The Butterfly Mosque by Willow Wislon: A book review

This is a memoir written by Willow Wilson: a young American student who converts to Islam. Is it a classical book about the reasons and circumstances that brought this middle-class, curious, daring and liberal girl to Islam? Not at all…The voyeur-romantic-emotional  side of us that really wants to read about those mysterious reasons, like an omen or a premonitory dream or an extraordinary encounter, will be disappointed for Wilson spent little writing explaining her choice.

After the first chapters the author, who secretly and recently converted to Islam, takes the reader to a trip to Cairo in Egypt. But it isn’t any trip… We don’t discover the Pyramids, the Nile or the usual spots that any American tourist in her guided tour will definitely visit. Instead  we are plunged in both a physical and metaphysical journey into the crowded, smelly, streets of this megalopolis as well as into the inner struggle of the author about her new identity: Who is she? Can she understand the indigenous culture? Can she really become Muslim and simultaneously behave like any other American girl? Will she be accepted by this Muslim conservative society that is filled with contradictions and taboos?

Before finding any of the answers, Wilson encounters Omar a Sufi, musician lover, young teacher whom she instantaneously fell in love with. At this level, her struggle became even more complicated. We see in Wilson a girl who is torn between her new religion, her new love, her family and old friends. How can she announce all these changes at once without being accused of a brainwashed silly young girl without discernment? Can she really trust her heart and love Omar or is he another Arab man looking for a submissive wife who will spend all her days at the kitchen trying to please him?

We follow Wilson in her quest for answers. She starts to learn Arabic and then meddles with the Egyptian society with some frustrations and disappointment. But that isn’t all. Her Arabic progresses as well as her capacity of understanding the Egyptian culture. At one point, she discovers that she starts to even change and react less selfishly to some situations when people would need her help. Her journalistic training leads her to interview some important Islamic figures and ask questions on how to reconcile between the West and the Muslim world. At many passages, I felt the attempts of Wilson to become that bridge between the two entities. Her wedding to Omar is no more than another attempt to narrow the gap and bring them closer. As if Wilson wants to put aside all the historical, cultural and social differences and focus on the essential things: find the common grounds in our common humanity. Did she succeed? I would be curious to read it from the author about her new life spent between the US and Egypt? May be in another book from her…

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