‘Well, what you actually want to know’, he replied partly amused, partly offended, ‘is whether my sisters are oppressed’. It was 2011, and I was twenty-two when I dropped THE question. I asked my good friend, a Muslim Moroccan man I had got to know, whether his sisters wore hijab – or more precisely, a veil, ein Kopftuch. I did not even know the word hijab back then.

I grew up in rural Germany, and had been fascinated by Islam and Muslim cultures ever since a trip to Egypt with my family when I was sixteen. I had immediately fallen in love with the mystical soft-voiced calls to prayer, and secretly noted in my travel diary my plan to move to Egypt when I finished school in a couple of years. But in 2011, when I was finally ready to embark on my long-awaited journey to Cairo and Alexandria, internships arranged, the Arab Spring was in full bloom, and so I unhappily decided to do an internship in Berlin. And there we met. My first Muslim friend. By then, my longings had made space for a somewhat troubled young woman who did not know any longer what to make of Islam.

Mariam Khan, editor, It’s Not About The Burqa, Picador, London, 2019.

After returning from my first trip to Egypt, I was hungry for knowledge about Islam. Intriguingly, the first books I picked up were by the controversial ex-Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali.  All I can say is really: Thank you, dear bookstores, for this exquisite selection on Islam. And thank you for planting a narrative in my head that made me blush several years later in front of my Muslim friend. 

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