Sunday, 12 September 2010

Review: The Butterfly Mosque

This book is amazing. The Butterfly Mosque is one of those works that is so blatantly ordinary, yet undeniably extraordinary at the same time.  It's a memoir written by a woman whom theoretically I have nothing particular in common with... and yet I felt like the book was speaking to me personally.  It was almost like an affirmation of faith; I was able to rediscover and newly appreciate the religion I have come to take for granted, as I read about it through the eyes of someone who truly was seeing it for the first time.

G. Willow Wilson's memoir tells her tale from confused, Boston University graduate and nominal atheist, to naturalised Egyptian, Muslim convert, and wife.  Now, I may not be Egyptian or American, I may not have lived in a foreign country, I am not a convert and I am not in a cross-cultural marriage.  And yet everything Wilson discusses, whether directly or indirectly, rang true with me. Living in a post-9/11 world where the 'clash of civilisations' is rife in many corners of society, I can identify with the struggle to reconcile being a 'Westerner' and being a Muslim.  Of course, prior to 9/11 those two were never even contemplated as mutually exclusive in my head, but in today's world they are touted as necessarily so.  It is not a question of choosing between the two, but finding your path as an individual through which you can authentically express your faith in a society that is not always accepting of it.

At the heart of the book, in my opinion, are relationships.  Wilson's relationship with Allah, with her fiancĂ©, with her American friends and colleagues, with her parents, with her new family, and with Egypt.  The nuances of these relationships - Willow's careful articulation of what a person will do for someone they care about - carry the story and give the reader hope.  Ultimately, The Butterfly Mosque predicates that what is good and right will outlast the hatred, xenophobia and fundamentalism (religious and other) that have come to pervade our world.  Regardless of war, politics, tragedy, and all forms of destructive human behaviour, beauty and truth will triumph, just like the 'Butterfly Mosque' itself.

The Butterfly Mosque by G. WIllow Wilson at Allen & Unwin
Photo by Ewen Bell at M.I.L.K. Photos

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