Description: The author describes her conversion to Islam and journey to Egypt where she taught English, learned about the Middle Eastern culture, and fell in love with an Egyptian man.
Review: The Butterfly Mosque is a satisfying, well written memoir that is equally a romance and travelogue. When I started The Butterfly Mosque, I didn't know what to expect. I had never read a book about someone converting to a religion, especially Islam. After an illness forces her to face her own mortality at age 18, Wilson, the child of two atheists, finds herself in search of religion. The faith fits her needs is Islam, but post 9/11 she faces difficulties embracing it fully, feeling as if she is betraying her country, etc. However her interest in studying Islam, Arabic, and learning about the Middle East continues to grow. When she is given the opportunity to move to Cairo and teach at an English-language school that she is able to immerse herself in the religion she has come to love and become a Muslim.
Her experiences at Cairo are eye opening and fascinating, especially with those of us who know absolutely nothing of the Egyptian culture. When she falls in love with Omar, an Egyptian physics teacher, Wilson becomes increasingly open about her faith. She openly claims Islam despite the fears that her friends and family will not accept her. Though Wilson finds herself warmly welcomed Omar's family, adjusting to life in Egypt takes time and patience. Despite speaking Arabic, following the social mores, and being an observing Muslim, Wilson isn't fully embraced by the Cairo dwellers and will probably always be known as the foreigner.
Wilson avoids preaching how to be the "right" Muslim, keeping faith personal and instead focuses on the stereotypes of Arabs, particularly of the religious fundamentalists, and breaks them as she learns more about the religion, talks with natives, observes the society around her. As Wilson lives in Cairo, she also makes note how the different genders interact. Women's rights are most discussed, though at times the problematic issues are a bit glossed over. Still I found the memoir an enjoyable and approaching read and would recommend it to others.
Rating: 4 stars
Words of Caution: There is some strong language in the book. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.
If you like this book try: Love in a Headscarf by Shelina Zahra Janmohamed or The Muslim Next Door by Sumbul Ali-Karamali