Stereotypes about Muslim women in this country both frustrate me and motivate me to act. They make me want to speak out about my experiences and those of other Muslim women. They inspire me to write novels with more accurate narratives.
But the corresponding stereotypes of Muslim men mostly just make me sad.
Author Bushra Rehman captures that sentiment in her novel, Corona, in one devastating sentence twenty-five pages in. Her Pakistani American protagonist, Razia Mirza, interacts with some bearded bikers, men from whom others keep their distance. But for Razia, they were reassuringly familiar: “[T]hey all looked at me gently, and suddenly I felt so homesick for Queens where the men others thought were scary used to be the men who took care of me.”
I read that line at least a dozen times.
When the media pushes relentless “scary” images of Muslim men, I think of the time my husband sat with our fussy then-two-year-old daughter in the “cry room” at the church where my beloved grandfather’s funeral was held, and how he embraced me in the atrium afterwards with tears in his own eyes. I think of my brother-in-law who introduced me to the most perfect food on earth, masala dosa, and then stood in my kitchen late one night showing me how to make it. I think of my recent college-graduate nephew who read my novel and called me a “cool aunt.”
These are the Muslim men I know. These are the men I wish the public knew.
I try to imagine what it’s like to be a Muslim man, so frequently vilified as violent and angry and dangerous.
I try to imagine living in a country where many people think you don’t love.
The men in Salaam, Love do. They love. They love slowly and sweetly in grade school crushes and boldly and suddenly with women they meet in college or at work. They mistake lust for love and chase after elusive parental approval. They get their hearts broken—by the wrong woman and the right woman and by some compelling men. They get beautifully, blissfully lucky, and find “the one.”
They stand by a wife dying of cancer and tell us that, had they known she would get sick, they would still do it all over again.
Muslim men love.
The essays in Salaam, Love, though warm and rich and honest and funny, are not propaganda. This is not a collection of “perfect Muslim men” stories. In the pages of this anthology, there are men with flaws, men to pity, men to hope like hell your daughter or best friend does not meet.
Just like with any other group of men.
And that is the point that shouldn’t need making but which desperately needs making.
Muslim women have the right to speak their own truth, to tell their own stories. Muslim men do as well, and in Salaam, Love they have.
Isn’t it time we listen?
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SALAAM, LOVE was published by Beacon Press on February 4, 2014. It is edited by Ayesha Mattu And Nura Maznavi, whose bios are below. The book is available through Indiebound, from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and wherever books are sold. Please visit their
website for more information.
Ayesha Mattu is a writer, editor and international development consultant who has worked in the field of women’s human rights since 1998. Her first book, “Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women”, was featured globally by media including the New York Times, NPR, the BBC, Washington Post, Guardian, Times of India, Dawn Pakistan, and Jakarta Post. She was selected a “Muslim Leader of Tomorrow” by the UN Alliance of Civilizations and has served on the boards of IDEX, the Women’s Funding Network, and World Pulse. Ayesha is an alumna of Voices of Our Nations and a member of the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto.
Nura Maznavi is a civil rights attorney, writer and Fulbright Scholar. She has worked with migrant workers in Sri Lanka, on behalf of prisoners in California, and with a national legal advocacy organization leading a program to end racial and religious profiling. She lives in Chicago.