Saturday, May 11, 2013

Book Review: The Garden of My Imaan, by Farhana Zia

Book: The Garden of My Imaan
Author: Farhana Zia
Published: 2013
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

In many ways, Aliya is the girl next door. She has friends and enemies, she worries about popularity and bullying and grades. Though her family is Muslim, they aren’t strict about it. Though she tries to eat halal, she doesn’t have to wear the hijab.

Then Marwa comes to her school. Marwa is far more open about her Muslim-ness than Aliya, wearing the hijab and responding calmly in the face of racist bullying. Aliya starts to resent being “the other Muslim girl.” At the same time, she finds herself longing to explore the faith that she’s always taken for granted, talking to Allah in daily letters and trying to fast for Ramadan. But how can she possibly measure up to Marwa when she keeps failing so massively?

This is not a hugely dramatic book. Simple, everyday things happen - student council elections, class projects, social questions (do I go to Carly’s party or accept Marwa’s invitation to dinner?). Nobody’s house gets vandalized, no mosques get bombed. There is prejudice, but it touches Aliya’s life without shattering it. This is Islam in daily life, and an American Muslim girl starting to understand what that means.

I’d also like to mention that this book shows some of the variety to be found in American Muslims. While some characters are Arab-American or recent immigrants, Aliya and her family are Indian-American, and have been for generations. Some families are strict, some are not. Her great-grandmother Badi Amma, who might have been expected to be the “strict one” when it comes to matters of faith, is permissive and understanding, telling her that “Allah rewards good intentions.”

I’m always on the lookout for books that show different faiths in the lives of contemporary kids without being didactic, and this one fits the bill just right.

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