Kharobah Dreaming

Musings about academe in haphazard fashion.

Book Review _Love in a Headscarf_ by Shelina Z. Janmohamed

What a fun, refreshing, and good natured presentation of the process and problems facing Western-raised Muslim women on the market for marriage. This is the true story of a British Muslim woman, Shelina, (beginning when she is age 19 and attending university) who starts the process with her parents of trying to find a life partner. Aside from the hilarity of the older “aunties” who immediately get involved, the hired “matchmaker”, and discussions on the topic of marriage from the imam, there is quite a lot to learn from Shelina’s experiences. The reader is granted glimpses of the available candidates, their typical ages, work and bios, expected behavior and dress at first meetings, and reactions of approval and disapproval. While none of this will be of surprise to any woman of ancestry from Indian subcontinent, it is refreshing to see the informal and truthful presentation of people and events actually written for a public dialogue.

What will be of interest to all Muslim women raised in the West, regardless of cultural heritage, is the painful and distressing number of years that it takes Shelina to find her perfect marriage partner. Precisely because she is a Muslim who is simultaneously university educated AND wearing hijab (scarf head cover), working as a commentator and columnist AND a contributing/active member of her mosque, wanting a marriage that is true to the tenets of Islam AND with love, she straddles two worlds. Many of the men she is introduced to are “modern”, but don’t want a woman in a headscarf. Others are more traditional and approve of her conservative dress, but are not pleased that she is an avid reader, for instance. We find that a major complaint for Shelina and her close friends through the years is that there is a distinct shortage of Muslim men in the UK because those that are educated and successful send “home” to the subcontinent for wives, rather than accept an equally westernized and educated British woman.

Some of the encounters are laugh-out-loud funny! Other times the reader feels despair as Shelina tries to find potential spouses on the Internet, tries meeting in public places in other towns away from “prying eyes”, and even attends speed dating (only to find the men were actually paid to be there). She openly discusses issues related to race, perceived religious practice or lack thereof, and the strength of family and community. My only real criticism is with the amount of repetition in her explanation of “the Divine” and “love” in her personal and spiritual journey. My eyes glazed over a number of times, I must admit.

Personally, I was proud of Shelina’s parents for allowing her the opportunity to choose for herself and their flexibility to allow her to take years in the process. She admits, however, that the first match might have been perfect had she not been such a dreamy teenager. Perhaps her parents could have been a stronger guide. This book will prove helpful to young woman beginning this process to know their experiences are not unique, that others share their anxiety, and there will, inshaAllah/God willing, be a light at the end. This text should also be useful to adults in Muslim communities to talk about how to make this process easier and less stressful on their young people.

The strength of this piece is that it is so accessible.  Anyone, regardless or age or background, could pick this text up read it and comprehend it, though it would probably be more appealing to the female gender and possibly be dismissed as a “girlie book” by men.  Whether Italian or Sudani, American or any other nationality, many of us world wide can empathize with the plight of Shelina to navigate the good natured “aunties”, (who might be “church ladies” in a different religion).  The crossover topics of gender, westernization, education, modernization, nationality, and faith make this text another one to not miss for Springtime reading.  Or, as it seems to happen for me, the book for the car pool line waiting for my children to get out of school.

“Named one of UKs hundred mist influential Muslim women by the Times of London”


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This entry was posted on March 11, 2013 by in Book Review and tagged , , , .
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