Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson

I was browsing in the library and saw this book. When I read the inside flap, I thought it looked really intriguing so I picked it up. After 9/11, I've been really interested in Islam and Muslim conversions.  I also had a pretty big interest in women in Islam - their role, how they perceive their roles and what the Koran says about their roles. This particular book intrigued me more then other books about gender and Islam because G. Willow Wilson is a white, American woman that converted to Islam after studying Arabic and Islam extensively as a college student in Boston, living in the Middle East for some time and marrying an Arab man.

Before reading this memoir, I think it's safe to say that the readings I had done previously about women in Islam had been mostly negative: women were treated poorly and had to straggly mightily in order to gain some degree of recognition.  I think that this sort of portrayal leads the reader easily to believe that women that follow Islam are completely lacking in power or say at all in everything from their everyday life to who they marry and to the religious choices that they make. In this particular memoir, G. Willow Wilson narrates her journey from an atheist American to a Muslim woman who is getting married to an Arab, Muslim man. She attempts to explore the struggles that she faces in attempting to reconcile Western Cultural beliefs with Middle Eastern Cultural Religious beliefs and the religion that she is attempting to convert to. She explores the struggles that she had as a white, American woman attempting to convert and assimilate to the culture of the country that she was living in and she also attempts to describe the struggles that she had in surpassing the sometimes negative mindsets that she had with regards to Islam. In so doing, she presents a generally positive interaction and conversion.

This memoir was absolutely beautiful. I really enjoyed reading about Wilson's experiences in college and abroad.  I felt like she was completely honest and up front - she opened herself up in this memoir and her writing was fluid, accessible and beautiful.  Sometimes, I felt that I was standing right next to her as she was having an experience because I could smell what she smelt and feel what she felt on her skin or with her hands as she was feeling it.  It was astounding. Wilson was often brutally honest with us: she was particularly honest about her anxieties about converting and how her family would react. She was also nervous about how her background would impact her relationship with her now husband, Omar.  Wilson expressed a lot of anxiety about walking the line between asking questions to solve her ignorance and offending the people that she desperately wanted to accept her into their lives.

This was an honest and rich portrayal of an American woman's conversion to Islam and her take on women's roles in the Muslim world. I would highly recommend it. 

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