Hijabi Dating by Ayisha Malik
‘Terrorists don’t wear vintage shoes.’ At least not according to Sofia Khan, the heroine of my novel, Sofia Khan is not Obliged. Because she knows, just as well as the next person, that a terrorist would not be wearing a pair of teal, snakeskin, peep-toes. What else, after all, could she have said to the man on the tube, who’s quite dismissively presumed she spends her time Googling chemical formulas just because she wears a hijab? As a rule of thumb, it’s a pretty basic assumption to make, but given the world’s occurrences I think it’s safe to assume that common sense isn’t that common nowadays.
Sofia’s a plucky, somewhat foul-mouthed, book publicist who’s on her way to an important meeting and has been caught rather off-guard by Mr. Racist. This, as well as having broken off her engagement with her fiancé – who, by the way, wanted her to live with his parents and a hole-in-the-wall, and please, what year do you think this is? – distracts her from paying attention in her meeting (she’s busy figuring out how to doodle a house with a hole-in-the-wall). So distracted in fact that she ends up being asked by her boss to write a Muslim dating book. You know, to expose the underworld of furtive hand-holding and chaperoned dates. Sofia reluctantly agrees and so begins the sequence of events that will unravel a contemporary love story, while also unravelling some home truths.
As a hijabi Muslim I’ve been asked some pretty weird questions in my time. For example: Do you have to wear your hijab in the shower as well?
What’s a girl to do? Eye-rolling isn’t very Muslim and then you can’t blame a person for asking. Anyway, the last thing you want is for people to think that you never wash your hair properly. I blame the media (it’s always a safe bet). If they didn’t bang on about how we’re all bombing things, perhaps we wouldn’t want to harp on about the fact that actually, some of us have very different past-times. For example, some of us like to write.
‘Excellent! More diverse writers – that’s what we need. Do you want to talk about forced marriages? The oppression of the hijab? Honour killings…that’s a big one.’
‘Can I just write about normal stuff?’
‘Normal? What do you mean, normal?’
Apparently we don’t have similar trials to our non-Muslim counterparts, such as: should I text him back now or in a few hours? Do these skinny jeans make my arse look fat? And sometimes, just sometimes: isn’t this Brexit thing a nightmare? Of course we’re all concerned about exposing the horrors of some practises that take place in the name of our religion and culture, but occasionally, it’s not so much about saving the world as it is the small, everyday struggles of having to live in it. Or in the case of Sofia Khan, dating in it.
‘Do Muslims date?’
‘With great bloody difficulty.’
‘Is that because your parents have already chosen someone for you?’
Cue: attempt to stop your eyes from rolling.
‘No. Because Muslim men are arseholes.’
That’s not fair, of course. Only some of them are. (As are some Muslim women, obviously – though perhaps the ratio isn’t quite 50:50). When you’ve had several conversations where your life is reduced to unimaginative assumptions to do with arranged or forced marriages it can become quite boring. But you can’t blame the public for that (return to my earlier point about the media). So, when people ask what inspired me to write Sofia Khan, I tell them: life.