The Butterfly Mosque: A Young Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam
by G. Willow Wilson
When G. Willow Wilson—already an accomplished writer on modern religion and the Middle East at just twenty-seven—leaves her atheist parents in Denver to study at Boston University, she enrolls in an Islamic Studies course that leads to her shocking conversion to Islam and sends her on a fated journey across continents and into an uncertain future.
She settles in Cairo where she teaches English and submerges herself in a culture based on her adopted religion. And then she meets Omar, a passionate young man with a mild resentment of the Western influences in his homeland. They fall in love, entering into a daring relationship that calls into question the very nature of family, belief, and tradition. Torn between the secular West and Muslim East, Willow records her intensely personal struggle to forge a “third culture” that might accommodate her own values without compromising the friends and family on both sides of the divide.
I don’t read many memoirs, but The Butterfly Mosque is one I’ve been meaning to read for a while now.
Islam fascinates me, I think because it’s in the news so often and, because it’s in the news so often, I want to understand the real Islam practiced by the majority of Muslims who just want to be left alone to worship in peace. There’s a horrid habit in Western media of hearing the word ‘Muslim’ and thinking ‘terrorist’, and I want to educate myself out of my own ignorance.
When I was a teenager society had taught me, and I therefore believed, that all Muslim women are oppressed, which is just ridiculous. Naturally, I was incredibly intrigued by what it was that called G. Willow Wilson to the faith.
Wilson’s writing is so readable. I flew through this memoir, and it was so nice to be reading non-fiction again. She writes in a very comfortable, honest manner, and, like any book about religion, I couldn’t help wondering if this was going to be a ‘this is why you should be a Muslim’ book, and it wasn’t at all. This entire journey is very personal, and while Wilson has no agenda she does a brilliant job of shedding light on the parts of Islam that the media glosses over because it doesn’t fit with their view of the Middle East.
Even better, Wilson herself doesn’t gloss over some of the darker parts of the Middle East, she’s a very fair guide to life in Cairo in the early 2000s, and I loved reading about how she adapted to a life and culture so different from the one she grew up in, and how she dealt with feeling like she wasn’t Egyptian, but she wasn’t quite American anymore either.
To be honest, I’m not sure what to say about this book other than that I would love more people to read it. It’s a wonderful eye-opener to Islam and the Middle East, particularly as we’re introduced to this world through the eyes of a Westerner, and so respectfully and affectionately written that it pulled me through the pages with ease. I was sorry to see it end!