14 Novels About Muslim Life That Shouldn’t Be Missed

By Ahmed Ali Akbar for BuzzFeed 

1. Minaret by Leila Aboulela — Sudan and Britain

Grove Atlantic

leila-aboulela.com

What it’s all about: A young, secular Sudanese woman moves from the party life of Khartoum to a quiet life of service in London. Why you should read it: Minaret is a subtle portrayal of the complex internal world of an orthodox Muslim woman as well as a criticism of classism in Muslim communities at home and abroad.

2. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini — Afghanistan and California

Riverhead Books

John Dolan

What it’s all about: Brotherhood, damaged faith, and longing in Cold War and “war on terror”-era Afghanistan. Why you should read it: You’ll have a really good cry and also learn about the ethnic and religious conflict in Afghanistan.The Kite Runner’s depiction of Afghanistan and Afghan immigrants was a resounding hit at the time of its release and holds up extraordinarily well to this day.

3. The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf by Mohja Kahf — Illinois and Syria

PublicAffairs

Flickr: Aslan Media / Creative Commons / Flickr: aslanmedia_official

What it’s all about: Identity, bigotry, and love in the emotional space between United States and Syria. Why you should read it: The friendship and family bonds depicted in this book echo the lives of many Muslims in America.

4. Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid — Pakistan

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Ed Kashi

What it’s all about: The fall of a drug-addicted, love-stoned, middle-class banker who loses his job during the 1998 nuclear tests. Why you should read it: Moth Smoke lays bare many of the seedier aspects of secular Pakistani society, but still liberally uses the religious mystical tradition of the subcontinent in its storytelling.

5. White Teeth by Zadie Smith — London

Hamish Hamilton

Dimitrios Kambouris / Via Getty Images

What it’s all about: The lives of Bengali, Jamaican, and English folk become intertwined in complex and unexpected ways in modern London. Nearly universally acclaimed as a modern classic on the immigrant experience. Why you should read it: Zadie Smith is just a good literary figure to have in your back pocket, and in one strand of the narrative, Zadie lays bare the anxieties of a Muslim family attempting to preserve its commitment to its values. Though it’s not primarily about Islam, you’ll learn a bit about fundamentalism and culture along the way.

6. A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar — Kuwait, Egypt, and Texas

Penguin Books

Twitter: @randajarrar

What it’s all about: Growing up in a turbulent but loving household during the First Gulf War. Why you should read it: The frank discussion of sex and masturbation in an Arab household will have you crying with laughter.

7. Ambiguous Adventure by Cheikh Hamidou Kane — Senegal and France

Melville House

mhpbooks.com

What it’s all about: A young man’s love for his Qur’an teacher and his subsequent move to secular academia. Why you should read it: This book teaches its audience about the mindset and intellectual strength of someone raised with a religious education, as well as the drawbacks of both religious and secular education.

8. Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson — The Middle East

Grove Press

Amber French

What it’s all about: A mixed-race hacker in an unnamed Middle Eastern security state is pulled into a world of Islamic metaphysics and fantasy, where djinn and Wi-Fi share the same page and sensibility. Why you should read it: AGAIN — GENIES USING WI-FI. GENIUS. In a fantasy setting, Wilson also explores faith, political opposition, and the status of Indian migrants in Arab countries.

9. Secret Son by Laila Lalami — Morocco

Powells

lailalalami.com

What it’s all about: A young man dreams of a missing father and escape from the slums of Casablanca. Why you should read it: It gives you perspective on the appeal and role of religious parties among the poor.

10. My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk — Turkey

Picasa 3.0

Jerry Bauer

What it’s all about: At its base a murder mystery set among the miniaturists of Ottoman Turkey, the novel’s chapters are rendered as declarations from shifting, unexpected narrators — “I am a Gold Coin,” “I am a Corpse,” “I am Red,” and so on. Why you should read it: It’s basically a freakin’ Nobel Prize winner and a loving testimonial to the Islamic art tradition.

11. The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam — Bangladesh

HarperCollins

Facebook: Tahmima-Anam-Official

What it’s all about: A doctor comes home to find that the 1971 Bangladeshi war of independence from Pakistan has utterly changed her relationship with her brother, now a local religious leader. Why you should read it: It will open your eyes to the trauma of independence on Bangladesh and the complicated role of faith in the young nation.

12. The Taqwacores by Michael Muhammad Knight — Buffalo, New York

Soft Skull Press

Flickr: Fotografien: A. Klich, R. Schweier, J. Rillich / Creative Commons / Flickr: utconnewitz

What it’s all about: A young Pakistani-American engineering student moves into a house full of Muslim punk rockers, who subvert all his expectations about Islam. Why you should read it: This book is a testimony to the possible diversity of Islam in America and was so influential that it gave its name to an online subculture and set of musical acts.

13. Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa al-Sanea — Saudi Arabia

Penguin Books

Twitter: @rajaaalsanea

What it’s all about: The marriages and sex lives of four women in Saudi Arabia. The book is framed as an email correspondence and has been compared to Sex in the City. Why you should read it: Though unlikely to shock American standards, Girls of Riyadh provides an honest look into a world that many misunderstand. The book was banned in Saudi Arabia for its bold, direct account of the sex lives of women in the Kingdom.

14. Habibi by Craig Thompson — Wantolia (fictional)

 

Pantheon Books

Alicia J. Rose

What it’s all about: Habibi is an ambitious, imperfect graphic novel with a seriously impressive take on Islamic mythology, romance, and partnership in the face of abuse. Why you should read it: It may be an Orientalist portrait of Muslims, but Habibi is really gorgeous, and will teach you a ton about the similarities between the Abrahamic religions.


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