Saturday, July 23, 2016

Post Reading: Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged - Ayisha Malik

Book Review Muslims in Literature


Title: Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged
Author: Ayisha Malik
Published: September 3rd 2015 by Twenty7
Source: Bought
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"Brilliant idea! Excellent! Muslim dating? Well, I had no idea you were allowed to date.' Then he leaned towards me and looked at me sympathetically. 'Are your parents quite disappointed?' 

Unlucky in love once again after her possible-marriage-partner-to-be proves a little too close to his parents, Sofia Khan is ready to renounce men for good. Or at least she was, until her boss persuades her to write a tell-all expose about the Muslim dating scene. 

As her woes become her work, Sofia must lean on the support of her brilliant friends, baffled colleagues and baffling parents as she goes in search of stories for her book. In amongst the marriage-crazy relatives, racist tube passengers and decidedly odd online daters, could there be a a lingering possibility that she might just be falling in love . . . ?


If I were to count the number of times I've seen myself represented in fiction, it would take no more than 60 seconds. You'd say I'm lying considering the fact that Muslims are mentioned so often in media. However, literature that is truly representative of Muslims, are few and far between.

Ayisha Malik's debut follows Sofia Khan, a Hijabi Muslim and a first generation immigrant from Pakistan living in London and working in the book publishing industry. Just bouncing back from a broken engagement with a man, Sofia is ready to swear off men. Except, she accidentally pitches a book about Muslims dating to her publicity director!

Armed with nothing but a spankin' new profile (for research, of course), Sofia throws herself hijab first into the Muslim blind dating scene.What follows is a heartwarming, authentic tale of a young Muslim woman in a race against time as she attempts to finish her book and maybe, just maybe find love.

One of my favorite things about the novel is Sofia Khan - Malik's portrayal of a hijabi was so refreshing and accurate. When most people view a hijabi they see two things, a possible terrorist or a victim of oppression. Sofia Khan is neither. She prays five times a day, seeks solace in God, abstains from alcohol/pre-marital sex and fasts in Ramadan. She chooses to wear the hijab. But she's no angel.

I was talking to fellow blogger and hijabi, Sabeena (who coined #HijabNotAHalo, an apt hashtag really) some time back about how most people including Muslims hold us hijabis to impossible standards of behavior. From sneaking the occasional fag to swearing, I loved Sofia's little 'flaws'. She's strong-willed, stubborn and often makes poor decisions with good intentions. She's independent, witty and an incredible friend. Most importantly, she's human. And as a reader, you can't help but love Sofia Khan.

Muslim women are constantly underestimated but I can attest to the fact that they are some of craziest and funniest people. I thought that Malik does a brilliant job in capturing just how incredible we are. ;)

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged aces the Bechdel test. I'm a feminist through and through and believe in supporting and uplifting women. My friendships in real life and online are all founded on mutual, unfailing support systems and because of this I love seeing female relationships portrayed positively in fiction. Most female friendships in fiction are either token friendships or are negatively portrayed but Sofia's friends are all shown as incredibly supportive women. I loved the fact that Sofia's BFFs Hannah, Suj and Fozia were well fleshed out characters with their own independent story arcs. They all had distinctly different personalities reflecting the fact that Muslim women are not a monolith. The book also highlights the strong familial relationships that are common in Desi families - Very, very heartwarming.

There's a lot of issues within our own communities like colorism, racism especially towards Black people. It takes a lot of courage to confront and address these prejudice issues and I think Malik does this brilliantly through her spunky heroine. She even points out that  publishing is 'the most white-centric, middle-class industry!' The West has a LOT of misconceptions about Muslims. Misconceptions that often cost us our lives. One day while commuting, a bigot calls Sofia a terrorist during her commute. It takes a minute for her realise that she was just racially abused. First comes the disbelief and then she tells herself that it shouldn't affect her so much because it's just a few 'flimsy words'. But then comes (almost comical) rage.
I stared at the ground and looked at my shoes: my lovely, teal, snakeskin, peep-toes (which, by the way, are offset  perfectly by my coral scarf). I was like, hang on - I don't look like a terrorist...

...Oi,” I shouted. Terrorists don't wear vintage shoes, you ignorant wanker!
The magic is in the details. 

Whenever Sofia finds herself lost and second guessing her decisions, she performs the Istikhara prayer (Muslims when faced with difficult decisions often seek guidance from Allah by performing this prayer). During her sister's wedding, the entire house is decked in fairy lights and Sofia quips about how the only place free of fairy lights is the washroom! We, Desis do love our fairy lights. From ranting about the hopelessness of brown men and worrying about the length of our tops to bemoaning her disastrous culinary skills and dodging nosy Rishta aunties, Sofia kept me giggling page after page. It's these seemingly small details that made this whole book a special experience for me - It was like reading my entire life!

As a 20-something Desi Muslim woman, I hear the 'M' word no less than 5 times a day. Seriously, every day. Everyone from your interfering relatives/neighbors to well-meaning friends tend to ask you when you are getting married. You dodge one bullet and turn around the corner only to fall into the clutches of another Rishta aunt! 

Sofia also talks about how most workplaces can be a bit uncomfortable for Muslims especially, when trying to find a place to pray. Muslims pray five times a day and since there are designated times for each prayer, we often face the challenge of finding a place to pray. There's a particular incident in the book where Sofia's makeshift prayer room has been turned into a medical room. What follows is an awkward conversation where she has to explain to the (white) administrative guy that she needs a place to pray and would it be okay if she could get the entry code to the room? After explaining that yes, we do pray all year round and yes, we do pray five times a day, she gets the access code. Except now the door to the prayer room has been changed to glass so everyone who walks past is treated to a view of her arse in the air. This is literally, what I've had to go through at every workplace. It's 2016 and workplaces fail hard at inclusivity. As Sofia says “Bad praying space, good canap├ęs.”

At first glance(read) this book seems like a light hearted rom com. It is. But it is also so much more.

Sofia Khan's first person, diary entry narration made it easy to connect with the protagonist. As much I love a solid plot, there's something about a really good character driven book that always hooks me in. Sofia's distinct voice drives the narrative in this fun yet thought provoking read and I couldn't help but devour this book chapter after chapter. At a time when Islamaphobia is rampant, books like Sofia Khan is Not Obliged are so so relevant because they offer a way to bridge this sense of Otherness created by ignorance. 

A book about Muslims that is neither a tragedy or an issues book - Hurrah.


5 Stars


“I tried! I did! But what normal human being would ask another human being to live with a cohort of mother, father, brother and sister-in-law with two children, complete with a sister and brother-in-law and three children next door, and a hole-in-the-wall joining the two houses? (Just writing that sentence about so many people confused me; imagine living with them.)” 


Ayisha Malik's Sofia Khan is Not Obliged is an authentic, warm and hilarious read that will stay with you days after finishing it. Muslim or not, this book guarantees you a good time.



Have you read Ayisha Malik's Sofia Khan is Not Obliged? Have you read any books that feature Muslims characters?


  1. Thank you for your review, which I saw mentioned on Twitter. I hadn't heard of this book. I would be interested to hear how much the book has to say/show about the world of publishing?

  2. This sounds awesome! I'd heard of this book for and was planning to read it for the title alone (it kind of has a cadence to it, don't you think?) but your review makes me really, really excited to read this! Thanks for sharing all of your thoughts about it with us. I'ma go put this thing on hold.

  3. I don't like contemporaries, and yet this sounds amazing!

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  4. I loved this book too. It was the small details of her life that made this special. I can't wait to see what this author writes next.

  5. While I loved the title+cover of this book when I came across it a few months back, the synopsis didn't sound very appealing- WRONG JUDGEMENT, OBVIOUSLY. Your review is exactly what I needed to convince myself about picking this one up. It really sounds too good to be true! Great review, Nuz- these kind of books are definitely a need of the hour.

  6. I saw you mention this on Twitter. Just added it to my Goodreads list. Thanks!!

  7. I loved your heart-warming review. It has been a long time since I read a review of a book the reader loved. Most of the reviews tend to go over the same things. This is definitely on my TBR list.


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