Creating an Islamic-American Culture
Review by Layla Abdullah-Poulos
NO GOD BUT GOD: FROM THE STREETS TO THE SALAH
Amazon Digital Services
$3.95, 233 pp, Kindle
A distinctive feature of novels written by NbA Muslims is the inclusion of the conversion of one or more characters to Islam as part of the plot. Conversion (also referred to as reversion) is a significant part of the American Muslim culture. According to a Pew Research study, almost one-quarter of American Muslims are converts. Converts encounter various life-changing issues when embracing their new faith. In NO GOD BUT GOD: FROM THE STREETS TO THE SALAH, author Jihada writes about one woman’s journey from degradation to redemption through her acceptance of Islam.
Angelique is a beautiful young prostitute who beguiles most men that encounter her. She uses her beauty to attract high-paying “marks” and prides herself on her ability to bring more nightly earnings home to her Muslim pimp Nasir than any of his other hookers. However, after years on the street, Angelique becomes jaded about her illicit profession and yearns for more. She studies Nasir’s religion, accepts Islam and abandons her old life for a new Muslim identity. Angelique then struggles to adhere to the moral code of her new faith, and a series of events tests her commitment to obeying Allah.
Jihada unabashedly presents to readers the seedy reality of a life of prostitution. Angelique initially utilizes her sexual appeal to take advantage of men, but when she meets Nasir, the dynamics of their relationship allows him to dominate the heroine and use her body for monetary gain. Nasir ignores how his exploitation of Angelique and the other women conflicts with Islamic teachings. He simultaneously prays and reads Quran while collecting the women’s illegal earnings, demonstrating how an individual may concurrently embody both virtue and vice.
NO GOD BUT GOD is a raw novel that reveals some of the physical and psychological abuses that predators utilize to subjugate their victims’ minds and bodies in the sex trade industry. Jihada permits readers into Angelique’s inner thoughts to see how she submits her flesh, judgment, and conscience to Nasir’s cunningness and charm and continually loves him despite his lack of reciprocation. Angelique is emotionally dependent on Nasir, and he is the core of her identity and self-esteem.
NO GOD BUT GOD tells about the two lives of Angelique, one before her conversion and the other after. The main character must learn to adjust to her new faith and its restrictions. Unfortunately, Jihada is not as detailed about Angelique’s post-conversion life, and the second half of the novel feels somewhat rushed. The author introduces new characters with limited background, which leaves some unanswered questions regarding the motivations behind their actions. Furthermore, the behavior of established characters is inconsistent, demanding more explanation. Nasir’s actions after Angelique’s conversion perplexed me, and there needed to be more about him in the latter half of the novel. However, overall, NO GOD BUT GOD contains an array of interesting and substantive characters, and the ultimate tale of transformation is solid.
Jihada’s writing is gritty with all the trappings of urban fiction. Consequently, it is replete with graphic violence and explicit language. The main character’s initial profession as a prostitute results in numerous illicit sex scenes as well. I have read a range of novels with varying amounts of graphic content; this book is definitely on the intense end of the spectrum, but the author is not gratuitous. Although it may not appeal to some readers, the language, violence, and sex is purposeful and strategically integrated, which is not an easy feat to accomplish. However, the absence of lawful intimate scenes within an Islamic context leaves the novel wanting in functional sensuality to contrast its depraved sexual content. The author may have wanted to honor the sanctity of intimacy between a Muslim wife and husband, but the omission of positive “halal love” scenes allows degenerative sex to dominate the novel’s narrative about sensuality.
NO GOD BUT GOD: FROM THE STREETS TO SALAH is a strong debut novel that shows some of the challenges that people who are attempting to reinvent themselves may encounter. Conversion to Islam does not make life perfect, and new Muslims must overcome many personal and social obstacles to solidify their faith. Jihada also shows that being born Muslim does not make one inherently pristine or insulated from succumbing to temptation. The struggle for spiritual fulfillment is a quest requiring diligence. I look forward to more from this new Muslim fiction author.
Jihada’s love of writing began at the age of nine when she wrote her first story, Project Coconut, about a young girl dealing with the divorce of her parents. Early on, Jihada found her voice through writing about the intimate and often harsh realities faced by girls and women, whether it be through poetry, essay, or novel.
Jihada is currently studying history and social sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. Now a mother of three girls and one boy, she finds it even more imperative for stories of perseverance through adversity to be told in a realistic, nonjudgmental fashion.