I love memoirs. There was a time though, when it was hard to find good memoirs by Muslim women. More than ten years ago, the memoirs I read would disappoint me because they would leave their storytelling project to defend Islam. Long paragraphs and pages of exposition would begin with the words “Islam has five pillars”, or “Islam is about peace”, or “my hijab is about being judged for what is inside my heart” and as a reader, this got old fast. It felt like even by Muslim writers, I wasn’t being centered, I wasn’t seen. I wasn’t their imagined reader.
Now, there is more choice, but my reading preferences are the same. I like books that are not striving to explain Islam, to justify it. I avoid books that are about escaping conservative Islam, about domestic violence, or that include strident paragraphs about how Islam isn’t a violent religion. I rejoice when I come across well written books where I can delight in the prose, be surprised by the reflections, and learn how other Muslims are living their lives. I want Islam to be there in the background, quietly. When I read the novel “A Place for Us’ it felt like home for that reason.
So many years later, while there is still lots of work to do in publishing, there are so many more books and memoirs by Muslim women and it is possible to gravitate to stories that call out to you. I am glad for this. Ibtihaj Muhammed’s book “Proud” for example, made me more motivated to move my body and revel in its gifts. Zarqa Nawaz’ book “Laughing all the Way to the Mosque” made me think about the grit and determination required to create television. While before the publication of any book by any Muslim female in the Global North felt like it warranted purchase because we were in a desert of representation, now I don’t feel compelled to like or read every book. I say all this to say that when I read Professor Ayesha Chaudhry’s memoir “The Colour of God” I entered my reading reminding myself that this is one book, one story. It didn’t have to be all things and it was okay to not like it. I am glad to report though, that this book is a gift, and I am glad I took the effort to read it. I read it slowly over the course of a week, savouring it in early mornings and lunchtime reads and reflecting over its contents.