This is hands down the most electrifying book cover that’s come across my desk in my recent memory: the words Love, Inshallah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women emblazoned over lacy lingerie tantalizingly dropped on an unkempt bed. If Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi, the editors of this intoxicating compilation of 25 personal narratives, are to be believed, Muslim women flirt, date, have sex, and fall in love, just like everyone else. Who knew?
The essays range from hilarious (a 14-year-old being given a crash course in the birds and the bees by her mom in a movie-theater parking lot) to heart-wrenching (a woman who realizes that her non-Muslim fiancé has an insurmountable disdain for her faith); from chaste (an endearing tale of a girl passing up a chance to make out with her model-hot trainer) to steamy (a bittersweet retelling of a passionate weeklong affair with a Muslim punk rocker). Premarital sex, arranged marriage, online dating, polygamous relationships, date rape, lesbian romances—everything is recounted with refreshing honesty and courage. My favorite section was, unsurprisingly, International Habibti: Love Overseas, full of enticing encounters in the Andes, Sri Lanka, and Cairo—who hasn’t fantasized about meeting a mysterious, accented, handsome stranger in an exotic, faraway land?
While this anthology is alive with tales that will make you laugh, recoil in shock, or even shed a tear, the most vital thing it does is dispel myths about one of the most misunderstood and stereotyped groups today. Love, Inshallah simply proves that there is no such thing as a typical Muslim woman. Here, in their own diverse voices, they talk candidly about love in all its many-splendored forms—and what’s not to love about that?
I’ll be hosting a Q&A with Mattu and Maznavi at Columbia University on February 15, so if you’re in the New York City area, RSVP here and come by to learn more about Love, Inshallah—or check out their schedule to see when the book tour is headed to your neck of the woods.
Sarah Khan is a copy editor at Travel + Leisure. You can follow her on Twitter @BySarahKhan.