Nura Maznavi ’00 was tired of hearing everyone talk about Muslim women, without ever stopping to listen to Muslim women themselves.
“Nowhere in the public discourse did we see a reflection of the funny, independent and opinionated Muslim women we knew,” says Maznavi, who, with co-editor Ayesha Mattu, thought an anthology could help fill the void. “We decided to compile our faith community’s love stories as a celebration of our identity and heritage, and a way of amplifying our diverse voices, practice and perspectives.”
In Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women, 25 women chronicle their experiences of romance, dating, love and sex in the context of their varied relationships to their Muslim faith. (“InshAllah” means “God-willing.”) For the anthology’s co-editors, this was an opportunity to subvert popular perceptions and stereotypes of Muslim women and also remind readers of the universality and complexity of the search for love.
The project began nearly five years ago. Maznavi and Mattu, who met through mutual friends, circulated a nationwide call for submissions and received more than 200. The criteria for the final selections? The writers had to be both American and Muslim and collectively represent the spectrum of both identities. The contributors to Love, InshAllah are blonde or black; South Asian or Southern; divorced, single or polygynous; straight or lesbian. “It was very important to us that the final contributors reflect the ethnic, racial and religious—orthodox to cultural to secular—diversity of the American Muslim community,” says Maznavi, a civil rights attorney in Los Angeles.
For Maznavi and Mattu, building trust was key so that the writers felt comfortable exploring the parts of themselves that were sometimes difficult to write about. Contributors were assured that none of their stories would be sent to print without their final approval. “For many of our writers, it was the first time they were sharing the personal and intimate details of their love lives—not only with the public, but sometimes with their family and friends,” she says.
Each of the editors contributed a chapter as well. Maznavi wrote about her crush on a Sri Lankan Catholic model and the dilemma of whether to kiss him or not. Mattu told the story of finding her soul mate in an Albanian agnostic—after 9/11 and before his conversion to Islam.
Getting the book to print was a hurdle, though eventually an independent publishing house, Soft Skull Press, an imprint of Counterpoint, was won over. “Many of the first publishers we approached loved it, but were reluctant to publish a book by unknown writers meant for an untested market,” Maznavi says.
The hope of the book, says Maznavi, is that “we will discover that one of the things we all have in common is the desire to love and be loved for who we are.”