Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Love in a Headscarf: A Note from the Author

As a first-time author the launch of my book this weekend is an indescribably exciting moment. Indescribable is not a good state of being for an author, and yet it is the only appropriate expression for this moment of super-sweet anxiety. My book, “Love in a Headscarf”, will be published this Saturday on Valentine’s Day. As this is a book about love, both romantic and divine, I find this a rather charming and coquettish subversion of our now notorious Hallmark Holiday.

Love in a Headscarf is a light-hearted and humorous book that weaves between multiple layers of culture, faith and raw human emotion. It asks the questions that so many of us ask: what is love, and how will I find it? My search may have started in a different way to many people, and with a different perspective, but it is the same universal human search. At its heart it is the intertwined story of how I found myself, my faith, and love.

Love in itself is also complicated, and I explore the interrelationship between romantic love, companionship and Divine Love. The subtitle of the book “Muslim woman seeks the One” alludes to the enigma of this search, and how often we try to resolve the seeming contradiction of finding and loving a person, with the search and love for something greater than ourselves. The insight and discovery of Divine Love was a major part of my personal journey and the (re)discovery of my faith, and I wanted to take the reader on that journey with me.

These are extremely challenging themes, and I hope readers will enjoy the journey that we go on together through these complexities, but in a way that steps back from the seriousness, and just enjoys the humour and comedy of day to day life. Some of the stories I find quite unbelievable myself, and in some cases they are quite absurd but always very funny. Our modern angst can create some situations and ideas that can only be unravelled by reading someone else’s experiences of it – and sharing one from a completely different perspective is sometimes the best way to do it.

I have been writing for several years about topics such as British Islam, Muslims and Muslim women. It is an area of high emotion, and often of confusion, that bubbles up constantly in our public discussions. I was constantly asked to write about my experiences in order to make a contribution to the debate, but I wanted to do it in an unexpected manner, which is why I chose humour – not something for which books about Muslims are known. So this breaks the mould – so go out and read it, because it is a book about being a modern woman, a modern Muslim woman, unlike anything else, I promise you!

Most people who grow up with multiple cultures and narratives will empathise with the fact that life seems to be full of contrasts and contradictions. The most natural way to convey these is through humour, because comedy itself is created out of those unexpected and contradictory experiences. I also felt that humour was the most accessible medium to unravel serious stereotypes and ideas because, as Peter Ustinov said, “Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.”

I wrote the book in a style which was new to me, and so I feel both brave and nervous at the same time in revealing a new side of me as a writer. But I look back on the journey that I’ve been on in the book, and realise that the journey itself and the honesty with which it is described are courageous too. I hope that readers will pick up the book and laugh with me at my modern angst and neuroses, will empathise with it, but most of all will finish the book and say ‘that was a cracking good read.’

By Shelina Janmohamed, journalist, writer and first-time author of Love in a Headscarf (published on February 14 by Aurum Press, £10.99)

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