Spotlight: Insiya Ansari, writer and Love InshAllah contributor!

Insiya Ansari is a writer who was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area.
An excerpt from Insiya’s story, “Sex by Any Other Name”: 

“My parents have always called themselves liberal Muslims. While I was growing up, they prayed namaz about as often as they drank beer and wine––neither was regular practice, nor occasioned only by a holiday––and they paid interest on our home. These behaviors countered conventional orthodoxy; some are considered haram. My parents weren’t the sort to pull the “because I said so” card, and for the most part, my brother and I didn’t push the limits. But bohemian and secular my parents were not. They were devout believers in the Qur’an’s historical narrative, and their cultural values were dictated by an Islamic worldview that was shared throughout our community, a closeknit Shiite minority sect. Within the extended community, news of a hellion child spread fast. I was not very newsworthy until, at eighteen, I met my first love.”

To read the rest of Insiya’s story, order Love InshAllah today!

Why were you drawn to this project?

When I first heard about the book, I reckoned that writing for it would be a political act. As we’re regularly reminded by incidents like the recent advertising pullback from TLC’s All-American Muslim, many of our fellow citizens are actively opposed to projects like Love, Inshallah: portraits of Muslim life in America that depict our multi-faceted identities.  Blessed to have been raised in the racially diverse, politically vibrant Bay Area by a progressive family, I imagined that my story would be another small blow to the stereotype of the monolithic Muslimah. Perhaps it will. But at some point in the writing of it, my relationship to the essay shifted. I realized that the political, in fact, had become much more personal than I’d anticipated.

Writing for Love, Inshallah provided me a new way of seeing, of understanding how a sense of myself as a Muslim girl had informed my decisions, even during the times when I negated the role of religion in my life. And in my identity as a writer, it forced me to confront and record some of my memories of a first love who, considering the psychic space he occupies to this day, has been conspicuously absent from my creative work.

What was the most challenging part of sharing your story?

The most challenging part of sharing the story was being so honest — both about my young adult naivete, and about my sexual relationships. Submitting a first draft, I toyed with how much to reveal, nervous about the judgment of other members of my community – even ones I’d never met.

If you’re writing under a pen name, why?

Out of respect for my parents and the former boyfriend whose story is also central here.

If there’s one thing you hope that readers will take away from your story, what is it?

I hope that readers will examine what “compromise” means in their own lives. What are their core values? What are they steadfast in believing and acting on? What, if anything, could make them question or deny those core values?  Those are the questions I asked myself during the writing of the essay as I tried to remember the lopsided logic that had guided me through some of those questions more than a decade ago.