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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Love, Muslim-American style:

By Nara Schoenberg
Chicago Tribune

Aisha Saeed got engaged after six weeks — and only one face-to-face meeting with her husband-to-be.

Tolu Adiba fell in love with another orthodox Muslim woman and lived with her for years, never revealing that they were more than friends.

Computer science major Lena Hassan met her future husband online in 1994, long before Internet dating had become common practice.

The true stories in “Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women” (Soft Skull Press) are as diverse as their authors, who are immigrant and assimilated, gay and straight, orthodox and secular.

“A lot has been said about Muslim women, but very little from ourselves,” says co-editor Ayesha Mattu, who hatched the book idea with her friend Nura Maznavi five years ago, after yet another news story about arranged marriages.

“That’s not how I met my partner,” Mattu says. “That’s not how many people were meeting their partners. A lot of the stories … didn’t really reflect the Muslim women that I knew — who are really smart and fun and opinionated and sassy.”

We talked to Mattu, 39, a human rights consultant, and Maznavi, 33, a lawyer, about love, Muslim-American style.

The following is an edited transcript.

Q: How did the book come about?

Mattu: Nura and I were hanging out in a cafe in San Francisco, where we both lived at the time. I brought up an article in the paper about Muslim matchmaking, and I told her I felt like there were a lot of other stories we never got to see.

Q: Are there common themes in the stories that you found?

Maznavi: One topic that’s dealt with a lot is premarital sex and whether or not a woman is having premarital sex or extramarital sex. Even if they come from a secular family, that’s an issue that is pervasive throughout the entire community.

Q: If there was one story you wanted non-Muslims to read, what would it be?

Mattu: There are a few that stick out. I love Asiila’s story. She’s an African-American woman who talks about being twice divorced and then entering a polygamous marriage. That really challenged my assumptions around what that means. I love Aisha’s story: There is a sense that Muslim women have arranged marriages or don’t really know their partners when they get married. She really looks at that and allows the reader to empathize with the process, and see how she’s opening herself up to take this leap of faith that leads up to a long relationship in which she is deeply, deeply in love with her husband.

Maznavi: (Another) story that I think is very interesting is by Najva Sol, which is her coming-out story. The ending always makes me tear up because it’s so beautiful. There’s this idea of (conservative) Muslim parents, and what that means, and the way her parents say, “You’re still our daughter and we still love you” — it’s just a really beautiful testament to her parents’ love.

Mattu: For the most part, that’s a theme that ran through the hundreds of submissions we read: parents and their children negotiating an understanding, even when it meant conflict at one point or another. We do have a story where that hasn’t worked out and she’s still in the process of negotiating with her mom. But for the vast majority of the submissions we received, it was really about people making space and trying to understand each other, and parents and children engaged in that conversation.

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