Of Love and Faith
DS Books is excited to launch this new series comprising reviews of "light reads" which explore heavier, sensitive topics. In this first instalment, we look at a young adult romance novel that depicts the challenging experiences of adolescent Muslims.
Love from A to Z by SK Ali (Salaam Reads/ Simon & Schuster, 2019) is a contemporary romance that tackles controversial topics such as racism, Islamophobia, and prejudice. From questioning the ethics of US drone warfare in predominantly Muslim countries, the faceless casualties many of which are almost always unaccounted for, to the discrimination of minorities, cultural appropriation, and the brazen desensitisation of it all, Ali takes us on a journey that is both lonely and incredibly awe-inspiring.
"The biggest global protest event in history occurred when we were babies, February fifteenth, 2003. People in over sixty countries, almost fifteen million people around the world, including a huge march in Rome that made the Guinness World Records, protested the invasion of Iraq. The protest was monumental. Unmatched before and since. But GUESS WHAT? The invasion still happened. And guess what? Overreach from that war, which lasts to this day, killed my grandmother!"
"I want justice. And I want it now. For everyone."
Zayneb is an 18-year-old activist in the making who is suspended from school for confronting her Islamophobic teacher in class. Angry and frustrated, she makes an early start to spring break when her parents allow her to visit her aunt in Doha, where they hope she will practice some self-reflection. During her travels, she meets Adam, a college student and Muslim convert who is on his way to Doha from London, carrying with him nothing but a duffle bag and a terrible secret.
Despite both being Muslims, their experiences with prejudice couldn't be more different. Zayneb is a Pakistani/West-Indian American who wears the hijab, and Adam comes from Chinese and Finnish descent. While Zayneb has faced too many instances of being singled out as a Muslim—in class, on the streets, at the mall and the airport, Adam goes through life without being labelled as "different". Both characters revel in a strong bond with their faith and the author does a remarkable job of showing how, despite the contrasts in their personalities, this one similarity binds them together. Zayneb is relatable; she is angry and she often struggles to contain it. Adam embodies kindness and control. He has learnt to tackle life with a maturity that is beyond his years. However, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Adam is now struggling to break the news to his grieving father who hasn't yet come to terms with his wife's death.
One of the most interesting elements of this book is its structure: Ali writes it in alternating journal entries made by the two protagonists. Coincidentally in their respective diaries, both list a "marvel" and an "oddity". This creates a delightfully intimate ambiance in which readers are able to empathise and connect with the characters emotionally, and internalise their way of viewing the world. The pop-culture references are especially relatable for a millennial and Gen Z audience.
I think this book is essential because it is brave and unapologetically Muslim. A lovely romance at first glance, Love from A to Z explores the struggles of living in a world that claims to be inclusive but rationalises rape, honour killings, and prejudice; but ultimately it celebrates the good things: growth, kindness, faith, and love.
Sameirah Nasrin Ahsan is a mechanical engineer based in Dhaka. She aspires to be an author someday. For now, she is content with reading and sharing the stories that make her think beyond herself.