A couple of months ago I was having a pretty stressful week. I wasn’t eating very well, my sleep had been erratic for a while and on top of all that, I’d read a novel that emotionally battered me. My Mom wasn’t happy about this, especially the fact that a book could leave me feeling so overwhelmed and gloomy. Being a bookworm herself, my Mom understood she couldn’t keep me away from books (I’d like to see anyone try), even if it’s for my own well-being from time to time. So she said the words I never thought I’d hear her say, “You should add some romance novels to your list.”
I don’t have to be from a certain type of culture to say that most people frown at romance as a respectable genre, despite the fact that they might themselves be occasionally enjoying a romance story in some form of another. There’s often an assumed lowbrow or unintellectual status to this “popular” genre, and I’ve come to realize it’s completely uncalled for and even elitist. A few of the feel-good stories that I mention in this article may look like light and breezy reads, but many sound like they move beyond that romance terrain into other areas like identity and politics.
Romance can be a genre tailor made for escapism, however in the real world love and it’s accompaniments are anything but. Romance novels entertain us and furnish us with hope for our own relationships. Read them unapologetically, especially if you enjoy them and if you can find books that give you relatable characters or settings.
In the spirit of this, and with my Mom’s incredible and unexpected advise in mind, I’ve made a list of a Muslim romance novels that I’m adding to my reading list! I’m specifically choosing Muslim romance novels for a few reasons:
- There are very few such books out there; I’ve only read one really absorbing and authentic Muslim chick-lit/romance.
- The Muslim culture and lifestyle often adds a uniquely prudent and conservative twist to romance that. We’re an ‘all or nothing’ kind of community, so the search can be intense and filled with many frustrations that might look trivial and unnecessary to non-Muslim readers.
Without further ado, here’s the list! Full disclaimer; I’ve only read one of these so I can’t guarantee that the books are excellent reads without any culturally insensitive elements. I’ve tried my best to pick ones I felt naturally intrigued by.
Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik
Truthfully, I’ve already read this book and its sequel, twice. It’s funny, charming and warm, perhaps because of the insightful narrative and the British Pakistan protagonist Sofia Khan, a super relatable and flawed character. I like that Malik portrays the complexities of finding ‘Muslim love’ in a modern society (it’s set in London). The novel’s its focus on the young Muslim women’s issues is spot on. If there’s one book you choose from this list, let it be this one.
She Wore Red Trainers by Na’ima B. Roberts
This Muslim YA romance had some really positive reviews on Goodreads. It sounds like it could be a fun beach read about young love! What caught my eye was the blurb’s indication of how fleeting moments can draw you towards a person, especially when you’re a Muslim teen: “When Ali first meets Amirah, he notices everything about her—her hijab, her long eyelashes and her red trainers—in the time it takes to have one look, before lowering his gaze.”
Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin
Okay, take a deep breath because this book is a Muslim retelling of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice! GASP! When I first read the blurb and came across the words “She is irritatingly attracted to someone who looks down on her choices…” I frowned and cringed a little. If there’s one thing I don’t enjoy it’s romance novels where the gal falls head over heels in love with someone who clearly disrespects her. BUT in this book’s case, I’ve been won over by the Pride an Prejudice angle – I’m going to give this book a chance! Who knows, it could possibly be a fun read.
Minaret by Leila Aboulela
My professor recommended this novel to me a few years ago and I recently realized I still hadn’t read it. This isn’t a Romance-specific novel, but it sounds like a much more inquisitive read on identity and love in a foreign country. Najwa, forced out of Sudan due to a coup that strips her of her wealth and status, works as a maid in London. Only able to find solace in the local Muslim community, Najwa gets drawn to Tamer, the younger brother of one of her employers. It sounds like an intense read!
No Sex in the City by Randa Abdel Fattah
Fattah has written quite a few novels that seem like they might enjoyable reads. This novel caught my eye because of its title (reference to Bushnel’s ultra popular book/series starring the lovely SJP). Set in Australia, the story follows Esma, an accomplished young woman looking for a Muslim match. Frustrated by the difficulties she faces in her quest for halal-love, Esma starts a ‘No Sex in the City’ club with her friends. I have high hopes for this one!
The Thing We Call A Heart by Sheba Karim
The female friendship of young Muslim girls, especially teens, is so underrated in fiction. This book sounds like it might offer a great friendship duo in the form of Shabnam and Farah. In her last year of high school, Shabnam meets Jamie, a non-Muslim boy who helps her get a job and finds her different-ness fascinating. Farah has decided to wear the hijab, unannounced. Shabnam, which dealing with her feelings for Jamie, is also running from the events of the Indian-Pakistan partition. Definitely a Muslim-American YA I’m adding to my list!
The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif
A combination of historical fiction and romance, this follows two women who fall in love with men outside their familiar worlds. In 1901, the recently widowed Anna leaves England to live in Egypt, where she meets Sharif Pasha al-Baroudi. A hundred years later, their descendant Isabel Parkman, falls in love with Omar al-Ghamrawi. In an effort to reconcile with her heritage and Egyptian identity, Isabel reads her ancestor’s letters to try and find the right path. As I write this, I’m wishing I already had a copy so I could dive right in!