Nobody in her family had talked about sex when Sol was growing up. “My childhood sex talk was, ‘Don’t do it.’ This is where we left off, and here is where we picked it up again.”
Sol — now making her mark in New York and San Francisco as a photographer, artist and performer — decided to publish her recollections in “Love, InshAllah” (Love, God Willing), a collection of breathtakingly honest accounts of sex and romance by 25 American Muslim women willing to break with the Islamic tradition of keeping their love lives private. Twenty of the 25 stories in the collection, which comes out on Valentine’s Day, carry the authors’ real names.
“Love, InshAllah” is, in part, an exploration of the tensions that can exist between Muslim parents and their Americanized children. More importantly, it dispels an assumption that, as co-editor Nura Maznavi, 33, put it, “Muslim women are either belly-dancing members of a harem, reduced to body parts that someone else controls, or shrouded in black cloth with no desire and having no sex. The truth is that like all women, we feel and love and have heartbreak.”
The result is a book that erases preconceptions of what it must be like to be a Muslim woman in this country, a book that strips off the traditional trappings of Islamic womanhood to expose the special strengths and vulnerabilities that lie beneath.
The idea for the book surfaced in a conversation between Maznavi, a civil rights attorney, and her co-editor, Ayesha Mattu, a human rights consultant. Sipping coffee in San Francisco, they were chatting about the comedy “50 First Dates” and wondering what a similar movie about Muslim women would look like.
“In America, the word Muslim can bring to mind politics and national security,” Mattu, 39, said in an interview. “We wanted to give people the opportunity to connect with us on a personal basis, to let them know we are more than just eyes behind a burqa. Love is the great connector.”
The two women put out a call for submissions using professional networks, Facebook, Twitter and personal blog sites. They received more than 200 entries.
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Last week in a French coffee shop in Northwest Washington, Najva Sol described the tumultuous years that led to her decision to contribute to “Love, InshAllah.” Sipping butternut squash soup, she looked as if she had stepped off the cover of Elle. She wore a pale blue oxford shirt that peeked over the neck and cuffs of a gray argyle sweater. White suspenders crossed her shoulders, attached to black pants. Her long, curly black hair was pulled back in a low ponytail and held in place by a small, brownish-gray Borsalino fedora.