“Ma pressed the tip of her index finger against the kitchen table to stress the importance of what she was saying. ‘When the man and the woman are alone together,’ her eyes, open big and wide, caught mine, ‘Satan is the third.’ ”
Title: God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems: An Asiya Haque Mystery
Author: Ishara Deen
Mystery ♦ 224 pages ♦ Deeya Publishing, Inc. ♦ Published 1 January 2017
In this debut novel, indie-published writer Ishara Deen stunningly delivers a humorous and candid look into the life of a young Muslim woman who just wants to graduate high school and convince her parents that she can be herself while still being a good Muslim girl.
Protagonist Asiya Haque lives in small-town Canada. She’s got a lot on her mind: getting enough volunteer hours to graduate, avoiding nosy and passive aggressive Aunties, making sure the neighborhood “Mutaweenies” don’t see her talking to any boys, and convincing her quite traditional Bengali parents that no, she has no intentions to let Satan into any relationship. And on top of that, she now finds herself at the middle of a murder investigation: could life possibly get any more complicated?
It all started with an innocent walk in the woods as part of her volunteer service at a local environmental organization. How was she to know that hunky new kid Michael would show up? And when they (literally) stumbled over the body of a woman, how on earth could she know that Michael’s insistence she take off so he could cover for her would result in Michael’s disappearance?
Asiya’s had enough of not participating in her own life and throws herself headlong into the murder investigation, doing her best to combat a cop with a massive aggression problem, her parents’ rage as they discover her part in the whole mess, and her own feelings and unease about Michael. No one is off the hook, resulting in a satisfying but heart-pounding conclusion that might just be the opposite of resolution.
From the first page, Ishara Deen’s writing compelled me to keep going. As a matter of fact, I read the entirety of the book in one sitting. The time and pages flew by, and I couldn’t believe that it was over. So much good here.
First, can we talk about religious representation? Deen delivers crazy-good here, both in showing the universality of religion as well as the idiosyncrasies of Islam. Asiya and her family are Muslim, in a small-town. The Islamic community seems fairly large (for a small town), if I’m subtexting correctly, but there’s only one masjid in town, and of course everyone knows everyone. And feels the need and the right to comment on everyone else. And to offer unsolicited advice. This struck a chord with me because it represents so clearly the experiences of growing up “in the church.” The opening line about Satan being the third is one I heard growing up (not even kidding). And the quiet antics Asiya and her friends get up to during the services at the masjid, like poking fun at or deliberately misinterpreting the Imam while the adult women “tsk” and throw warning glances their way cracked me up. It’s what my sisters and friends and I did every Sunday at one point or another. Reading GOD SMITES was a nice reminder of years long-ago before I took myself so seriously.
But beyond showcasing the universal experiences of everyone who’s grown up religious, Deen also isn’t afraid to discuss what is different in being Muslim. Somewhat true to form is that Asiya’s mother is the more stressed out parent, more conscious of the community’s expectations for young women, more prone to come down hard on Asiya while her father takes a more passive and tolerant approach. Yet Ma isn’t a stock character by any means. Her true concern for Asiya’s future is evident, and when it comes right down to it, Ma is a heroic character whose only flaw is that of being a human person in a complex world. And Asiya’s love and respect for both her parents, but particularly her mother, is what drives her, in a way, to hide the truth from them, in order to keep them safe. And though the truth spreads like wildfire through the community about Asiya’s indiscretions, some unlikely allies appear–her brother, a devout classmate, a police officer.
In addition to being a truly revealing portrait of modern Islamic community, GOD SMITES also closely examines the injustice of the social system. Michael is a former foster child, vilified by the police and looked at askew when people find out his background. After his disappearance, everyone is quick to assume his guilt and involvement in murder. Cops drop lines like, “I shouldn’t be telling you this, but he’s a pretty messed-up kid.” In other words, though Michael never had the resources of a kid with a permanent family, he’s expected to have made his life better anyway.
Overall, this was a quick, light read that gracefully tackled some heavy issues. As far as my reading goals for the year, it hit every single one: independently published, religious focus, and own-voices. And, of course, a diverse read! If you have the chance, definitely get your hands on a copy of this book. You can get it on Amazon now!
About the Author
Ishara Deen writes from her home in Ontario, Canada. By day she is a professional copy-editor. She worked on GOD SMITES off and on for about a decade before “finding the courage to write what was real” instead of catering to a mainstream audience. She is hard at work on a sequel called Mutaweenies and Other Muslim Girl Problems. You can find Ishara Deen on Twitter and IsharaDeen.com.