Nura Maznavi: A Sense of Sisterhood

Author Robyn McGee is presenting Mind Shift 2012: Writers Who Rock 2, a moderated discussion and social gathering with a group of writers working in a variety of genres. The free event takes place this Saturday, April 28th, from Noon until 3 PM at the Angelo Iacoboni Library, located at 4990 Clark Avenue between Del Amo and Candlewood, directly East of the Lakewood Mall.

McGee, who wrote the book ‘Hungry For More,’ will moderate a conversation with hypnotherapist Michael Almaraz, Christian novelist Saudra Furuvald, blogger and photojournalist Jackie Joice, blogger and author Sasha Kildare, editor and author Nura Maznavi, and Pink Brass Knuckles blog editor Phoenix Nic.

Nura Maznavi, along with Ayesha Mattu, gathered stories for their book, ‘Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women,’ which was released on Valentine’s Day to critical and popular acclaim. I asked her if the response was a surprise.

“We’ve been amazed and thrilled,” said Nura, “by the overwhelmingly positive reception to the book. We knew that the stories would touch our readers, but I don’t think we expected the response that it’s received across the board — from Muslim and non-Muslim readers and the media.”

I asked if she thought that the attention came from the stories, or the dearth of books that share the stories of Muslim women.

“I think it’s a combination of both,” Nura said. “Our readers have commented that they were moved by the honesty and openness of our writers, and were able to connect with them on a very intimate and personal level. The issues touched on in the book are universal. We can all relate to the search for love. But I think the fact that there are so few books written by Muslim women about our lives makes the book something of a novelty as well. It’s a chance for people to hear directly from Muslim women themselves, beyond the headlines, and provides a glimpse into what it means to be a Muslim woman in America today.”

I asked if America’s rather monolithic perception of Muslim culture influenced her editorial approach.

“Our desire to shatter the idea of the Muslim monolith was one of the motivating factors for this book,” said Nura. “The idea of the monolith exists both within the Muslim community and within the greater American public. For a lot of non-Muslims, there’s a stereotype of the silent, submissive and oppressed Muslim woman who has no agency over her life. That’s quite a disservice to the more than 500 million Muslim women around the world who come from different racial/ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic classes, professions, etc. and who are strong, independent and opinionated.

“Within the Muslim community, there are often ideas about what a ‘real’ Muslim looks like — how she dresses, how she speaks, how she practices our faith. We wanted to include stories in the book that reflected the range of religious practice of American Muslims, from orthodox to cultural to secular. Our only requirement was that the women self-identify as Muslim.”

I asked Nura what it was like growing up in Cerritos.

“Very easy,” she said. “I went to public schools up until college, and the schools in Cerritos are quite diverse, so I never felt very different. Also, there were some other Muslims in my school. For the most part, during that time, people didn’t know much about Islam, as opposed to post 9/11 where people are misinformed about Islam. I also grew up in a strong Muslim community in Southern California, so had that spiritual support.”

I asked her how sexuality, romance, and relationships were defined within heur family.

“My parents weren’t strict,” Nura said, “but I somehow got it into my head from a young age that Muslims aren’t allowed to date, although I don’t remember them ever telling me that! They did impress upon me the need for me to marry a Muslim man, but I knew they were open to any ethnicity/race and that the most important thing for them was for me to marry a good and kind man who respected me. I had the idea that, one day, I’d meet the Muslim man I was supposed to marry. I thought I’d meet him the way the people in movies did. I didn’t have the expectation that my parents would set me up or anything. I never had the birds and the bees talk, I just learned all that stuff in school.”

I asked Nura if her expectations were realized.

“Well, I am now engaged,” she said. “I met my fiancee on Match.com. Regarding the movie scenario, I think what really struck me about going through all the submissions we received (upwards of 200 stories) is that there’s no one way that people meet their partners. Some of the stories in our book do read like the movies (Angela’s story about meeting her husband while traveling in South America comes to mind), but the reality is that most women — Muslim or not — meet their partners in similar ways, in college, at work, online or introductions through family or friends.”

I asked, with the success of the book, what plans she’s formulating for the future.

“We have a few ideas about next steps,” said Nura. “We have our website, www.loveinshallah.com, where we plan on posting some of the stories that we couldn’t fit into the book due to space constraints. We also plan on opening up the website this fall to solicit stories from women and men about their search for love. We’d also love to see the book translated into different languages, and we just heard that the book has been sold in Indonesia and will be translated and released there next Spring. But the project that we’re most excited about is potentially taking Love, InshAllah overseas and working with women writers in other countries to help amplify their stories. So, for example, having Love InshAllah Egypt, Indonesia, UK, Italy, etc.”

I asked her what she, personally, will take away from all this.

“The sense of sisterhood that I feel,” Nura explained, “with our writers and with all the women who have contacted us after reading the book. The process of writing and sharing my story and helping to amplify the stories of women who are often either overlooked or ignored has been extremely empowering and inspiring.”

Free parking is available on the East side of the library, and can be accessed from the alley that runs behind the building, or via the driveway on the South end of the building on Clark Avenue.

You can find Robyn’s book on Amazon.com.

Love, InshAllah is also available from Amazon.com, but Nura will probably have copies for sale on Saturday and may even sign them if you ask.

If you want to learn more about the book project, have a story you want to share, or keep up on future developments, visit LoveInshAllah.com.

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