Book Reviews, Books, Pop Culture

Ayisha Malik’s heartbreakingly honest novel reminded me to always choose myself

You are not required to read this book - but seriously, you should.

How often do you read a book that genuinely makes you laugh?

For any person who writes, they can understand the skill it takes to be able to project humor in your writing without it seeming unnatural. A lot of the time, this can depend on how well you, the reader, can visualize the scene in your head, and at other times, it’s about the way that scene has been written. In any case, for me, this happens on a rare occasion.

When I first read this book however, laughter seemed to come so easily. It still does.

Written by Ayisha Malik, Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged is a book that should be read by anyone seeking a heart-warming, heart-breaking, honest story. You meet Sofia, an intelligent, cheeky, trying-to-quit-smoking, hijab-wearing young lady who’s lived in London almost her whole life.

(Plus, if you want to hear the full backstory from Ayisha Malik’s perspective, we had the amazing chance to interview her!)

Coupled with her Pakistani immigrant parents, and a battle between her traditions and what she truly believes in, this story highlights the complicated cycle of being a modern Muslim woman trying to find herself before being with somebody else.

In a book where religion and racism are portrayed so honestly, being able to see it through Sofia’s own experiences makes you feel as if you yourself are existing in those situations. But it is her responses to the racism, her approach to her religion that is so inspiring. They make you rethink your own actions and question yourself. But it is her anger and the awkwardness at the judgment that made her so relatable for me.

Sofia never tries to be anyone but herself.

She’s funny and compassionate and just feels like such a real human being.

She comes with flaws and mistakes and change and decisions. But that’s exactly what’s so refreshing. Her character never feels written to make you feel imperfect. She’s been humanized in a way that crushes the “ideal Muslim hijabi” stereotype that exists in both the Muslim community and outside of it, but in doing so she comes out stronger and surer of herself than before. Seeing her comfort in covering her head and not giving the slightest damn in what anyone thinks of wearing it feels so empowering.

She represents such a great message of “you do you”, that it’s hard not to feel comforted by her character.

What I truly loved about the story was how Malik portrayed Sofia’s “hijabi” lifestyle as being no different than any other young woman living in a western country. It felt like a step in the direction of normalizing the hijab in a society where wearing one can immediately put you on the radar. She is like any other woman in the world with a job and problems, and this message that a Muslim woman is just the same as any other woman felt so validating to read, that I truly appreciated the book for all it was.

More important to me than ever was that Sofia was telling the story through her own voice. It was a tale of her finding a partner. But what really made it so captivating was watching her find a way to try and strike a balance between what she felt comfortable doing and what her traditions were. She looks for a way to stick to her beliefs without compromising her happiness.

And that, I feel is something every human being should believe in doing.

The story, in all its hilarity and rawness, is about this young woman trying to reach self-actualization. She is trying to find herself before she can be with someone else. This struck a massive chord in me because so many of us step on our own happiness to please other people. Reading this story is a journey in itself.

What’s beautiful is that when the moment comes where Sofia finds the person she is going to marry, it doesn’t feel like this “oh, she’s chosen love” moment. It feels like an “oh, she chose herself” moment. The title itself states that she is ‘not obliged’, and it’s such a lovely reminder that you are allowed to be who you are.

No one is obliged to anyone. Ever.

I hope I may have convinced at least a small percentage of you to give this book a try. After writing this article I seem to have reminded myself why I love this book so much. I would have read it again, except I’m currently reading its sequel, The Other Half of Happiness.

Hopefully, Ayisha Malik will capture once again just like she did with Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged.