Book Review: Salaam, with Love |

Book Review: Salaam, with Love

Many American Muslim teens struggle with faith and strive to have a closer connection to God  and family. Understanding and feeling what it’s like to be different, yet learning to embrace every part of who they are can be overwhelming. Whether it is in regards to culture, religion, or the turmult of physical growth and development, the road to self-discovery can seem like the most difficult struggle in their lives. Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media and books. Finding books that open doors to the conversation of self-identity, core-values, and faith can help youth navigate their transition into adulthood. One great example can be found in Sara Sharaf Beg’s Salaam, with Love.

In this book, Dua Sheikh, the main character, has grown up surrounded by her parents’ Pakistani culture and as the only South Asian family in the small Virginia town. An only child, she is also keenly aware that her parents also wish there was more of a Muslim community in their small town. What she has learned about Islam she learned at home  and she does not have Muslim friends. Her parents decide to spend Ramadan in New York with her uncle, aunt, and five cousins. Dua is disappointed to be away from her best friend Kat the summer before their senior year, especially since they made plans. She's afraid she won't fit in since she hasn’t seen her cousins in years. She's also worried about observing Ramadan with her relatives, who she thinks are "better Muslims" because they are more devout. 

Dua's relieved to find her uncle, aunt, and cousins warm and welcoming, although she struggles to connect with her aloof older cousin Mahnoor. Dua sees her cousins setting goals for the blessed month, and sets some goals for herself as she is determined to do better in all aspects of her life.

Dua also meets Mahnoor's fiancee and his siblings Haya and Hassan, who are in a Muslim rock band Sheikh, Rattle, and Roll with two of Dua's cousins. Dua and Haya become fast friends, and Dua quickly develops a crush on Hassan. Islam is a central theme of the book along with family and culture. Music is a large theme throughout the story as well and all of the young people play an instrument or sing. Dua herself is an accomplished musician and dreams of studying music in college, but is afraid to tell her parents. Dua's cousins and friends encourage and support her both in her musical aspirations and in her desire to deepen her faith as she memorizes passages from the Quran. 

I enjoyed Dua’s voice and felt it was authentic to an average Muslim teenager’s thoughts. Dua struggles with her Muslim identity at first and finds Islam difficult … but by the end, she is a more confident and proud Muslim! Her inner drive to be a better Muslim was INSPIRING to read I really liked the development of her character, complete her awkward moments that were relatable for her age. I also liked the way the book explored what it's like to be a Muslim teen and deal with life and love (halal of course)!

This book is a reminder that Allah, The Most Glorified, The Most High, has made Islam easy. Yet as humans we have the tendency to make it hard upon ourselves. The Almighty brings us to points in our lives, whether through journies or hardships, so we can return to Him voluntarily. He does not compel us to return because compulsion is not befitting of Him, nor does He impose Himself upon us. Rather, Allah creates the conditions that make us realize that He is The Peace that we have been seeking.

Notes to Parents: I highly recommend this book for teens but want parents to be aware that the contents include some areas that might be offensive to certain readers including: 

  • Music and the use of musical instruments
  • Singing of nasheeds and talk of a singing career
  • One use of the word “damn”
  • One character wears/tries on makeup
  • One instance of violence at an anti-Islam protest when an angry man shoots one of the Muslim characters

Miriam Mohamed is a mother to seven children and a granny to two cats!  She loves trying new things and learning cool facts. She has taught in an Islamic school setting, has experience assisting children with special needs, and enjoys volunteering and being a part of the community. Miriam lives in Chicago with her beautiful flowering cherry tree and big family.

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