As an avid reader with a special interest in Muslim fiction, I jump at the chance to read and review the newest books on the market, especially if they’re written by Muslim women authors. In the course of my Muslim-fiction-hunting, I came across a new name: Zara J, the author of Dowry Divas.
Described on Amazon as ‘The Muslim Sex and the City,’ Dowry Divas follows the complicated love lives of three Muslim women – Layla, Talia, Nadia – and the men they have either married, seek to marry, or are trying to marry them.
A hot-shot African-American lawyer who has just married the hottest Muslim attorney on the block, Layla finds herself completely unprepared to deal with an unwelcome guest at her glamorous wedding. Talia, a successful Latina entrepreneur, struggles with feelings of jealousy and loneliness, and decides to take the risk of seeking a soulmate on the Internet. Nadia tries to escape her father’s preferred candidate for marriage – and finds herself falling for Lateef, a man who already has one wife.
While the book is told from the perspectives of these three female characters, the men they’re involved with are equally fleshed out and dominate a great deal of attention.
Dowry Divas was very different from my usual reading material, which tend to revolve around women in difficult situations who face down their challenges with inspiring strength and courage. To be honest, I found it difficult to relate to the three women – if anything, I empathized with the male characters most, although I had issues with some of them as well. Despite being described as ‘smart and sassy,’ I found the women to come off as both slightly flat and unrelatable – one domineering characteristic they all shared was a rather concerning (to me) obsession with material things, with a particular emphasis on money, designer clothing, purses, and so on. They appeared to be unashamedly jealous and obsessed over marriage, desiring men who had 'swag', money, and who were religious but not 'extremely' religious.
I also found that many Islamic references (ayaat, ahadith, and fiqh rulings) were tossed around in a rather awkward manner in an attempt to explain aspects of ‘Muslim-ness’, such as polygamy. Perhaps the author’s intent was to include these things for the sake of da’wah to non-Muslim readers, but from a literary perspective, I found it a clumsy and unskillful way of getting the point across. I strongly felt that the quality of the writing overall was slightly weak – both the characters and the plot could have been improved with some editing and more development.
While my review appears to be quite negative, the truth is that this was my own personal reaction to a specific genre, which others may find enjoyable. While the characters in this book did not reflect the Muslim women or situations that I am acquainted with, it did make me aware of the fact that there are Muslim women out there for whom these circumstances are a reality, and therefore would be better able to relate the story.
At the very least, it is good to see more Muslim writers, especially women of colour, coming forth and contributing to the genre of Muslim fiction with their own unique perspectives. My only suggestion would be that instead of rushing to produce more books, whether self-published or otherwise, such authors should take the time to develop their skills and polish their work. It is important that the burgeoning genre of Muslim literature should reflect skill as well as talent, quality as well as quantity.
Dowry Divas is a book with a great deal of potential, and has an intriguing premise, though it will undoubtedly resonate with certain readers more than others.
Rating: 2/5 stars
AnonyMouse (Zainab bint Younus) is a young Muslimah who has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember. She is a writer (for SISTERS Magazine, SaudiLife.net, OnIslam.net and elsewhere), as well as a freelance editor who has worked for international Islamic publishing companies such as Darussalam and IIPH. She also blogs at http://www.thesalafifeminist.blogspot.com