Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, and Intimacy
Published by Beacon Press.
Reviewed by Zainab bint Younus
On the heels of the popular, groundbreaking anthology Love Inshallah: American Muslim Women on Love, Sex, and Intimacy, comes Salaam, Love – the other side of the story.
As Muslim women become more proactive in sharing their voices and experiences in the public sphere, a unique phenomenon has occurred: Muslim men don’t have the same opportunity to share their own deeply personal stories. Salaam, Love is an effort to create a ‘safe space’ for Muslim men to discuss some of their most vulnerable moments.
The anthology is divided into three sections: “Umma: It Takes a Village” shares stories that revolve around the role of family and friends in the search for marriage (and love); “Sirat: The Journey” includes inward reflections of each writer’s transformational experience with spiritual and romantic love; and finally, “Sabr: In Sickness and in Health” goes beyond the fairytale ending and explores the deeper, less glamorous aspects of true love.
Just as its predecessor, Love Inshallah, reflected the realities and experiences of a widely varied Muslim Ummah, so too do the contributors to Salaam, Love come from different ethnic and theological backgrounds.
There were several essays which stood out to me, both in quality of writing and in content – amongst them, Sam Pierstorff’s “Soda Bottles and Zebra Skins,” “Mother’s Curse” by Arsalan Ahmed, “Just One Kiss,” by Maher Rahman, “Planet Zero” by John Austin, “The Promise” by Alan Howard, and “Fertile Ground” by Khizer Husain.
All of these essays shared something in common: unmistakeable authenticity, excellent writing, and touching upon issues within the Muslim community that have been previously ignored but are undeniably a reality.
From extramarital affairs amongst ‘religious’ Muslims, being rejected for marriage because of race, fertility vs. adoption, and the heartbreak of losing a loved one, these essays echoed with a rawness of emotion and relevance. All these topics are still considered taboo in the Muslim community, and yet are faced by thousands of Muslims not just in the West, but all around the world.
Although I have often read works by female authors related to these issues, I was startled to realize that it was the first time I had read about them from the perspective of Muslim men who have experienced these matters first-hand. At the risk of sounding cliché, it was truly enlightening to realize that men – whom many women have come to think of as the perpetrators of most injustice – are equally affected at an emotional level and seek to change things for the better.
This glimpse at the challenges and struggles of Muslim men in their journeys of love and experiences with lust is must needed; all too often, we buy into the idea that men experience such things shallowly, with little introspection or consideration for their actions. Instead, the contributors to Salaam, Love reminded us of the humanity of men, a prompt to help us recognize that when it comes to matters of the heart, gender means little. Allah, al-Wadud, al-Muqallib al-Quloob, is the One Who controls our hearts without the preconceived, culturally structured ideas of what men and women should feel; it is He who evokes in our souls a yearning for love of Him, and for earthly love as well.
However, I will admit that I also found myself somewhat disappointed by Salaam, Love. In comparison to Love Inshallah, which I found engaging at every point (with only a couple of stories which did not resonate with me all that much), the remaining essays in Salaam, Love came off as mediocre at best. Some rambled on for far too long, causing me to lose my interest; most ended up sounding like a recycled version of “brown Muslim boy just wants to be with a girl.”
Nonetheless, Salaam, Love is enjoyable overall, and is still a book that I would recommend. It is a one-of-a-kind compilation that reminds men and women alike that the hearts of men are not so strange or unfathomable as those of women; Muslim men, like Muslim women, struggle with temptation and desire, seek love and security, and pray not just for a happily ever after, but for a happily ever afterlife.
3.5 out of 5 stars.
Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a writer, social justice activist-wannabe, and absent-minded bookworm. She writes for SISTERS Magazine and blogs at http://www.thesalafifeminist.blogspot.com
Order it here!!