The editors of the anthology Love InshAllah: The Secret Lives of American Muslim Women recently released a second anthology, Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, and Intimacy. They are both relatively quick, easy reads that are boundlessly insightful. The books’ stories have served as amazing conversation pieces for me – I’d recommend them for that reason alone.
A few things about this book were particularly powerful for me:
- The diversity, inclusiveness, and realness of experiences: people who were raised Muslim, converts, immigrants and ‘non-immigrants’, and people of various racial backgrounds, sexual orientations, degrees of religious practice, etc.
- For me, this book challenges very core understandings and constructions of masculinity that in turn are used to justify patriarchy. My perception of the construction around masculinity in society-in-general is that men are and should be vacuous, emotionless human beings who seek companionship for control/power/domination over women. It was eye-opening for me to read these stories full of immense vulnerability, wavering confidence, ranges of emotion, and the overall overarching sentiment that these men were lucky to be with (not possess/own) the human beings they were in love with.
- Sex (let alone pre-marital sex) is generally a taboo topic in the Muslim community. The editors’ choice to include a few voices/stories/experiences/humans that have experienced pre-marital sex is helpful in deconstructing the monolith understanding of ‘havers’ of pre-marital sex as lost, hell-bound sinners for whom there is no ‘return’.
- The inclusion of the story ‘A Pair of Photos’ which details a love story of an older generation – the author’s parents. I remember being in college the first time I started hearing or asking about how different people’s parents met, and I was shocked by the range of stories and experiences (and romantic interest/pursuit) involved. That is when I began to realize some of the narratives that were missing from my identity construction. I came from and was surrounded by people of older generations who chose their spouses, and yet the only narrative I was exposed to was the American/immigrant narrative of Muslim arranged-marriage stories gone wrong. Why was this plethora of stories being left out – in the media, at the mosque, at the MSA? So many people among older generations had met in college/growing up/somewhere random and courted/dated for months and years before getting married. They went on sensational journeys living in various places across the globe before settling down with kids. Why was their ‘final stage’, their ‘success’ the only image that was shared with me? I appreciate this sweet story and its special place in this anthology is not amiss or overlooked.
- LGBTQ voices. In my experience, LGBTQ peoples are generally dehumanized to some degree within Muslim dialogue, ranging from human with exception to their sexual practices, to entirely inconsiderable. I appreciated that the authors of these stories were bold enough to share their immense heartbreak in grappling with their multiple identities in relation to their sexuality. Their voices humanize their experiences and serve to challenge the dominant heterosexual culture that tends to objectify LGBTQ peoples around their sexuality and in turn dehumanize them.
- Mental health. In several of these stories, mental health issues (ranging from depression, addiction, self-harm, and substance abuse) were very present and very real. I appreciated that the authors shared their tribulations, and I hope that it helps some people feel a little bit less crazy and alone, challenges judgement and dismissiveness and encourages humanizing and being warmer to people in general, and even more so invokes communities to seek non-band-aid solutions to mental health issues.
I have a few comments with regards to individual stories in Salaam, Love, but I recommend not reading these comments unless you’ve read the book (I hate spoilers or ‘alluding’ to anything – the stories are so good and I’d hate to ruin them!):
- ‘Planet Zero’ – When the author knocked on the door and entered the room, I had to put the book down because I couldn’t read further. I needed a minute because I realized what was about to happen. Shame overcame me as I read the rest of the story. It is sickening enough that this was an experience of one person, but unfortunately, it is not limited to just his experience. Racism, particularly racism against black peoples, is not a non-issue in the Muslim community. As an activist recently put it, when a sickness (like homophobia and racism) is present in a society, no one is free from it. (Read: the AlJazeera piece Confronting Anti-Black Racism in the Arab World and the AltMuslimah piece Confronting ethnic slurs and racism among American Muslims)
- ‘The Other Iran-Iraq War’ – It was just so funny! I appreciated the author sharing how he found himself learning more about Iranian culture and language as a result of his infatuation. Classic move.
- ‘In the Unlikeliest of Places’ – A lot of people can relate to finding oneself/coming to terms with one’s self/identity/situation in the ‘unlikeliest’ and ‘unholiest’ of places. With this story and with ‘The Ride’ it was difficult to reconcile how human beings can ultimately create such difficult, dark, and isolated circumstances for other human beings. I hope that these stories pave some of the way to inclusiveness and understanding for the LGBTQ community within Muslim communities. While some people will think these are raunchy heathen stories, a lot of people will be struck by the humanity of the authors and the depth of their experiences.
- ‘Becoming Family’ – This concluding story is beautiful, strong, heartbreaking, inspiring. How do they do it? How are humans capable of having so much courage? Love, which is often contextualized in terms of sex, is contextualized in the third section of this anthology in terms of health, and what it means to love when life presents conditions.
I recommend reading both of these books, encouraging ones family/spouse/friends to read it, and to have some enriched conversations around the stories and subjects they present. I hope the 50+ stories presented in both of these anthologies helps to challenge the monolithic narrative created and perpetuated around/about/by Muslims. Find out where to buy these books at loveinshallah.com.