In Love in a Headscarf, author Shelina Zahra Janmohamed brings the reader along with her as she seeks, waits, and hopes to find a suitable life companion. I enjoyed this book very much, and highly recommend it. The author is a London native of South Asian/East African descent, and an observant Muslim. She writes about her experience of trying to find a husband by the method traditional in her cultural community: introductions through matchmakers and relatives. She presented her experience in a way that made it seem at least equally sensible to dating perfect strangers (the common approach among my peers in the US).
Readers can identify with the shared experience of seeking a companion, while also learning about the culturally-specific circumstances of the author’s search. Readers will learn a lot about Islam as practiced by a UK-born woman who freely chooses her faith, and this information is integrated throughout the book. For example, there is a clear and very brief description of why any forced marriage is against the Qur’an and the teachings of the prophet Muhammad saws. Janmohamed also shares experiences of studying at Oxford and working in an office where she was one of few women wearing a headscarf, and she undoes many stereotypes about women who choose to cover.
Throughout the book Janmohamed highlights ways in which, during the search for a husband, her cultural traditions were at odds with the requirements of her religion. For example, culturally a doctor might be seen as a good suitor, whereas Islam (in theory) asks first whether the person is pious and kind; in Islamic history women have been scholars and business leaders, but the author was warned if she were viewed as “too smart” she might discourage suitors. In her search she continued to uphold the ideals of her religion, even as she wrestled with her own preconceived ideas of “Mr. Right.”
Janmohamed has done a great service by sharing her story, as she demystifies the modern arranged marriage, about which there are many preconceived ideas. From the beginning of the book, Janmohamed is clear that she hoped to find a husband, and she voluntarily began the process of looking for a partner. Her writing remains focused on her personal experience. Therefore, this book does not touch upon the challenges for Muslim women who might choose to remain single, nor does it address issues of nontraditional relationships.
Love in a Headscarf would make a great choice for a book group, and afterward readers may find they are hungry for other books by Muslim women writers.