Recommend an inspirational book for young Muslim woman
November 5, 2017 12:36 AM   Subscribe

Would you please help us find a book in English, fiction or otherwise, for a young Muslim woman, with an inspirational theme that could lend her support as she navigates her life under the dominance of a patriarchal family?

One-liner background for presumably US-centric audience: We're not in the US, but it's possible to get foreign printed publications by various means.

In our neighbourhood there's this Muslim family who live by their small restaurant business. Their daughter, an intelligent woman in her early 20s, works there. She told us that after high school she wanted college education but her family demand that she become a "domestic woman", as is the norm in their conservative and deeply patriarchal family. They cut off her funding and support for further education. In their minds, higher education and careers are for men.

She's greatly interested in the English language and she has very good command of it for her age and educational background. She wants to learn, to expand her opportunities, and get free from the unhappy life in which she is stuck.

The problem for her is especially devastating in our country where organised social support for women barely exists, and her ethnic and cultural minority identity means that she faces additional problems. We would like to help her get the right kind of support, but first, I'd just like to find a gift for her that carries a message of solidarity and hope.

For this purpose I'm considering a book in English, the language she's keen to learn and practise. I'd like to find a book that is appropriate for her age and background, is meaningful to her, resonates with her condition, and offers a voice of empowerment.

Unfortunately I'm not familiar with the literature of Muslim women or feminism in the intersection with Islam culture. I need your help.

Your recommendation doesn't have to be explicitly labelled Muslim Literature. All I ask is literature that is meaningful to her.

Thank you!
posted by runcifex to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What resonates with her might relate more to her family's ethnic or cultural background rather than religion so you might get useful recommendations bearing that in mind. You might also look out for autobiography or memoir by women such as Fatima Mernissi's Dreams of Trespass.
posted by tavegyl at 1:37 AM on November 5, 2017

( The description on the Amazon page is a bit misleading so I should add, in case you're not familiar with Mernissi's work, she is one of the great Arab feminist scholars and this is not an Orientalist fantasy of oppression)
posted by tavegyl at 1:49 AM on November 5, 2017

Maybe something by Naomi Shihab Nye? She is a Palestinian-American who's written YA novels, short stories and poetry, some of them specifically engaging with her ethnicity, and her writing is really lucid and moving while still probably within the range of a non-native speaker/reader.
posted by huimangm at 1:25 AM on November 5, 2017

Seconding Fatima Mernissi. Can you tell us this woman's ethnic and cultural minority identity? Might be able to give more specific suggestions....
posted by runincircles at 2:45 AM on November 5, 2017

Agree that knowing her ethnic background would help. If South Asian, perhaps a biography of Anandibai Joshi, first female Indian physician? On phone so can't link, but there are several available. She wasn't Muslim but is pretty inspirational on the "pursuing a dream against oppressive patriarchy" front. On the fiction side, Zadie Smith's White Teeth features a character with a similar sounding background to your friend, who is anything but meek.

Also, when you say good command of English, are we talking "reads chapter books" or "reads James Joyce" or what? That might help us pitch the right style.
posted by basalganglia at 4:34 AM on November 5, 2017

I think you should consider 'I am Malala' by Malala Yusefzi, the girl who was shot by the Taliban because she campaigned for girls' education and then went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. It's a great read and should resonate with this young woman's situation.
posted by matthew.alexander at 4:36 AM on November 5, 2017 [6 favorites]

Seconding I am Malala!
posted by Willow251 at 8:04 AM on November 5, 2017

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
posted by John Cohen at 8:26 AM on November 5, 2017

Does she have privacy at home? Does her family monitor her reading? It might be hard to find out but it might be useful to know. If she visits you in your home or something like that, you might offer her the option of leaving books with you.

This list of books by Muslim women might have some ideas. It includes Persepolis, which is the first thing I thought of.

If you know more about what type of education she wanted to explore, that could be really useful. If she loves astronomy, writing, accounting, biology, whatever, you could give her books on those subjects or about women who have been successful in those fields.
posted by bunderful at 11:14 AM on November 5, 2017

Nthing Malala Yousafzai's story, as she has managed to maintain her cultural roots while embracing progressive ideologies.

Came in here to suggest avoiding Ayaan Hirsi Ali's writing. I am a non-practising Muslim with members of my family I adore who do practice the religion. There are many practices of the Muslim faith that I do not agree with as they have been twisted by mostly patriarchal, cultural beliefs varying by geographical region. There are also many practices and nuances of Islam that I find beautifully spiritual and practical and thus I believe that Islam - just like other religions - has much to offer those who choose to follow it in a peaceful and intelligent manner. Ayaan Hirsi Ali has chosen to go scorched-earth on the faith based on legitimate interactions with her culture, which tends to practice a misinterpreted, bastardized version of Islam. I fear that her writing may alienate this young girl, who will still conceivably be surrounded by her Muslim family and friends as she begins her journey of further education.

I do not mean to get into a discourse on which writers are legitimate on writing about the Muslim faith; my intention with this opinion on Ayaan Hirsi Ali is solely to voice that her writing may not be meaningful to the young girl in OP's question.
posted by Everydayville at 1:32 PM on November 5, 2017

Yassmin's Story could fit the bill, it is written by a young Muslim woman from Australia and explores her upbringing in a Sudanese family that migrated to Australia.
posted by cholly at 1:01 AM on November 6, 2017

If she's still learning english, I'm inclined to suggest Ms Marvel (words and pictures!). It's a fun comic, and features a young, Muslim heroine.
posted by greenish at 1:40 AM on November 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thank you all around for your recommendations. It's eye-opening.

The young lady is from a Uyghur family of Xinjiang, China. We're in the "metropolitan" (i.e. Han-supermajority) part of China.

As for English language skills, she's confident and organized in expressing her thoughts and telling her own story, using a somewhat basic set of vocabulary. I don't think she's ready yet for the really "literary" stuff that involves intensive reading, but I feel that she's a highly motivated learner.
posted by runcifex at 5:57 PM on November 6, 2017

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