Two British Muslim girls run away to Syria to join the Islamic State group but find something far beyond disillusionment.
This superb novel is a cousin to Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) in both theme and structure. Here again a murky, reviled aspect of Muslim experience is brilliantly revealed; here again the form of the story is a single confidence shared with a silent listener. Jamilla and her friend Ameena are childhood friends from a town in the north of England. At home they speak Urdu; elsewhere, English with the local accent—“A think A told yer to bugger off.” Jamilla’s family is conservative; she is a passionate student and believer. She never goes out without her niqab, for which she is endlessly harassed, but she also feels at odds with the Islam of her parents, who “reduce God to a little bookkeeping clerk.” Ameena’s mum and dad are divorced, materialistic, and Westernized; Ameena herself smokes cigarettes and is mad for a soccer player at school who looks like David Beckham. The girls’ on-again, off-again friendship takes a fateful turn when Ameena is humiliated by her crush, then meets on Facebook a strikingly beautiful woman with an adorable cat. Hejjiye is a recruiter for Daesh, the Arabic acronym for ISIS. “Just pack your bags and leave,” she tells them. The plan is for them to become brides of jihadis, but while the more boy-crazy Ameena, who travels with a pack of made-in-China artificial hymens, is quickly married off, Jamilla schemes to remain at the so-called orphanage run by Hejjiye. Both girls quickly get to know their new associates. “The careerists win everywhere, believe me!” exclaims Jamilla. “Hassan’s fanaticism was a career to him. Killing was his corporate job. Apocalypse was how he planned to corner the market.” By the way, this is Ameena’s husband she is talking about. And there is no cat.
Was this intense, enlightening novel really written not by a British Muslim girl but a male Indian novelist who lives in Denmark? It seems impossible. Required reading for anyone interested in trying to understand our mad, bloody world.