“What is it like under there?”
Love in a headscarf- Muslim Woman Seeks the One by Shelina Zahra Janmahomed
In a cleverly written jeu d’esprit memoir, a British Muslim woman recounts her adventures in Single-Land as she sets out to finds the man of her life in the arranged-marriage style.
They say never judge a book by its cover, but a rose-pink paperback with a chic woman wearing a camels-hearts-John Travolta-print headscarf was irresistible. “At the age of thirteen, I knew I was destined to marry John Travolta. One day he would arrive on my North London doorstep, fall madly in love with me and ask me to marry him. Then he would convert to Islam and become a devoted Muslim.” The innocence of this extract from the blurb convinced me to take Love in a Headscarf home. I am glad I did.
First something about the author- Shelina Zahra Janmahomed, an Oxford-graduate living in North London, writes an award-winning blog called Spirit 21 and has written columns, primarily on women issues and Islam, for leading newspapers like The Guardian and The Times. She decided to write a memoir on her experiences as a Muslim woman in the West when she saw a whole shelf of paperbacks in a bookstore on the lives of ‘oppressed’ Muslim women. “These archetypal stories featured book covers almost exclusively of women with sad oppressed eyes staring out from behind a tightly wrapped niqab, camels and deserts in the background.” she says in an interview with The Hindu. Apparently, her side of the story was very different.
Shelina begins the story from the time when she’s in her late teens and looking for the Prince Charming, like most girls of her age. On her path, she meets tens of (unsuitable) suitors and gradually discovers more and more about human nature. A man, who not only turns up hours late for the first meeting without informing or apologising later but also refuses to pay, will not, quite evidently, make a very good husband. I couldn’t help but giggle at the idea that how ashamed he would feel after reading the book (serves him right!). Shelina takes the reader on a journey through her religion- the book is interspersed with sayings by the Prophet and Islamic teachings and culture. Being far from didactic, it simply shows how pivotal a role faith can play in the quest for love, or Love.
The book is a treasury of humorous and sentimental moments in a woman’s life- Shelina is a friend who will share all her ups and downs with you. Faux pas of the suitors, ‘buxom aunties’ who want to see everybody married and happy, stereotypes of Islam in the Western Society – and between all this a young woman like you and me , asking the stars to send the One for her soon.
Love in a Headscarf is too good to be missed. The freshness of this book will stay with you for a long time and you will return to it now and then to share a laugh with a good friend you made on the way.
Since the French President announced a ban on the burqa in France, a huge debate has sparked up. This step is being criticised as a denial of choice to Muslim women. Shelina, too, is often questioned why she wears the hijab even after being so ‘modern’. Her answer lies at the core of every debate- it is a matter of her faith as a practicing Muslim and her choice as an independent woman. And simply, in her words, “in the cold winter air in London, it keeps my head warm while I think!” Mon cher Sarkozy, this is just what you should be reading this autumn!