About the Book
An Oxford-educated Muslim living in Northern London, Shelina Janmohamed
just wants to find the right man-the kind of man with whom she can share her
life and her faith. But when she begins her search, using the traditional route
of an "arranged" marriage, she has no idea how much growth and discovery
the next ten years will bring.
This humorous and insightful memoir offers a relatable look into the struggle
to find "the One," while also bringing to life one person's spiritual
quest of "seeking divine love through the medium of worldly love."
Through colorful anecdotes and thoughtful introspection, Janmohamed showcases
a life balancing on the cusp between modern feminism and traditional faith.
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"Janmohamed enlightens readers and reminds us all of our common humanity,
with, or without, a headscarf. A thoughtful and captivating read!" Gail
Tsukiyama, author of Street of a Thousand Blossoms
"Janmohamed's colorful and often humorous memoir shows us how those of
another culture and religion might navigate the search for love, that most universal
of themes. Perfect for the bedside table, but enlightening, as well." Sumbul
Ali-Karamali, author of The Muslim Next Door: the Qur'an, the Media, and
that Veil Thing
"A delightful memoir that celebrates spirituality, self-empowerment, female
agency and resistance to cultural (both 'Eastern' and 'Western') dictates on
women's roles and identities." Randa Abdel-Fattah, author of Does
My Head Look Big in This?
"Her journey is at times hilarious, but also a rare and fascinating insight
into what it means to be a Muslim woman." The Good Book Guide
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About the Author
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed graduated from New College, Oxford, and has become
one of the UK's hundred most influential Muslim women, as named by the Times
of London. In her role as an influential commentator on British Islam, she is
a columnist for EMEL magazine, and a regular contributor to the Guardian and
the BBC. Her blog, Spirit21, has won several awards, including the Brass Crescent
Award for Best Blog. Janmohamed lives in London and has appeared on numerous
British television networks.
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Questions for Discussion
Identify the main themes in this book. How did Janmohamed's treatment of
these themes challenge, enhance, or illuminate your understanding of them
and of yourself?
Janmohamed uses many creative devices to make her points, such as writing
imaginary conversations in script form, making lists, etc. How does this
affect your reading of the book? How do these devices contribute to the
Janmohamed uses many pop cultural references (John Travolta, Pride and
Prejudice, Disney) as well as humor ("Fortunately, I am having
a Good Headscarf Day." (p. 3)) throughout the book to describe her
thoughts and/or expectations. How did these references enhance or detract
from your reading of her story? What do you think was the purpose of this
strategy, and did it succeed?
Society and Tradition"
- Janmohamed defends the Muslim strategy of arranging marriage when she writes,
"By [the third meeting] you should know if he was the one or if she was
your wife-to-be. And really, truly, having spent intensive sessions with them,
and armed with details of their life, family, intentions, reputation, and
aspirations, why wouldn't you know?" (p. 24). How do you feel about this
- As Janmohamed describes the Buxom Aunties, "They were loud and powerful
and rang with the legacy of thousands of years of tradition and heritage.
Who was I to disobey their laws?" (p. 13). Do you face similar struggles
within your own family traditions or cultural heritage? How did Janmohamed's
feelings on this matter change as she grew throughout the book?
- When Janmohamed describes her meeting with her first suitor, she asks, "Don't
all relationships begin with a simple conversation to find out about each
other, whatever the setting? Is this any different from chatting with someone
in a bar, club, or restaurant?" (p. 17). What do you think?
Faith and Values
- Janmohamed mentions on page 36 that "setting faith over tradition
[my mother's] approach to life." This theme of faith vs. tradition appears
often throughout the book. How does it influence Janmohamed? Can you think
of some examples of times when she struggled with contradictions between the
two? Do you ever find yourself struggling similarly?
- When describing her grandmother, Janmohamed writes of her "radiant
energy," her ability to be "always content," and her "calm
demeanor." She attributes these characteristics to her grandmother's
"constant consciousness of God. She was always with her Creator, always
thinking of her Sustainer, always connected" (p. 103). Do you find that
a similar connectedness to something you believe in brings you such happiness?
If not faith, then what?
- On page 156, Janmohamed asks, "What was the point of a social value
if it wasn't practiced out in society?" Do you find yourself hiding any
of your values from society? If so, why? Does that change your perspective
on what you believe?
- Throughout the book, Janmohamed struggles with "not being traditional
enough for 'traditional' men (and their mothers) and being too 'boring and
religious' for 'modern' men" (p. 121). How does she learn to reconcile
this struggle? Have you ever struggled with a similar paradox?
- On page 128, Janmohamed discusses how she began "thinking about the
discrepancies between what people say is Islam and what Islam actually is."
She then realized that "if we can see discrepancies, then it is our duty
as thinking human beings to challenge them." Do you think this book has
helped her to challenge these discrepancies? What have you learned about the
difference between what you thought was Islam and what it actually is? Do
you consider the author a trustworthy source of what Islam is?
- In response to the idea that women cover themselves so men aren't sexually
tempted, Janmohamed mentions on page 155 that she "felt quite offended
on behalf of men by the idea that they were sex-crazed monsters." Do
you think men and women stereotype each other equally? What are some instances
when you've found yourself stereotyping the opposite sex?
- On page 164, Janmohamed realizes that she thinks she is a feminist. What
does that term mean to you? She writes that she "wanted to contribute
to the social discourse about gender and equality, but Muslim women who wore
the veil by choice
were not allowed to have a say
.I was an inadmissible
feminist." Do you think that is true? If so, how does that affect your
perception of feminism?
- Janmohamed explains that "Wearing a headscarf didn't mean denying your
physical femininity; it just meant celebrating it in the private sphere"
(p. 151). How do you feel about this explanation? What do you define as your
physical femininity and what are your beliefs about where and when to conceal
or celebrate it?
- What are some instances of gendered double standards Janmohamed points out
throughout the book? How does she deal with them? What are some double standards
you face in your own life?
Love, Marriage, and Dating
- Janmohamed points out on page ix that "in this modern day, when only
what we see is allowed to have certainty, and when scientific data seems to
hold the trump card for truth, when only what can be measured exists, love
defies all of these strictures and dances joyfully before the eyes of human
beings teasing them with the promise of the unknown." What do you think
allows the concept of love to endure more than other unknowns?
- On page 54, Janmohamed writes, "Love and marriage were like, well a
horse and carriage. Or was that a carriage and a horse?" What does she
mean by this distinction? How does this compare to your concept of love and
marriage? Which approach do you think makes the most sense?
- On page 65, Janmohamed reveals her list of requirements for a potential
mate. What are the requirements on your list? She tells of her father's rule
that people should accept anyone with at least four of six desirable traits.
Do you think this is a fair assessment? What do you think Janmohamed's list
would look like by the end of the book?
Personal Growth and Experiences
- Janmohamed realizes on page 241 that "Each person represented a path
to God that I could not have seen on my own individual journey." Can
you think of some unlikely examples of people who may have opened up new paths
for you on your own personal journey?
- Throughout the book, Janmohamed describes the wide range of suitor disasters
she experienced. What are some of your crazy or disastrous courting stories?
- On page xi, Janmohamed tells us that "The search for love is a journey
to find many things." According to her, what are these other things,
as she discovers in her search throughout the book? What are these other things
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official Website for the book.
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More from the Author
The Times online
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Author Suggestions for Further Reading
Abdel-Fattah, Randa. Does My Head Look Big in This? (Pan Macmillan,
Aboulela, Leila. Minaret (Bloomsbury, 2005)
Al Aswany, Alaa. The Yacoubian Building (American University in Cairo,
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice
Coelho, Paulo. i (HarperOne, 1993)
Elton, Ben. Blind Faith (Transworld, 2008)
Esposito, John, & Mogahed, Dalia. Who speaks for Islam? What a Billion
Muslims Really Think (Gallup, 2008)
Gordon, Mick, & Wilkinson, Chris (eds.). Conversations on Religion
Hai, Yasmin. The Making of Mr Hai's Daughter: Becoming British (Virago,
Hamid, Mohsin. The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity
Nizami. Layla and Majnun (Shambhala, 1979)
Orwell, George. Why I Write (Penguin, 2004)
Yassin-Kassab, Robin. The Road from Damascus (Penguin 2009)
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