and talking about what it feels like to fall in love, how dating is viewed in different cultures, how cultural perceptions of premarital sex shape the choices young American women make and so on, especially as these topics relate to Muslim women? Well, on May 19th, a crowd of twenty-five women from all over the DC Metro area met at the Chevy Chase Neighborhood Library to talk about the book that has finally broken the silence on topics that were, until now, considered taboo in many Muslim communities. ‘Love, InshAllah’, a collection of essays compiled by Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu, has finally allowed Muslim American women to tell their stories of romance, sex, sexuality and, above all, the search for love, in their own words.
The event was jointly organized by CHAI and Novel Connections book clubs with the intention of initiating discussions and dialogues on various topics included in ‘Love, InshAllah’, such as homosexuality, love, religion, and stereotyping . The CHAI Book Club, is an outreach effort started in 2012 by the non-profit organization, CHAI (Counselors Helping (South) Asians/Indians, Inc.). Novel Connections Book Club was founded in January 2011 by Maliha Ilias and Farhana N. Shah.
After welcoming remarks from Razia Kosi, Executive Director of CHAI, the event began with a showing of a video from a Voice of America interview with the editors of the book. The video set the tone for the event by introducing the two dynamic women behind the project that culminated in ‘Love, InshAllah’, which has allowed Muslim American women to be seen and heard in an entirely new and honest light. Through the efforts of the CHAI ladies, the audience got to enjoy the special treat of hearing from one of the editors of the book, Nura Maznavi, who joined via Skype and regaled the attendees with stories of how the book survived multiple rejections from publishers only to go on to win a book contract at a contest entitled ‘Pitch-a-Palooza’ in San Fransisco, CA (there is a quote from Ayesha and Nura on the front page of the linked page).
A main attraction at the event was the presence of one of the contributing authors of the book. Julie Samia Mair is an author of two children’s books and a staff writer for SISTERS magazine. Her story, titled “Journey of Two Hearts”, captures her experiences as a convert who struggled with her spiritual attraction to Islam and her love for a non-Muslim man. Julie spoke with ease about her struggles and the ability of her faith to give her the strength and courage to follow her heart. The audience especially enjoyed asking Julie questions, such as how her own life experiences with regards to love and religion will help her raise her twin daughters who were adopted from China.
Both book clubs prepared questions and discussion points to set the stage for the audience to interact and discuss the book. The audience took the lead and shared many of their own stories and raised questions about sexual conservatism and co-wives within an Islamic marriage. The group in attendance, which consisted of all women, included a mix of ethnicities, races and ages. They learned about the book club discussion through listservs, friends, and connections with other members of either the CHAI or Novel Connections Book Clubs.
Below are some of the discussion questions and topics addressed, use the polls to weigh in on the conversation:
As women shared their experiences with positive and negative stereotypes, premarital sex and sexual conservatism, religious and personal acceptance of homosexuality, and other such complex topics, it became clear that the dialogue started in ‘Love, InshAllah’ will not end with the twenty-five stories captured in the book. Insha’ Allah (Allah willing)!
Thanks to Maliha Ilias for contributing this blog entry. Maliha holds a BA in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. in Population, Family and Reproductive Health from Johns Hopkins University. Her doctoral thesis focused on the effect of perinatal depressive symptoms and anxiety on birth outcomes in low-income African American women. She is currently working as a Health Specialist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Ms. Ilias also serves as a Commissioner on the Montgomery County Commission for Women. She is also one of the co-founders of the Novel Connections book club.
If you would like more information on CHAI, Inc. or participating in either book club, please fill out the email form below.