5 Muslim Romance Novels for Jane Austen Fans

While at first it might be difficult for a young Muslim man or woman to relate to a Jane Austen novel, if you look deeper you will find that the similarities are uncanny. Novels like Pride and Prejudice or Emma are love stories at their core but what makes them so memorable is all the extra stuff that comes with the lives of the leading couple.

Reading these stories takes you back to a long-gone era when romance was conservative and a family was a sea of characters with their quirks and whimsies. Ring a bell? If you are beginning to imagine a colourful, Muslim family with five daughters and a mother who cannot wait to get them married – you probably know what I am talking about.

Drama aside, another reason why Austen’s novels have stood the test of time is her portrayal of gutsy women with gumption and a mind of their own. Whether it was Elizabeth Bennett rejecting the rich Mr Darcy at first or Emma Woodhouse’s self-assuredness, Austen’s heroes were almost always women.

With that being said, here is a list of five Muslim romance novels with their witty heroines, brooding heroes and very dramatic families, that will probably remind you a little of Jane Austen novels where less was more when it came to romance. However, what makes them truly special is their attempt to mainstream the narrative around Muslim families and Muslim youngsters living in the western world.

It is also important to support the very talented Muslim women who have authored these delightful stories and who are slowly and steadily beginning to make a name in an industry where the Muslim voice to this day remains underrepresented.

Ayesha at Last (AAL)
by Uzma Jalaluddin

Credit: Amazon

The last decade has seen many South Asian adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, but it is fair to say that Ayehsa at Last stands out from the crowd. AAL tells the story of two vastly different individuals Ayesha Shamsi and Khaled Mirza who only have their faith and nationality in common – they are both Muslims living in Toronto.

Khaled is an obedient son and conservative Muslim whose primary focus is to please his controlling mother by marrying a girl she chooses for him. Ayesha is free-spirited and independent with a strong voice (both literally and metaphorically since she is also a poet). The both of them are forced to come together to work on a project for their local mosque. Their interactions are filled with drama and humour leading up to an attraction they both eventually have to deal with.

Despite being heavy on drama and filled with myriad twists and turns, Ayesha At Last never feels contrived. Set in Toronto, the book also portrays a heartwarming picture of an immigrant family balancing the fragile act of preserving their culture and beliefs in a westernised society. There are a few similarities in the premise of the book with Pride and Prejudice (someone runs away with someone good looking etc.) , yet it isn’t a mere re-telling of the original tale.

Uzma Jalaluddin does a fine job of bringing the best of the Indian Bollywood drama and Austen’s Victorian romance into this funny and very well-written debut novel.

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged (SKINO)
by Ayisha Malik

Credit: Amazon

“Dating a devout Muslim is like dating someone back in the nineteenth century,” is one of the many funny lines from Ayisha Malik’s debut novel Sofia Khan is Not Obliged. The book is a wickedly funny, outside-in view into the life of a Muslim woman looking for love within the structures of her faith.

The book is told as a collection of journal entries (think Bridget Jones except very halal), with Sofia sharing her unfiltered thoughts about work, love, friendships, family and pretty much everything that makes her life tick. Sofia works in publishing and lives with her family in London. Her boss is super excited by the notion of Muslim women dating and hires her to write a book on the topic. This leads to a number of weird, funny and dramatic subplots that Sophia shares as her journal entries. In many ways, the novel is not so much a love story as it is the story of a Muslim woman’s experience navigating a traditionally western ritual (dating).

Ayisha Malik’s heroine is genuine, funny and wonderfully relatable and her heroes – the safe and predictable Imran, bad boy Naim and the mysterious and reliable Connall are reminiscent of some popular Jane Austen characters.

Love from A to Z
by SK Ali

Credit: Amazon

There is not much of Jane Austen in Love from A to Z by SK Ali, but excluding it from any list of Muslim young romance novels would be remiss. SK Ali’s book tells the story of Zayneb and Adam who are both obsessed with keeping track of the “marvels and oddities” that life offers. Zayneb is a teen growing up in America filled with the angst and passion that fuels a hijabi girls exposed to Islamophobia. She sees Adam – a good-looking Asian boy – on the plane on her visit to Doha to her aunt who also happens to be Adam’s teacher from school. If Adam is ice, Zayneb is fire and yet when the two meet and get to know each other better, nothing is amiss.

The book explores many fragile topics including Islamophobia, disabilities and the grief that the loss of a loved one brings into life, with compassion and nuance. Love from A to Z has an almost lyrical quality to it, which is very different from the drama and soap opera charm often encountered in stories with teen protagonists.

She Wore Red Trainers
by Na’ima Roberts

Credit: Amazon / Al-Muallim Books

Na’ima Roberts dedicates this book to “all those who are striving to keep it halal” and the book manages sticks to that theme because Amirah and Ali – the leading couple – barely exchange a page full of words throughout the novel. Make no mistake though, this book is very much a love story, it just goes beyond the love and infatuation between a teenage girl and boy who incidentally become neighbours and cross paths because of a community activity at the mosque.

The book touches on the protective love between an elder brother and sister, the nurturing love between an elder sister and her younger siblings, the fun-filled love between girlfriends who are the cusp of adulthood and the complicated love between a mother trying to give her daughter a life that is very different from what she had. Set in south London, the book switches between Amirah and Ali who each narrate their individual life story. Their stories are complicated by the realities of life such as financial constraints, toxic stepfathers and career choices. They both see each other and feel a distinct connection that predictably takes up space in their narratives, but never overwhelmingly.

Life still dominates their stories, love only makes it sweeter.

The Secret Diary of an Arranged Marriage
by Halima Khatun

Credit: Amazon

If Charlotte Lucas were to write a diary narrating her hits and misses in the marriage, market it would read eerily like Halima Khatun’s The Secret Diary of an Arranged Marriage. What makes this novel even more interesting is an inside view into the world of British-Bengali matrimony where everyone, from the part-time matchmaker to the distant relative, have an opinion on matrimonial prospects.

The author comes across as pragmatic and worldly, much like Charlotte Lucas; she is self-aware and knows not to have unrealistic expectations from a construct that is built on convenience more than love. Yet despite the real worldly premise that is free of unrealistic romantic notions her strive to find a suitable boy is endearing and funny. It captures the reader’s interest and heart and by the end of the book, we are all rooting for her.

Those are just a few romance novels starring Muslim protagonists that you’d really enjoy if you are a Jane Austen fan, and if you have any more, please do share them with us via our Instagram – @MVSLIM.

By Niloufer Memon
Follow Niloufer on Instagram: @niloufer__

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