Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay is a new anthology from the I Speak For Myself series where Jewish, Christian, and Muslim women discuss the various ways they remain faithful to their spiritual traditions as feminists (or, in some cases, create new space for feminists within their faith). The essay collection is edited by Gina Messina-Dysert, Amy Levin, and Jennifer Zobair and features forty-five perspectives from the three faiths. In this episode of Loveinshallah’s author interview podcast, Deonna Kelli Sayed speaks with three Muslim contributors on feminism, motherhood, marriage, and spiritual identity.
Houston-based author Saadia Faruqi, recently released her debut short story collection, Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan. Deonna Kelli Sayed caught up with Saadia to discuss the book, her interfaith work, and what it is like to live in a chai-free household.
Deonna Kelli Sayed (DKS): You are in an elevator with someone and you have a minute to convince them to read Brick Walls. What do you say?
Saadia Faruqi (SF): Remember when short stories were in vogue? Well, those times are back with Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan! What’s that, you ask? Well, Brick Walls is a collection of short stories based in Pakistan, my birth country. Although the characters are fictional, the situations they face are very real, very tough and very different from the image of Pakistan in western media. The stories are a portrait of everyday life with all its challenges and realities. The best thing is that they showcase the beautiful aspects of Pakistani culture: the food, the scenes, the people with kindness and courage in their hearts.
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In Love, Inshallah, Aisha Saeed eloquently introduced readers to her traditional, Pakistani match-made love story. When she met her future husband, Aisha already knew that she wanted to write about a story different than her own – a fictional account of Naila, a young Pakistani-American girl, who is forced into marriage.
Aisha fully explores Naila’s journey in her first young-adult novel, Written in the Stars, released in March 2015 from Penguin Nancy Paulsen books. Publishers Weekly says the book “…movingly conveys the intense cultural pressure that motivates Naila’s parents and the heartbreaking betrayal Naila feels as she is deprived of her rights, cut off from the outside world, and threatened with shame and death.”
Deonna Kelli Sayed speaks with Aisha about how she met her husband, the initial trepidation dealing with an often cliched subject matter, and her involvement with We Need Diverse Books. Listen to the interview after the jump!
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Writer Krista Bremer met Ismail fifteen years ago on a North Carolina running trail. A romantic relationship developed through an unexpected pregnancy, eventual marriage, and subsequent spiritual growth. Krista’s recent memoir, My Accidental Jihad, details her jump into the deep space of marriage and an unexpected faith journey.
Deonna Kelli Sayed speaks with Krista and Ismail — “Ish” for short — about the bicultural nature of all marriages, Krista’s writing process, and her evolving spiritual journey.
I became Muslim in my early 20s. During those early years, I would entertain myself on nights when I couldn’t fall asleep by conjuring a story where a mythical creature occupied the rural family cemetery beside my childhood home. This idea actually started with something I dreamt involving an early explorer to America who had lost his way. Somehow, in his travels through out the New World, he slipped through a portal that would later become a traditional grave house over the oldest marked plot.
This creature was a Muslim from some undisclosed foreign land, and he’d fallen through the cracks of time and space while exploring the uncharted territory of early America (where all things were possible, including bending the nature of reality). Occasionally, he would pop into my contemporary world from another dimension.
I’d often find him perched on a high limb of a fragrant and large magnolia tree in the middle of the cemetery. In my story, there were rumors of his existence –like a Bigfoot sometimes spotted by hunters — but he remained an unconfirmed myth. I existed as the only person he trusted.
This imagined character was my attempt to create a narrative that linked my identity as a Muslim to the very different experience of growing up as a Southern Baptist. And as silly as the story felt, it provided one example of how imagination – creative third space — offers the ability to rescript our place in the world.
Alas, my conjuring wasn’t so fantastical. Five hundred years ago, a Muslim’s feet may have touched my ancestral land. His name was Mustafa, and Laila Lalami writes his story in the new novel, The Moor’s Account.
Order Irene’s new collection, the galaxy of origins. Scroll down for audio.
what’s your name the heavy chimes clot the hours in the air and my blood asks, do bones carry future memories in their marrows? waiting for a face that is a mirror, I turn the page of a tome that lists only my name my name my name. tonight each cicada sings its name, the only one it knows, and when I stepped out the door this morning and a chipmunk slammed into my shoe, it couldn’t remember its name for a moment. our eyes met – I blurted sorry, sweetie! its name I did not know an emptiness arching around my tongue as if to know and say it could undo our small collision.
Irène Mathieu is a writer and medical student at Vanderbilt University. Before medical school she studied International Relations at the College of William and Mary and completed a Fulbright Fellowship in the Dominican Republic. Irène’s poetry, prose, and photography have been published or are forthcoming in The Caribbean Writer, the Lindenwood Review, Muzzle Magazine, qarrtsiluni, Extract(s), So to Speak, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Journal of General Internal Medicine, Love Insha’Allah, Los Angeles Review, Callaloo Journal, HEArt Journal, and elsewhere. She has been a Pushcart Prize nominee and a Callaloo fellow. Her poetry chapbook the galaxy of origins was published in 2014 by Dancing Girl Press. You can read her blog and follow her on Twitter.
You were different.
I don’t know if I ever told you that, but there it is. For you, I broke every self-imposed rule I’d ever created. They say the best kind of love is the one you never see coming, the kind that sneaks up on you so slowly that by the time you feel its presence, it has already burrowed deep inside the caverns of your heart that you didn’t even know existed.
You were a surprise, a calamity that happened both slowly and all at once. You were different because you had enough flaws to create a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle in your image, and if I prodded, you would fall apart. Pieces of you would be lost, forever, under coffee tables and between sofa cushions. But I could pick out each one instinctively, as bright to me as each star we counted at night. Yet like the stars themselves, I saw in them beauty and life, and the remnants from which they were built a thousand lifetimes ago. They were scars of your internal universe, expanding and contracting, and I could trace each one softly, so as not to cause you pain.