LOVE IN A HEADSCARF by Shelina Zahra Janmohamed


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A sweetly self-deprecating account of enduring the arranged-marriage mill in London’s South Asian Muslim community.

At age 19, while a student at Oxford, EMEL magazine columnist and Guardian contributor Janmohamed began accepting visits by suitors to her suburban home, where she lived with her parents, well-educated professionals who had emigrated from Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania (the author’s great-grandparents hailed from Gujarat, India). As a young woman from a relatively religious home who chose to wear hijab, the author knew she had to submit to the matchmaking process, which was run by the local mosque’s Marriage Committee and a handful of well-intentioned but meddlesome “Buxom Aunties.” However, Janmohamed, like her smart, modern girlfriends, also held out for true love. By rejecting numerous unsuitable matches over the years, she put herself in jeopardy of ending up without a husband, while also remaining true to herself and hoping to find a more “Divine Love.” Her account of having to meet the succession of suitors—frequently unsavory, reluctant or downright rude—is hilarious. One businessman informed the well-read student that he hated books and “people who like books”; another appeared two hours late for their appointment so he could finish watching a cricket match on television; others rejected her for being too short and for wearing the headscarf. The author devotes several chapters to a defense of hijab, especially after the open resentment of Muslims after 9/11. She emphasizes the equalitarianism endorsed by the Koran and that the choice to wear a headscarf marks her faith and feminism at the same time. As she moved through her 20s and the Aunties continued to fret, Janmohamed resolved not to let the matchmaking distract her from her “inner world,” and she embarked on a climb of Kilimanjaro and a hajj to Mecca. The author’s journey is less about finding a husband than resolving the contradictions inherent in being a Muslim woman in Western society.

A forthright, charming tale of unraveling the “overwhelming contradictions and tangles” of identity.

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-8070-0080-9
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Beacon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2010


by S.K. Ali