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The extraordinary story of an all-American girls conversion to Islam and her ensuing romance with a young Egyptian man, The Butterfly Mosque is a stunning articulation of a Westerner embracing the Muslim world. When G. Willow Wilsonalready an accomplished writer on modern religion and the Middle East at just twenty-sevenleaves her atheist parents in Denver to study at The extraordinary story of an all-American girl’s conversion to Islam and her ensuing romance with a young Egyptian man, The Butterfly Mosque is a stunning articulation of a Westerner embracing the Muslim world. When G. Willow Wilson—already an accomplished writer on modern religion and the Middle East at just twenty-seven—leaves her atheist parents in Denver to study at Boston University, she enrolls in an Islamic Studies course that leads to her shocking conversion to Islam and sends her on a fated journey across continents and into an uncertain future. She settles in Cairo where she teaches English and submerges herself in a culture based on her adopted religion. And then she meets Omar, a passionate young man with a mild resentment of the Western influences in his homeland. They fall in love, entering into a daring relationship that calls into question the very nature of family, belief, and tradition. Torn between the secular West and Muslim East, Willow records her intensely personal struggle to forge a “third culture” that might accommodate her own values without compromising the friends and family on both sides of the divide.


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The extraordinary story of an all-American girls conversion to Islam and her ensuing romance with a young Egyptian man, The Butterfly Mosque is a stunning articulation of a Westerner embracing the Muslim world. When G. Willow Wilsonalready an accomplished writer on modern religion and the Middle East at just twenty-sevenleaves her atheist parents in Denver to study at The extraordinary story of an all-American girl’s conversion to Islam and her ensuing romance with a young Egyptian man, The Butterfly Mosque is a stunning articulation of a Westerner embracing the Muslim world. When G. Willow Wilson—already an accomplished writer on modern religion and the Middle East at just twenty-seven—leaves her atheist parents in Denver to study at Boston University, she enrolls in an Islamic Studies course that leads to her shocking conversion to Islam and sends her on a fated journey across continents and into an uncertain future. She settles in Cairo where she teaches English and submerges herself in a culture based on her adopted religion. And then she meets Omar, a passionate young man with a mild resentment of the Western influences in his homeland. They fall in love, entering into a daring relationship that calls into question the very nature of family, belief, and tradition. Torn between the secular West and Muslim East, Willow records her intensely personal struggle to forge a “third culture” that might accommodate her own values without compromising the friends and family on both sides of the divide.

30 review for The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman's Journey to Love and Islam

  1. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    Despite what the subtitle of this book might suggest, this isn't a frothy little 'white girl has epiphany away from home' piece. Instead it's a wonderful, complicated, thoughtful exploration of Islam, politics, family, and belonging. Wilson became interested in Islam while in college in the United States, finding that it provided the best explanation for things she already felt and believed but for which she had no name. During a year spent in Egypt to teach English, she personally and formally Despite what the subtitle of this book might suggest, this isn't a frothy little 'white girl has epiphany away from home' piece. Instead it's a wonderful, complicated, thoughtful exploration of Islam, politics, family, and belonging. Wilson became interested in Islam while in college in the United States, finding that it provided the best explanation for things she already felt and believed but for which she had no name. During a year spent in Egypt to teach English, she personally and formally converted (the two are quite different things, the former being an act of faith, the second an act directed by the Egyptian bureaucracy) and she met, and fell in love with, a Muslim man whom she married (an act that again occurred more than once according to the dictates of faith, culture, and state). Wilson is adept at describing what she finds fulfilling about Islam, and particularly good at unpacking the meaning of prayer and ritual as means of submitting to something greater than the self. She's also an astute witness to her own liminal existence, an American Muslim in an Arab place, joined by religion to those around her, set apart by the danger she represents to others because of the Egyptian police force's interest in her life, and by American military and diplomatic policies in the Middle East (the latter of which are not really diplomatic in any meaningful sense of the word). She tries to write about her experiences and publish them in the US - feels beholden to try and explain her corner of the Arab world, her family, her neighbors, and her adopted culture to Americans who seem hostile to learning about concepts they would rather demonize, but finds her efforts frustrated not only by people in political and religious opposition to her, but American Muslims too. One of the most compelling parts of the book is the unfolding tale of how Wilson and her family and friends end up under surveillance - and even detained - by the FBI because of her adopted faith and country. As Wilson so deftly and ably describes, the actions that many people in the United States decry in other areas of the world are exactly the same actions they adopt out of fear of some Other they will not try to understand. Wilson offers no easy answers - her life is a daily tightrope walk between the culture of her birth and the culture of her adopted homeland, with Islam as a place of safety, support, and refuge, but also a place of contradiction and confusion. A truly excellent, thought-provoking book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Abdo

    If you're a Christian and still think all Muslims are secretly terrorists and the true Islam promotes terrorism, this is probably a book you should read. As an American convert to Islam, she has some good perspective and insights. Again (as with Jehan Sadat), raised an atheist (Sadat being Muslim of course), I don't think she has a good grasp of Christianity when she talks about it. She contrasts Islam with Calvinism and Catholicsm and lists a bunch of things I as a Christian don't believe in If you're a Christian and still think all Muslims are secretly terrorists and the true Islam promotes terrorism, this is probably a book you should read. As an American convert to Islam, she has some good perspective and insights. Again (as with Jehan Sadat), raised an atheist (Sadat being Muslim of course), I don't think she has a good grasp of Christianity when she talks about it. She contrasts Islam with Calvinism and Catholicsm and lists a bunch of things I as a Christian don't believe in either (hierarchy, original sin, etc). All in all, a great read. I was disappointed when it ended just before her return to America for an extended period after a year or more in Egypt with her conversion, marriage, near assimilation all happening in that time. Maybe it's not been long enough since the events occurred, but I was wanting to know how her experience in America was after her living in Egypt and trying so hard to fit in there. What stuck out to her? Did she prefer one place after all or was she torn? Did Americans seem coarse and overbearing? Did she easily slip back into a Muslim version of her American self or stay more Arab as she had become? So many things. Maybe there will be another book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    Growing up in a Christian home, I have read many Christian conversion stories in my lifetime. This was refreshing on many levels, but I think the part that was most compelling was reading how G. Willow was drawn to converting to Islam after being raised an atheist. At the same time she is converting to a new culture, since she moved to Egypt after college and ended up marrying an Egyptian. That is a lot of change in a short time, and her insights into the culture of Egyptian Muslims, the Growing up in a Christian home, I have read many Christian conversion stories in my lifetime. This was refreshing on many levels, but I think the part that was most compelling was reading how G. Willow was drawn to converting to Islam after being raised an atheist. At the same time she is converting to a new culture, since she moved to Egypt after college and ended up marrying an Egyptian. That is a lot of change in a short time, and her insights into the culture of Egyptian Muslims, the intricate differences between types of Muslim practice (including a section about the veil that I think everyone should read!), and how she fits inside of these things as a modern, western-raised, academic woman - these are all well worth reading. I was lucky because I read this as part of the first-ever ACRL community read. She was also one of the keynote speakers at the conference, and attended our book-club meeting where we discussed the book even further. While I know some were disappointed this book ended with her marriage, she made it clear that it was incredibly hard to write at such length about herself and has no plans to ever do it again. In her speech she also talked about GamerGate and writing people of difference, and how important it is. Read this, but also read Alif the Unseen and Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Courtney Huber

    I appreciated learning about Islam and Egyptian culture, which was my primary reason for wanting to read this widely hailed memoir. I must say, though, I felt that the author skims the surface of some very important, complex issues. I often found myself thinking, "But, wait--what about...?" Aspects of Cairo's societal environment are frustratingly glossed over, such as how women are routinely harassed by men in the streets and frequently "groped" and "molested" during political protests. She I appreciated learning about Islam and Egyptian culture, which was my primary reason for wanting to read this widely hailed memoir. I must say, though, I felt that the author skims the surface of some very important, complex issues. I often found myself thinking, "But, wait--what about...?" Aspects of Cairo's societal environment are frustratingly glossed over, such as how women are routinely harassed by men in the streets and frequently "groped" and "molested" during political protests. She barely dips a toe into the deep ocean of gender tensions and why this might be. Also, she comes across as patronizing and condescending at times, as when she's explaining her new religion to her American friends. Her female friend asks a legitimate, respectful question, and the author begins her reply with something like "Why do you *think*?" It just felt a bit holier-than-thou to me at times. Lastly, she ends the book just when I was finally starting to get into it, at the worst possible time. She and her Egyptian husband are about to depart for America to live there for some time, and it just ends before their trip. What a major loss and exclusion! The inclusion of that element would have rounded out her and her husband's experience together as a newly married couple. So, even though I appreciated learning things about a foreign culture and religion, I didn't care much for this book as a memoir. Although a memoir's nature is in part rooted in bias, it ultimately annoyed and exasperated me.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Eliza

    This book resonated a lot with me. It tells the story of an American upper middle class woman that recently graduated undergrad w/ a history degree from Boston U. She decides to move to Egypt to work at an English school there. She converts to Islam, learns Arabic, falls in love with an Egyptian man, eventually marries him, and becomes part of Egyptian culture. As the author discusses her first interests in Islam and the process where she learned more about it, partially thru her liberal arts This book resonated a lot with me. It tells the story of an American upper middle class woman that recently graduated undergrad w/ a history degree from Boston U. She decides to move to Egypt to work at an English school there. She converts to Islam, learns Arabic, falls in love with an Egyptian man, eventually marries him, and becomes part of Egyptian culture. As the author discusses her first interests in Islam and the process where she learned more about it, partially thru her liberal arts education, I felt myself agreeing from where she was coming from. At first she was totally clueless, unsure between the difference of Arab & Muslim, vaguely knowing of Sunni & Shi'a as 2 different Islam sects. She started taking more classes in Islam & Arabic literature. She grew up in an atheist household, and it was difficult at first for her to embrace religion at all. What I found fascinating was how she decided upon Islam. She knew that she wanted a religion with one God, where there was no human representative of God on Earth, & where the religion believed in sexual freedom, not repression (upon marriage). She was also fascinated upon studying the Quran & hadith how open the religion is regarding gender & freedom of movement. The limitations put on these for women is cultural, not implied in Islamic religious texts. The author found herself facing stereotypes and fears that she didn't realize she had. She secretly had an implicit fear that once she married her Egyptian husband, she would become basically a domestic slave, losing her rights as a free woman, and that her husband would change his actions towards her and become more violent -- her stereotype of an Arab, Muslim man. Through her experiences she realized that although Islam in Egypt is far from perfect, with its share of fundamentalists that twist the Quran, and inequality for women, she found hope & peace through her faith & her life in Egypt. For me, because it was written by an American woman who grew up in circumstances not that different from my own, it made her account very relatable and gave more insight towards Arab Muslim life because of her comparisons between that and her life growing up in the U.S., more so than an Arab Islamic scholar would have.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    A highly thought-provoking book. Wilson does a magnificent job of using her own life as a way of presenting a very nuanced picture of Islam and life in the Middle East. The Boston Globe recently ran an article about her, and, reading the book, I was reminded of the comments left by readers, exposing a lot of fear and bigotry while accusing Wilson of simple-minded naivete. Her writing, however, shows her to be both wise and level-headed. If I had any complaints, it would be that she tends to rush A highly thought-provoking book. Wilson does a magnificent job of using her own life as a way of presenting a very nuanced picture of Islam and life in the Middle East. The Boston Globe recently ran an article about her, and, reading the book, I was reminded of the comments left by readers, exposing a lot of fear and bigotry while accusing Wilson of simple-minded naivete. Her writing, however, shows her to be both wise and level-headed. If I had any complaints, it would be that she tends to rush through the development of her relationship with her husband. I know the book is about her, but it would have been nice to get a better sense of Omar and what drew them together. Additionally, some of the dialogue feels a bit stilted and artificial, but that is perhaps to be expected as it is primarily included as a means of delivering exposition rather than as an authentic account of actual conversations. The sad truth is that I know almost next to nothing about Islam or life in a Muslim society. I'm still left with many questions, but that is no fault of this book, which gives a clear-eyed view of the world hidden behind modern prejudice.

  7. 5 out of 5

    miteypen

    The title promises more than the book delivers. It's been a while since I read the book, but I remember being disappointed by how little she discusses about her conversion to and love for Islam. This is mostly about her experiences living in another culture. Even the love story seems dispassionate, as if she is merely recounting facts. I ended up with the feeling that there was far more to the story. This isn't to say that the book isn't worth reading. The author offers valuable insights into The title promises more than the book delivers. It's been a while since I read the book, but I remember being disappointed by how little she discusses about her conversion to and love for Islam. This is mostly about her experiences living in another culture. Even the love story seems dispassionate, as if she is merely recounting facts. I ended up with the feeling that there was far more to the story. This isn't to say that the book isn't worth reading. The author offers valuable insights into what it's like to be thrust into another culture. She does write about Islam and her conversion; perhaps it was just not to the degree that I wanted her to. I was a recent convert at the time that I read it and I was looking for commonalities as well as suggestions as to how to adapt. Since this book is mainly about life in a Muslim country, I didn't really get any practical advice about how to be a Muslim convert in America. As long as you know that going in, the book will be enjoyable.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mia

    The operative word in the title is probably "young".

  9. 4 out of 5

    Cara

    I loved this book, as of course anyone could guess I would. I don't know why it took me so long to read it - maybe because I knew I would find a lot to relate to in it (conversion to Islam, falling in love with, marrying, then eventually bringing to America a nice North African man, etc.) It was nice to read the experiences of someone who has been through so many of the same things that I have (but who writes a hell of a lot better!), but on another level, it was painful to read my way through I loved this book, as of course anyone could guess I would. I don't know why it took me so long to read it - maybe because I knew I would find a lot to relate to in it (conversion to Islam, falling in love with, marrying, then eventually bringing to America a nice North African man, etc.) It was nice to read the experiences of someone who has been through so many of the same things that I have (but who writes a hell of a lot better!), but on another level, it was painful to read my way through some of those things again. One of the things I really like about this book (which some of the non-Muslim reviewers here seemed to find annoying) is that the author really offered no in depth explanation for her conversion to Islam. One of the hardest things about talking to people about Islam, as a convert, is that you constantly get asked by both Muslims and non-Muslims this question: why? It's not a question that it's even possible to give a satisfying answer to. Religious experience is a deeply personal thing, and trying to explain it to others in quantifiable terms (even to those who share your faith) is a frustrating and usually pointless endeavor. I love that G. Willow Wilson has the confidence to say that this is what she felt and wanted and believed and so it is what she did, and that is that.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Michael Austin

    I'm always suspicious when someone calls a book "indispensable." No book cannot be lived without. People do it all the time. But to the extent that books can be indispensable, The Butterfly Mosque is indispensable. Especially to Americans and other Westerners. Especially now, when fair and decent people of all (and no) faiths have a moral imperative to do everything possible to head off the epic clash of civilizations that so many people on both sides of the divide seem determined to push us all I'm always suspicious when someone calls a book "indispensable." No book cannot be lived without. People do it all the time. But to the extent that books can be indispensable, The Butterfly Mosque is indispensable. Especially to Americans and other Westerners. Especially now, when fair and decent people of all (and no) faiths have a moral imperative to do everything possible to head off the epic clash of civilizations that so many people on both sides of the divide seem determined to push us all into. We have to find ways to understand each other better. The Butterfly Mosque is a good place to start. G. Willow Wilson, whose urban fantasy novel Alif, the Unseen is perhaps the best book of that genre I have ever read, writes her own story here, and it is, well, indispensable. After growing up in a thoroughly secular, atheist home and graduating from Boston University, Wilson found herself unable to accept the non-religion of her parents, setting her on a spiritual quest that eventually led to her pronouncing the shahadah before God (and nobody else) and becoming a Muslim, immediately after which she moves to Egypt to teach English and study her new religion from the inside. This part of the book is wonderful, I thought, because it shows is how a very intellectual young person, who is also a complete religious free agent, approaches the free market of religious ideas. Without any cultural predisposition towards Christianity, she evaluates its claims on the same ground as those of Buddhism, Judiasm, Islam, and other major religions. Framed this way, she finds the Christian God too small for the God she envisions. Ideas like the Virgin Birth, and the embodiment of God as Christ, when viewed without any cultural predisposition towards them, do place God much closer to human beings than Islam does. And the idea of original sin seems fundamentally unfair. It is not at all obvious to me that somebody looking without any cultural or religious preconceptions would choose this view of God over others. And I understand both the intellectual power of the Islamic view of God and the tremendous rhetorical power, and beauty, of the Quran. I have experienced both in my own studies (though I began from a starting place that never allowed me the kind of unfiltered religious choice that Wilson had). The way that she describes her initial attraction to Islam, as an abstract philosophy and set of beliefs--is very attractive. More to the point, though, it makes it clear that her first conversion was to a set of ideas--a set of ideas with real beauty and power and poetry that Americans have almost no understanding of. And we should. The second conversion in the story is much more difficult, because it involves real people and real cultures, both of which always mess up what is best in religious ideas. Wilson goes to Egypt and keeps her conversion secret, never attending Friday prayers, never going to mosques, and never acting on her faith publicly--until she meets and falls in love with Omar, a liberal Egyptian and a Sufi Muslim who speaks English fluently and acts as her guide when she first arrives. In time (and this is much of the story) they become engaged, and then married, and she finds herself absorbed into the fabric of an Egyptian extended family--and spaces where very few Westerners are ever allowed. In the process of telling the story, Wilson is very careful not to horribalize or romanticize her new culture. It is, like all human cultures, a complicated affair. And more than anything else, it is different in fundamental ways from American culture. Some of the differences are religious, but many of them are not. There are different values and priorities that are troubling, comforting, oppressive, liberating, difficult, and beautiful all at once. Just like her home culture. Just like everyone's. But one thing that comes through very clearly throughout the narrative is that Islamic fundamentalism is much more of a threat to the kind of Islam she converted to--and to the Islam practiced by hundreds of millions of people in the world--than it is to anybody in the West. She rightly calls out Western journalists for not covering the many, many Muslim clerics who have issued fatwahs against terrorism, and "the difficult work the moderate opposition does to hold back the tide of Islamic extremism" (243). Rampant Islamophobia and outrageous caricatures in the West play directly into the hands of the extremists by helping to convince Muslims to side with them against direct attacks on their shared culture. We are doing everything that we can do to lose the war of ideas. And then we have G. Willow Wilson: a talented writer, journalist, and novelist who has converted to Islam and seen elements of Muslim and Arabic culture that very few Westerners ever will--and who can describe that culture to us in terms that we can understand, using prose that is both exquisite and clear. She can talk about the differences between both cultures without criticizing either--fully aware of both the beauty and poetry of both worlds. That is the sort of thing that we should all consider a genuine service. And it is the sort of thing that we should all be listening to--which is what I mean by "indispensable."

  11. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    Honestly, I found this book infuriating for several reasons. I'll try to list them all. 1) G. Willow Wilson is so condescending towards other woman. She seems incapable of allowing women to make their own choices about how they dress or behave without passing some type of judgement on them. She describes western women as androgynous presumably because we wear pants and don't cover our hair. She describes Iranian women who reject the mandatory Muslim dress as "less than revolutionary" and "catty" Honestly, I found this book infuriating for several reasons. I'll try to list them all. 1) G. Willow Wilson is so condescending towards other woman. She seems incapable of allowing women to make their own choices about how they dress or behave without passing some type of judgement on them. She describes western women as androgynous presumably because we wear pants and don't cover our hair. She describes Iranian women who reject the mandatory Muslim dress as "less than revolutionary" and "catty" because she just so happened to have a good time in Iran. Meanwhile people (both men and women) who dress more conservatively than she does are labeled fundamentalists. Hey Wilson, how about you just let people do what they want and mind your own business. 2) Wilson's story does not need to be told. The space that this book takes up in our cultural conversation around Islam, Muslim women, and conversion would be better spent on marginalized women who don't have the wealth and status to make their conversion on their own terms and at their own pace. Wilson writing a memoir is fine and dandy, but spend some time promoting women who aren't as privileged as you. 3) Wilson manages to complain about non-religious people who are tired of having religion forced on them while perfectly showcasing why non-religious people feel the need to speak out on the matter with almost zero self-awareness and no acknowledgement of what non-religious people face in religious countries. 4) I am admittedly not completely done with this book; however, I have only about 50 pages left and have yet to learn anything about why Islam was appealing to her outside of poetic language that pretends to explain. She claims that Islam perfectly aligned with her existing values and belief system, right after talking about how she has tattoos and used to enjoy whisky. Clearly, her values did not completely align with Islam, and that's fine. I'm not saying they had to in order for her to convert. But there is no discussion about what actually drew her to Islam outside of the fact that it would be the biggest rejection of her Western life. It's seems odd to write an ENTIRE BOOK about your conversion to Islam without ever really discussing the Quran and the Islamic belief system. 5) There's very little acknowledgement that the family that Wilson marries into seems relatively privileged in Egypt and how that plays a role in Wilson's easy conversion. 6) Wilson spends pages talking about her fear of telling her Western friends and family about her conversion, which is ENTIRELY understandable. However she never acknowledges that if your friend or loved one moved to another country and within four months had converted and become engaged to a man she had never met before that there may be legitimate cause for concern. She acts as though any questioning or concern on the part of her Western family/friends would mean that they were prejudiced against Islam. Admittedly, I don't know these people, but it sounds like nearly everyone was nice and supportive. At the very least Wilson does not show otherwise, so why is there nothing that acknowledges that she may be the one with a misunderstanding of people in the west. Maybe her friends and family are not as prejudiced as she assumed, and that seems like a good takeaway. But it doesn't seem to fit her narrative so... I don't know. 7) Wilson seems incapable of criticizing Egyptian law, and shows very little understanding towards Westerners who struggle with the restrictive relationships between men and women. People don't go to another country and suddenly agree that men and women can't be alone together. Of course, this is an incredibly sensitive and difficult topic. People visiting other countries need to abide by laws and should abide by social customs as best as possible. But acting as though a man giving a gift to a woman who is not his fiance is now terrible rather than a reflection on different cultural norms and expectations just feels... I don't know, intentionally un-thoughtful? Egypt is not right about everything, just like America is not right about everything, and someone having difficulty navigating those changed social boundaries is understandable. If anyone has different or similar thoughts on this book, I would love to have a discussion about it. I went into this book thinking it would be a good read and an eye opening experience, and instead I'm feeling like I should have spent the time reading memoirs from women who were raised Muslim and can give more than this picked over, watered down perspective.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    First off, I have to admit that the entire time I was reading this book, I was racking my brain to try to remember if I taught high school English to this student. She attended the school where I taught when I was there, and her name is very familiar. I've taught now for about 30 years, I've taught a number of students and that high school was a large one. Her name is so familiar, but I'm thinking that whilst she was friends with some of my students, I didn't actually teach her. Pity. I loved First off, I have to admit that the entire time I was reading this book, I was racking my brain to try to remember if I taught high school English to this student. She attended the school where I taught when I was there, and her name is very familiar. I've taught now for about 30 years, I've taught a number of students and that high school was a large one. Her name is so familiar, but I'm thinking that whilst she was friends with some of my students, I didn't actually teach her. Pity. I loved reading her memoir and I would have loved reading her high school essays. So, what we have here is an American who, raised by atheist parents in Boulder, Colorado, realises she wants/needs spirituality in her life whilst a student at Boston University. Islam is the religion that appeals to her more and more as she reads and studies. When she travels to Egypt to teach English in Cairo shortly after graduation, she knows that it's a pivotal moment and, indeed, it is. She does convert to Islam and she soon meets Omar, the Egyptian she marries. But this book is more than merely her own personal memoir. She doesn't try to prosletyse; nor does she merely write about her own personal feelings. What she does try to do is explain how she comes to terms with the culture shock that is natural in moving to another country (says she who's done it herself :), viewing your native land from a distance (again, I understand) and, more importantly, the culture shock that results in West meeting East -- and dealing with the stereotypes and expectations that can exist on both sides. I can't wait for her novel to be published in the UK!

  13. 4 out of 5

    hanna

    This was an interesting read. I'm left wondering if the author's thoughts and beliefs have evolved today, does she still consider Sunni Islam a cold, threatening fundamentalist sect (she didn't state it, but she sure did imply it), does she still coin people who negate shirk as "Wahhabis". Have I ever mentioned I hate that term? While I enjoyed many of her insights into life in Cairo and agree on most aspects wholeheartedly, I feel many passages in the book come off as apologetic. She was This was an interesting read. I'm left wondering if the author's thoughts and beliefs have evolved today, does she still consider Sunni Islam a cold, threatening fundamentalist sect (she didn't state it, but she sure did imply it), does she still coin people who negate shirk as "Wahhabis". Have I ever mentioned I hate that term? While I enjoyed many of her insights into life in Cairo and agree on most aspects wholeheartedly, I feel many passages in the book come off as apologetic. She was constantly trying to find excuses for things she didn't agree with or understand, which I guess is justified since she was new to the religion. Also something I didn't like is that she would also harshly judge other converts who took on a more staunch, puritanical interpretation of the religion (ie: keeping a beard, wearing niqab). All in all, I hope she does end up writing another memoir type novel, this one for me just left too many questions unanswered.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Book Riot Community

    G. Willow Wilson moved to Egypt to teach after college. She already had an inkling to convert to Islam, but she was apprehensive about having to explain her choices to family and friends who would certainly not understand her religion or her burgeoning relationship with a Muslim man. Part memoir, part philosophy, and all heart, this book is one that is truly humbling. Wilson addresses the prejudices of the West and western media, the fallout after 9/11, and the ways in which differences in G. Willow Wilson moved to Egypt to teach after college. She already had an inkling to convert to Islam, but she was apprehensive about having to explain her choices to family and friends who would certainly not understand her religion or her burgeoning relationship with a Muslim man. Part memoir, part philosophy, and all heart, this book is one that is truly humbling. Wilson addresses the prejudices of the West and western media, the fallout after 9/11, and the ways in which differences in culture both challenged and strengthened her love of Egypt, her husband, and her religion. — Andi Miller from The Best Books We Read In October: http://bookriot.com/2015/11/02/riot-r...

  15. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    I've recently been on a kick for memoirs- specifically ones that pertain to beautiful cultures. BUTTERFLY MOSQUE caught my eye because I was intrigued to see how an atheist would settle into Muslim religion. But mostly because on a deep level, it wouldn't be so far off from where I'm standing. So basically, I was just hoping to love this. My first gripe would be that I wish this would have been longer, or edited better. The duration in which things occur is fast, a bit too fast. There's not much I've recently been on a kick for memoirs- specifically ones that pertain to beautiful cultures. BUTTERFLY MOSQUE caught my eye because I was intrigued to see how an atheist would settle into Muslim religion. But mostly because on a deep level, it wouldn't be so far off from where I'm standing. So basically, I was just hoping to love this. My first gripe would be that I wish this would have been longer, or edited better. The duration in which things occur is fast, a bit too fast. There's not much time spent from explaining the author's upbringing into atheism to studying Islamic culture to deciding to convert to Muslim to going to Cairo to meeting & falling in love with Omar. It was enough to understand what was happening, but I wish more time was spent describing these actions. Wilson falls for Omar pretty fast & the book makes it sound like their romance was rosy, albeit the expectant difficulty of her conversion. It felt somewhat distant though, like readers weren't getting the entire picture. I couldn't help but feel that way throughout the duration of this. Wilson does speak about the difficulties of converting to Muslim as well as doing it post 9/11, eventually finding herself on a FBI watchlist for a while. I appreciated how she went about that- just felt that the tone wasn't as personal as I would have expected from a memoir. This is still well worth reading; Wilson does a fantastic job of describing life in Cairo even if it does come from a slightly standoffish point.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Marwa Owais

    There are so many peaceful moment I felt while reading this book, but the most amazing and truthful one was when she converted. She describes her as "In the darkness over the Mediterranean, in no country, under no law, I made peace with God. I called him Allah" Reading the butterfly mosque & hearing the stories of conversion of men like Jeffery Lang, Muhammed Asad and so many others, one of the things I learned that you should always listen to stories like these to feel ashamed of yourself There are so many peaceful moment I felt while reading this book, but the most amazing and truthful one was when she converted. She describes her as "In the darkness over the Mediterranean, in no country, under no law, I made peace with God. I called him Allah" Reading the butterfly mosque & hearing the stories of conversion of men like Jeffery Lang, Muhammed Asad and so many others, one of the things I learned that you should always listen to stories like these to feel ashamed of yourself for not knowing Islam better, for not "Islaming" by all your heart. It's like a remainder for you, a call that keeps telling you how wonderful this Religion is. I envy the new Muslims for the way they read the Quran for the very first time. How they get to grasp so many meanings and messages by reading it. The amusement they feel and the experience they get.The answers to many questions they have in mind or merely the questions themselves that they are being encouraged to ask themselves and speculate them. You just feel jealous from them, you want to feel those feelings. You wish that Islam enter your heart once again like you're a new convert, like you've been lost for so long and thrilled to have found your way!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mkherbouch

    So, I'm a Muslim woman living in the US, no veil, not in the least conservative, etc. I'm always wary of those who have converted, they're usually a little too zealous for me. It was a little hard to swallow her conversion tale, it was all pretty glossed over - too smooth and existential. I really wanted to like her, I really did, I just couldn't quite get there. Omar was too smooth, too perfect. The relationship never felt explored,like why they really fell in love. I did appreciate her So, I'm a Muslim woman living in the US, no veil, not in the least conservative, etc. I'm always wary of those who have converted, they're usually a little too zealous for me. It was a little hard to swallow her conversion tale, it was all pretty glossed over - too smooth and existential. I really wanted to like her, I really did, I just couldn't quite get there. Omar was too smooth, too perfect. The relationship never felt explored,like why they really fell in love. I did appreciate her introduction of Islam as a religion of peace, and her portrayal of Omar's extended family as warm and welcoming. It was fascinating to read her experiences in Egypt as we've just seen the Arab Spring uprisings and heard about life in Egypt. Her account seems right on, not prettied up, which is a plus from an anthropological viewpoint. As someone else said, I'll be curious to read her in a few years.

  18. 4 out of 5

    K. Lincoln

    Religious converts make me squirm. Especially those whose conversion entails a major change not only in their beliefs but also in their culture. As a closet Unitarian myself, I find religious certainty at once fascinating and unfathomable. Having lived in Japan, and experienced both Buddhist Americans (of Christian background) and Christian Japanese, I still find it difficult to imagine leaving behind the customs of my childhood to pledge myself --body and soul-- to a culture I have known only Religious converts make me squirm. Especially those whose conversion entails a major change not only in their beliefs but also in their culture. As a closet Unitarian myself, I find religious certainty at once fascinating and unfathomable. Having lived in Japan, and experienced both Buddhist Americans (of Christian background) and Christian Japanese, I still find it difficult to imagine leaving behind the customs of my childhood to pledge myself --body and soul-- to a culture I have known only as an adult. So I opened up "Butterfly Mosque" with mixed flutterings of unease and curiosity-- and found instead a story eerily parallel to my own experience creating a marriage with a Tokyo boy. Wilson speaks of creating a "Third Culture" with her Egyptian/Sufi husband Omar; a term I'm not coming across for the first time here. And it's true that even husbands and wives from the same culture must create their own way of living together. However, when the husband and the wife are from radically different cultures it becomes more imperative to mindfully acknowledge the things we give up and the things we adopt for our spouse. The moments where Wilson shares how she and Omar navigate these tricky waters had me agreeing in my own gut. Butterfly Mosque isn't really about why or how Wilson converted to Islam. She tells that story as if she was somehow mysteriously Muslim her whole life and finally just acknowledged it in Egypt. So my curiosity on that point is not really satisfied. What is satisfying about this book for post 9/11 adults is reading how a white, middle-class American weaves herself into an Arab/Islamic world. The money shot for me: "The struggle for the Islam I loved and the struggle for the West I loved were the same struggle, and it was within that struggle that the clash of civilization was eradicated." Because when you choose to ally yourself with a minority or a foreigner, no matter where you live, you irrevocably make yourself an outsider to both worlds. You become a consummate apologist; explaining both cultures to the other side. At times you can feel traitorous, proud, deeply sad, conflicted, and ecstatic. But at no time do you get to be yourself without the trappings of one culture or another obscuring the view except in fleeting moments. That's the eradication I think Wilson shows so well- that the struggle itself erases the most dividing lines between herself and Omar, between myself and my Tokyo husband, between governments that spout hateful rhetoric. I recommend this book to anyone wanting a more humane, family-oriented understanding of Egyptian Islamic culture, as well as anyone who wishes to find glimpses of their own struggles to maintain a cross-cultural marriage. This Book's Snack Rating: Lemon pepper french fries for the elegant spice of Wilson's thoughtful prose on surprisingly near topics to my own heart

  19. 4 out of 5

    Yasmin

    Curiously as a convert you would think the author would have felt inner peace, she never once mentioned that. In the first quarter of the book she mentioned a relationship with God, but as the book progressed that got pushed somewhere into the background. Not that I'm a religious person at all and I didn't expect the book to win converts but I would have thought that such a tremendous time in a person's life would warrant more page space. I suppose one could argue that this book is idealy for Curiously as a convert you would think the author would have felt inner peace, she never once mentioned that. In the first quarter of the book she mentioned a relationship with God, but as the book progressed that got pushed somewhere into the background. Not that I'm a religious person at all and I didn't expect the book to win converts but I would have thought that such a tremendous time in a person's life would warrant more page space. I suppose one could argue that this book is idealy for white Americans of a particular upbringing, similiar to her own. Whereas for a part of my childhood was in the Middle East, her and I have seen that world through different perspectives. I also had the sense that there is a small deep set subconscious part of her that is still in rebel about the path she has taken in her life. Maybe she is not even aware of it, the constant fear that people in Egypt would hate her merely because of her conuntry of birth and that she would never fit in. I think she would find that we our governed more from what our mind tells us is so than actually is. When I lived in the Middle East it was during the first Gulf war and the only people that feared us were some Canadian/Americans military men we accidently came across at the airport. But in ten years I suppose even the people then we knew of could change. There were brief moments where it seemed she could be at peace with her decision, or in the words of Monsieur Ibrahim (of the movie with the same name) I know what is in my Q'uran. Then those moments would disappear she never said she was at peace, because she felt to be at peace one has to fit in somewhere were people accept you and everything is clean and normal. Life is not that way, it never has been, we are nothing more than particles of dust, but what cannot be changed cannot be changed and we must make do with what we have and come to peace with it. Somehow I at least expected her to have that has her final look at her new world at the end of her book, sadly not.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sahaniza

    "I had gained so much more than I had lost." Truly love this book. Motivates me to open the Quran and read it again after she describes, "Nothing felt as right as what I had seen in the Quran." And I agree with Islam as antiauthoritarian sex-positive monotheism. It is because that opinion puts so much faith in honouring your own body and self; how grateful we should be to come to this world from a sacred marital relationship between our parents. I am not a saint to condemn sex before marriage "I had gained so much more than I had lost." Truly love this book. Motivates me to open the Quran and read it again after she describes, "Nothing felt as right as what I had seen in the Quran." And I agree with Islam as antiauthoritarian sex-positive monotheism. It is because that opinion puts so much faith in honouring your own body and self; how grateful we should be to come to this world from a sacred marital relationship between our parents. I am not a saint to condemn sex before marriage and the raping of one's own body (read: masturbation) but at least that's what I believe and that is how I want to live my life. The love we have for another human being isn't everything. I know myself and acknowledge my tendencies but I know I can fight it--with God's help.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tori

    to describe this memoir as one about g willow wilson's conversion to islam would be doing it a disservice. it is about that, but it's about so much more -- it's about navigating her identity as a white muslim american woman in egypt, about falling in love with an egyptian man, about negotiating the space (cultural, geographic) between east and west... so, really, it's about cross-cultural dialogue. one of the better books i've read in a long, long time.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kathrina

    Im having one of those synchronous moments when two books Im randomly reading at the same time end up speaking to each other and Im pushed to be some kind of referee. Im going to leave a discussion of religion aside; Im more interested in the social manifestations of religious practice. While Islam is philosophically attractive to me, its approach to gender roles has always felt problematic. Wilsons memoir led me to some deeper insights on the issue, but I still feel unresolved, and I think I’m having one of those synchronous moments when two books I’m randomly reading at the same time end up speaking to each other and I’m pushed to be some kind of referee. I’m going to leave a discussion of religion aside; I’m more interested in the social manifestations of religious practice. While Islam is philosophically attractive to me, its approach to gender roles has always felt problematic. Wilson’s memoir led me to some deeper insights on the issue, but I still feel unresolved, and I think Wilson does, too. A woman’s inability to socialize with men she is not married to, to look them in the eye, to walk the streets alone, to drape her body in clothing – not for Allah, but to protect herself from the gaze of men – these things do not sit well with me, as I would guess the same for most Americans. I try to understand that these taboos are in place because Islam values women so highly they must be protected. But I run into two obstacles: 1.) They must be protected – by whom? Not by God, but by men; men are the subject and women the object. This linguistic structure disallows women to be the subject -- to take the verb for themselves – to do their own protecting. It is taken for granted that men are the “doers.” Wilson asks her husband, “Why aren’t women allowed to lead men in prayer?” and he answers, “Women are the manifestation of God’s beauty, which on Earth is veiled from men’s eyes. So to put women on display in front of men is unworthy” (p. 251). The phrasing “to put women on display” implies again a male doing the action, a subject acting on the object of women, and especially here a docile image of a woman who is “displayed,” –verb-ed, not verb-ing. Wilson asks, why aren’t women allowed… (subject, verb), and Omar answers, women are the manifestation… (subject, noun). I resist this objectification. 2.) The law of unintended consequences frequently makes itself plain when laws, rules, or fatwas are established. If a woman must be veiled because a man can’t be trusted to behave himself in the face of such beauty (which really isn’t about beauty at all, but lust), his belief that he can’t behave himself is reinforced by the law that says he can’t. There’s no motivation to control himself because it is the right, honorable, and civil thing to do, so he can continue to pass responsibility for his actions to women, and women must continue to trouble themselves with coddling men’s vulnerability. Men can assume a rapist mentality – reinforced by law, and only here do women get to take on some agency, but a limited agency of protecting themselves from men by being covered, small, unnoticed, invisible. Fuck that. That’s not valuing women, that’s valuing the commodities a dominated woman gives you – sex, dinner, a clean house. Wilson doesn’t resolve her question in her conversation with Omar. She allows him to revert to religious dogma (“That’s a Sufi answer.” “I’m a Sufi.”) and leaves it at that. So am I wearing my flag on my sleeve by taking issue? Though she doesn’t explicitly articulate it, I think Wilson feels the dissonance, too. Earlier she begins a chapter with a quote from Ben Franklin (about as American a go-to as you can find) that says, “All mankind is divided into three classes: those that are immoveable, those that are moveable, and those that move.” Wilson acknowledges the hopeless dichotomy of Muslim gender roles and sneakily throws in a third alternative. You can stubbornly follow religious doctrine to the letter, you can change your stance according to how a doctrine meets your needs, or you can take the agency yourself. It’s all about positioning, and Islam doesn’t, at least in this regard, allow a person to examine its static positioning. So I said I had a synchronous reading experience, and I’ll share with you now what it was I came across in the midst of grappling with this issue. I’m reading Is Everyone Really Equal?: An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, and a chapter called “Privilege” begins with this vignette: “A female Prime Minister was strategizing with her all-male cabinet about how to address a string of recent sexual assaults on women throughout the capital city. Someone suggested a 9:00pm curfew, which the cabinet thought was a good idea. The Prime Minister also nodded her head in agreement. Then she added, ‘Yes, no men are allowed out after 9:00pm.’ Her cabinet was shocked and said that was unfair, it was women who should stay in after 9:00pm in order to ensure their safety. They only had the best interest of women in mind, they insisted, and the curfew was for ‘their own good.’ The Prime Minister replied, ‘It is men who are committing the assaults, not women. Why should women’s movements be restricted?’” (p. 57). The book uses this vignette to explore the dynamics of internalized privilege in a dominant group. Even to those readers who are familiar with this sort of critical thinking, the Prime Minister’s interpretation of curfew comes as a bit of a surprise, as the invisible privilege of men is so embedded in the global culture that we assume the word curfew applies to the actions of the more vulnerable in our populations. It leads me to critique any use of the phrase “for your own good,” as no one knows what’s best for you better than your own self (except maybe your mom, but that’s arguable), but you can bet they know what’s best for themselves. I’m very interested to hear comments from Muslim readers, as I’m sure there are parts to this argument I’m missing…

  23. 4 out of 5

    Akshay Rangamani

    The Butterfly Mosque is an earnest, heartfelt narrative that describes Willow Wilson's religious, cultural, and professional journey. What strikes me most about the memoir is her clarity of thought at such a young age (I think she's in her mid to late 20s at the time of writing). I enjoy reading about the role of faith in people's lives, and how religion might provide its adherents with understanding and tranquility. Though it might seem like the discussion of how she converted to Islam was The Butterfly Mosque is an earnest, heartfelt narrative that describes Willow Wilson's religious, cultural, and professional journey. What strikes me most about the memoir is her clarity of thought at such a young age (I think she's in her mid to late 20s at the time of writing). I enjoy reading about the role of faith in people's lives, and how religion might provide its adherents with understanding and tranquility. Though it might seem like the discussion of how she converted to Islam was squeezed into the first chapter, Wilson still describes how she feels about her faith as the memoir progresses. As her religious practice moves from the privacy of her room to the public spaces in Cairo we learn about how Islam is deeply personal to Wilson, as well as how it is a communal experience when praying with everyone else at a mosque. Wilson paints a detailed picture of Cairo in the book. Just as with her faith, we learn about the city as she explores it along with Omar (who progresses from being her guide, to friend, and finally husband). Wilson comes to Cairo as a teacher in an international school, but she slowly immerses herself in Cairene society. This is because of both her religion as well as her relationship with Omar. The humility and understanding with which she approaches this is admirable, especially since the natural instinct of most expats is to avoid engaging with the local society as far as possible. She makes a lot of missteps in her initial interactions with Omar and his family, shopkeepers at the marketplace, her Arabic instructor, and other people she meets in Egypt. Her willingness to navigate the social mores of Cairo are a refreshing contrast to the aloofness of her fellow expats. As she learns Arabic and interacts with other Cairenes she is slowly accepted as one of their own, going from a Khawagga to El Khawagayya. Even as she is trying to gel with Cairene society, Wilson is an astute observer of what makes her American upbringing different from the Egyptian society. The differences between how people greet each other, how men and women may meet and interact with friends of the opposite sex, and their views on the balance between personal freedom and social responsibility. Even though she's learning how to live in Cairo, she often feels like a fish out of water. She channels her inner Jhumpa Lahiri, writing eloquently about her immigrant experience. Even though this is a memoir, Wilson also manages to weave in threads about domestic and international politics. The repression of the Mubarak regime is present all Cairo. Prisons for political dissidents and late night drop-ins from security guards remind one that Egypt was at the time (and probably now too), a police state. Through her interactions with Omar's family we learn about the generational gap in their politics. The older generation seems to be more secular, western, and socialist, while the youth are more drawn to their culture and religion. Wilson attributes this to the growing disillusionment with westernization among the youth, fueled by the repression of Mubarak's dictatorship. Another aspect that hangs over her relationship with Omar's family and other Egyptians is the US foreign policy. Wilson interrogates the effects of the clash of civilizations narrative in Egypt, and has some insights about how cultural differences breed hatred. Her agreeable personality reminds those she interacts with, that not all Americans are antagonists, even as the US govt invades Iraq and Afghanistan. Another thread emerges when Wilson finds out that she is being surveilled by the FBI. Since she and her friends are traveling frequently to Egypt, they are questioned by the FBI, and have their email and other communications searched. I expected Wilson to be a little more indignant at this invasion of privacy, but she seems relieved that the authorities had concluded she was not really a threat. Wilson is curious about different theological and legal aspects of Islam, and the book is peppered with anecdotes of her and Omar discussing these issues. In a couple of her assignments as a journalist, Wilson is able to meet and conduct interviews with the grand mufti of Egypt (through Omar's well connected family). These discussions with the mufti (Ali Gomaa) are enlightening; he addresses her questions about different interpretations of Islam, wearing the veil in hostile environments, fatwas and their role, among other topics. Wilson also interviews a Syrian sheikha who talks to her about the role of women clerics, and how westernization and gender desegregation is slowly eroding their prominence. In describing these differing perspectives, Wilson helps us understand the landscape of opinions that exists among Muslims. She does not privilege one explanation over another, instead taking care to fill in the picture when one particular view seems incomplete. Willow Wilson is committed to building bridges between different worlds. Whether it's writing about Egypt for Americans, or constructing a common culture that she and Omar can hold on to. This is an engaging and informative memoir, that illuminates as well as entertains.

  24. 4 out of 5

    SaraKa

    With nearly palpable descriptions of Cairene life through the eyes of a former atheist, her story is simply beautiful. Wilson is extremely insightful, candid and open-minded in her exposition of Islamic and Egyptian traditions and perspectives through the eyes of a newcomer; she is always sure to incorporate and understand divergent opinions and ways of life, which is why I found her journey to be both fascinating and refreshing in these times of misdirected hostility and unjust treatment of With nearly palpable descriptions of Cairene life through the eyes of a former atheist, her story is simply beautiful. Wilson is extremely insightful, candid and open-minded in her exposition of Islamic and Egyptian traditions and perspectives through the eyes of a newcomer; she is always sure to incorporate and understand divergent opinions and ways of life, which is why I found her journey to be both fascinating and refreshing in these times of misdirected hostility and unjust treatment of Islam and its 2 billion+ followers as part of an alien monolith. " I had caught hold, and seen other catch hold, of something that could not be touched by geography. To live beyond the threshold of identity, to do so in the name of peace that has not yet occurred but that is infinitely possible -- this is exhilarating, necessary, and within reach." As she relived her journey with the reader by her side, capturing the both splendor and pains of adapting to an unfamiliar and sometimes hostile environment, I was particularly impacted by her poignant descriptions of faith, feelings and ideas that seem transcendent and at times untranslatable into the spoken word. With a level-headed and inquisitive attitude, she was clearly able to see beneath the blankets of hatred and paranoia that obscure populations of both continents--a means of reconciliation and humanity between seemingly distinct and incompatible ways of life. “It’s a strange feeling, praying into your hands, filling the air between them with words. We think of divinity as something infinitely big, but it is also infinitely small — the condensation of your breath on your palms, the ridges in your fingertips, the warm space between your shoulder and the shoulder next to you.”

  25. 5 out of 5

    Aban (Aby)

    This memoir written by a young, white American woman, explores her journey from atheism to adoption of Islam as her religion. Once this decision is made she goes to live in Cairo, falls in love with a Moslem Egyptian, marries and adopts her husband's way of life. None of this is easily done, especially as the conversion and move occur soon after the horrors of September 11, 2001. In Cairo, Willow Wilson has to change from being an independent American to living within a culture which values This memoir written by a young, white American woman, explores her journey from atheism to adoption of Islam as her religion. Once this decision is made she goes to live in Cairo, falls in love with a Moslem Egyptian, marries and adopts her husband's way of life. None of this is easily done, especially as the conversion and move occur soon after the horrors of September 11, 2001. In Cairo, Willow Wilson has to change from being an independent American to living within a culture which values 'interdependence' over 'independence'. I enjoyed the memoir for a couple of reasons: - I found it fascinating to read about the author's mental processing with regard to a new religion and a new way of life, both so alien to her previous experiences. - I was also happy to read a book which showed the positive side of Islamic values and culture. So much has been written about the negative aspects of Islam (in fact, Wilson mentions a couple of these books in her memoir) that it's great to see the other face of Islam and Islamic society. Wilson felt truely loved and supported, not just by her husband and his extended family, but also by other Egyptians with whom she came in contact. (At the same time, I don't feel she idealized Cairo in any way. She wrote frankly of the overcrowding, dirt, and hardships she encountered.) I enjoyed this book from the first page to the very last and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in travel, life in the East, in Islam, and in what it's like to be a convert to the second largest religion in the world.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tuğba

    It is a well written, sincere and honest book in my opinion. I loved it maybe it's because my thoughts are pretty much the same as hers, I guess. "With Islam, I gave myself permission to live in the world as I saw it, not as I was told to see it." "I learned to trust my religion because it became one of the central arbiters of my daily life." "There was a divinity insensible of ethnic heritage, a truth hidden but not erased by geography. It demanded to be recognized and protected." "My initial It is a well written, sincere and honest book in my opinion. I loved it maybe it's because my thoughts are pretty much the same as hers, I guess. "With Islam, I gave myself permission to live in the world as I saw it, not as I was told to see it." "I learned to trust my religion because it became one of the central arbiters of my daily life." "There was a divinity insensible of ethnic heritage, a truth hidden but not erased by geography. It demanded to be recognized and protected." "My initial impression of Shari’a law, based on western news reports, conservative pundits and Saudi propaganda, was actually an impression of Wahhabi law—an angry, violent tradition propagated by the nomadic raiders of the Arabian Peninsula. The sayings of the Prophet contain warnings that the people of Najd—the birthplace of Wahhabism—would try to corrupt the faith: warnings the Wahhabis, in their supposed piety and unstinting legalism, have chosen to ignore." "I didn’t want to be special and symbolic any more than I wanted to be feared; I wanted to be a regular Muslim, for whom Islam was a matter of course, independent of either censure or reward." "The way I wore my scarf, and the colors I chose, made it clear I was not crying out for help or seeking support."

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tuscany Bernier

    I highly enjoyed this story. It helped me understand a bit better why so many born Muslims ask us converts why we converted to Islam. Truthfully, there as many answers as there are people as to why somebody would follow a certain religion or not. This book was an excellent reminder of such ideas. However, the book also made me feel things on a personal level that I'm not sure I know how to put into words. Questions that make me curious if they even have a place in a book review since they were I highly enjoyed this story. It helped me understand a bit better why so many born Muslims ask us converts why we converted to Islam. Truthfully, there as many answers as there are people as to why somebody would follow a certain religion or not. This book was an excellent reminder of such ideas. However, the book also made me feel things on a personal level that I'm not sure I know how to put into words. Questions that make me curious if they even have a place in a book review since they were not the fault of the book itself? For instance, I noticed slight envy within myself at the fact she'd be considered a better source on Islam in general than I would be in some circles since she's spent time in the Middle East...even though Islam can be practiced anywhere? It's not just for people in the Middle East? So like I said...questions that really don't apply to this book, haha! Back to the actual book: The writing is well-done, as always. I loved Cairo - her graphic novel, and "The Butterfly Mosque" was also very excellent! She really does a good job of putting you in her shoes; a bridge between Eastern and Western ideologies. I'd love to see more from this author since she always provides an honest and brave account of the life she lives.

  28. 4 out of 5

    SISTERS Magazine

    Written down to precise perfection, G Willow Wilsons memoir about her journey to Islam is rich and intense. Reverting in Egypt, Wilsons wonderful experiences of navigating through love, faith and culture add a new dimension of a converts sojourn. Her prose is lyrical and she has the canny ability to draw out profound lessons from each of the incidents. A bit controversial at times, Wilson is unabashed and rebellious. Her description of Cairo and the Middle Eastern culture also makes for an Written down to precise perfection, G Willow Wilson’s memoir about her journey to Islam is rich and intense. Reverting in Egypt, Wilson’s wonderful experiences of navigating through love, faith and culture add a new dimension of a convert’s sojourn. Her prose is lyrical and she has the canny ability to draw out profound lessons from each of the incidents. A bit controversial at times, Wilson is unabashed and rebellious. Her description of Cairo and the Middle Eastern culture also makes for an interesting read as she clears away various false impressions of the Arab world. The role of her husband, Omar, must also be mentioned as he successfully breaks the stereotypical image of an Arab man. I admire Wilson for standing up for the Islamic scholars and exposing the ignorant and exploitative behaviour of Western journalists while presenting Islam to the world. Poignant and warm, this memoir is a blend of the best and the worst of East and West. Reviewed by Sumreen Wasiq for the February 2013 issue of SISTERS Magazine.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bunny McFoo

    WARNING: this is not a complimentary review. Unlike 98% of the world I did not enjoy or like this book at all. I can't rate this book. I'm giving it one star because I hated it and the author/narrator (lord but I hated her) but at the same time I don't really feel right about that because I interacted with this book in a way that I literally never have done before - I took notes on scraps of paper, I made notes on my laggy kindle, I made bookmarks. I don't do those things - usually when I read I WARNING: this is not a complimentary review. Unlike 98% of the world I did not enjoy or like this book at all. I can't rate this book. I'm giving it one star because I hated it and the author/narrator (lord but I hated her) but at the same time I don't really feel right about that because I interacted with this book in a way that I literally never have done before - I took notes on scraps of paper, I made notes on my laggy kindle, I made bookmarks. I don't do those things - usually when I read I give myself over to what I'm reading completely; I don't want to stop and take notes. With this book I felt compelled to - mind you, every note I made was something that infuriated me, frustrated me, or made me yell "ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME" loudly enough to scare my cats, but I still was engaging with it and interacting with it in a way that I don't normally do. It made me think. Had the book been written with that intent I think I'd be giving it three stars, but the author states in the narrative that she hates to be controversial and she doesn't want to write to inspire conflict. She just wants everyone to get along, y'all. Anyway, I can only conclude that G. Willow Wilson was extremely young when she wrote this, and if she wasn't she was horrifyingly ignorant in ways that I cannot even comprehend. Either way, she certainly was pretentious and florid the entire way through her narrative. Some passages that got a particularly strong reaction from me:(view spoiler)[ Upon a visit to Iran she finds herself shocked by the tiny scarves, painstaking hairdos, and carefully applied make up on the women she's on the plane with. "...the Axis of Evil was nowhere to be found in the cynical nonchalance of "mandatory dress", and the catty girls from the plane looked less than revolutionary." Okay, so earlier this year I read Persopolis, and while I found myself kind of underwhelmed by it, it certainly made it clear that in Iran the way those "catty girls" (and wtaf is up with that misogynistic as fuck description, Ms. Wilson?) are dressed and made up is an act of rebellion. She later goes on to praise chador and criticize manteaux - "I...wished it wasn't strange for a foreigner to wear one on the street. Chador, a symbol of oppression to most non-Muslims, afford the wearer a kind of dignity totally lacking in the dumpy mateaux, which are, in the end, the mullahs' halfhearted compromise with western dress". Okay. Sure thing Ms Wilson. This totally affords the wearer a kind of dignity and this is totally dumpy. Yup. The chapter about her first trip home has no less than five bookmarks of ARGH on my kindle. The first one made me snort with annoyance but the second one made me yell "WHAT THE FUCK" and stomp away to wash dishes. "I spent three weeks regressing into adolescence -- meeting old friends and going to old coffee shops, with no earthy potatoes to scrub and no fruit to sort through looking for the tiny holes that belied maggots." Yes. that is totally what adolescence is. Yup. Sure. Not like I spent my teenage years scrubbing potatoes (where in America do potatoes come not in need of scrubbing?!) or sorting through the bulk apples from the local orchard looking for holes and worms. Nah. Those things are limited to Adult Women in middle eastern countries for sure. "...you can't be alone with a guy." "God, no." "And you can't, like, go out dancing." "Nope." "Or to parties on your own." "It depends." "I'm sorry, that's misogynist." She was surprised when I laughed. "Come on," I said, "you don't see what's wrong with that equation? There are only two genders here. Creating a rule for one necessarily creates the same rule for the other. You could just as easily asked whether Omar could go out with another woman or be alone with her, and I would have given you the same answer: no. ...What? You thought there was some mysterious pool of women who are somehow exempt from the rules, and who appear out of nowhere to run around with guys for the sole purpose of creating a double standard? If girls can't go out alone with guys, who's left for the guys to break the rules with?"... "So there isn't a double standard." Josh leaned forward, interested. "Oh, no, there is a double standard, but only because girls have hymens. If there was a way to check for male virginity, trust me, religious people would do it...." AND SHE SEEMS TO THINK THAT NONE OF THIS IS MISOGYNISTIC. I CANNOT EVEN. Nope, nope, nope. Uh-uh, fuck that. (hide spoiler)] I could go on, but I really don't want to rehash the literally twenty seven bookmarks, twelve notes in my kindle, and seven post-its covered in furious scrawl. I'm SUPER not even touching how O.o I find it that within a month of meeting her future husband she was crazy in love with him and that they were engaged within four months of meeting - like, that's madness to me. Ain't nobody got time for that and my blood pressure is high enough already. Anyway. I was also annoyed that the whole book was about how she adapted to Egypt (not like those OTHER western muslims who she criticizes throughout the book) and how much she learned while living there, but oh gosh, her husband couldn't possibly learn ANYTHING living in the United States, no, he's perfect exactly how he is: (view spoiler)["I knew he was doing this for me. The material comforts of the first world didn't tempt him much; he was satisfied with the spiritual comforts he had at home. He had mastered his environment.... For Omar, America meant Exile." WELP, I guess that must have changed at some point because they're still married and have lived for 10 years in Seattle as per her tumblr. (hide spoiler)] The book ends just as they're about to move to the States for a few years and I really really wish it had continued for a bit - I would have been very interested in seeing how they both dealt with being devout Muslims (one born into the faith and one converted) in the US in the middle of the Bush administration. Alas. Anyway. I'm really glad that I read Ms. Marvel before this because I loved those trades and I never in a million years would have read them if I'd read this first. She either grew up a lot in the four years between the publication of this book and the first issue of that or she's very adept at creating a character with very little in common with herself. Either way, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to reread the Ms Marvel books again without them being tainted by this book and that makes me rather sad. :/ Excuse me, I'm going to spoil myself and release my annoyance and frustration with a T. Kingfisher book I've been saving for just such an occasion.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Andrew David

    This is an important memoir, one that I think offers a perspective we don't hear in our culture today--an American woman moves to Egypt, converts to Islam, and marries a Muslim Egyptian. It's the kind of memoir I would encourage anyone to read who has a passing interest in how the Western world and Middle East can begin to understand each other or for anyone who finds the very notion of a Western woman converting to Islam--that oppressive, war-mongering, radical religion--absurd. That said, I'm This is an important memoir, one that I think offers a perspective we don't hear in our culture today--an American woman moves to Egypt, converts to Islam, and marries a Muslim Egyptian. It's the kind of memoir I would encourage anyone to read who has a passing interest in how the Western world and Middle East can begin to understand each other or for anyone who finds the very notion of a Western woman converting to Islam--that oppressive, war-mongering, radical religion--absurd. That said, I'm not certain Wilson was ready to write this book. Overall, her conversion is well-told and thoughtful, but I often found myself distracted by the flaws. For one, I think Wilson has trouble finishing: several of her chapters end just as they begin to get interesting. The book itself begins by mixing personal narrative with commentary—a recipe that seems to work well—yet as the principle plot of the memoir begins to resolve, that balance becomes upset with more commentary than personal narrative, and I think the narrative may suffer. She also does that thing that I find insufferable in memoir, where she brings something to the awareness of the reader but then abandons it. She’s a tease. For example, I am totally fine with the lack of sex scenes in the book—they would be distasteful and inappropriate for the book—but there were several instances where she begins to discuss sex, only to avoid the question her readers must be thinking: how does a Western spiritual atheist turned Muslim expatriate handle the volatile relationship question of sex? Or at other points in the memoir, she delves into a topic, building our interest in a character and issue, and then wiggles out from the narrative she’s constructed by admitting to the reader that she didn’t feel right pressing the character for more information. Instead, those seemed like moments where she either should have bit the bullet and done more research—Hi, I’m writing a memoir, I wonder whether you could tell me more about what you were thinking when x and y happened—or, more likely, written her way out of that lack of information. Don’t tell me that you failed to make this as awesome as it could be because you didn’t want to offend one of your book’s characters! And finally, when I express uncertainty about whether Wilson was ready to write this book, it’s because she has the habit of making grand statements that I wasn’t always sure she could support. This is a habit of many writers but somehow I came away feeling that with more life experience and age, she might be able to pull this off better.

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