Ayesha Mattu, 39, is not afraid to challenge the status quo. Her professional career focuses on creating safe spaces for oftentimes disenfranchised communities. Mattu has now co-edited a book called Love, InshAllah. She shares the stories of American Muslim women falling in love. We got a chance to speak with Ayesha.
Elan: You’re a human rights consultant, a photographer and writer. What is it about these fields that excite you?
Ayesha Mattu: Working in these fields is a blessing because it allows me to live my passion and values. This includes my interest in supporting, listening to and amplifying the voices of women, minorities and marginalized communities in the US and globally.
What’s been one of your greatest challenges within your career that you’ve had to overcome?
AM: Right now, my biggest challenge is being a writer and a mother to a rambunctious, beautiful 21-month-old son. I’m lucky to have a very supportive husband, family and friends who help me carve out space for creativity. In spite of that, it’s a constant balancing act to approach both my child and my work from a place of deep joy and purpose.
Elan: You’re on several different boards of women’s rights organizations. You’ve also raised millions of dollars for these causes. What would you attribute your success to?
AM: My parents brought me up to believe that if I worked hard, I could be successful at anything I chose to do. I’ve also had wonderful mentors throughout my life, primarily women of color, who embodied success on a professional, intellectual and spiritual front while being honest about the challenges too. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have this support network and to extend oneself to mentor other young professionals and writers.
Elan: You’ve co-edited a new book titled Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
AM: Love, InshAllah is a non-fiction anthology featuring 25 American Muslim women writing about their search for love. These are provocative and moving stories about flirting, romance, love, dating, and relationships. In the process they also explore topics such as sexuality, polygyny, racism, and identity. What links the writers together is their identity as American and Muslim, but otherwise they represent a broad spectrum of ethnicities and races, as well as religious perspectives from orthodox to cultural to secular.
Elan: Was it hard to get submissions for the book considering these stories were “secret”?
AM: The “secret” in the title refers to the fact that many Muslims don’t feel they can share their true selves with other Muslims for fear of censure or judgment.
When my co-editor Nura Maznavi and I started the project five years ago, no one wanted to talk about – or even admit to – dating or having a love life. The stories in the media and in living rooms were limited to Islamic Society in North America (ISNA) matrimonial dinners and arranged marriages. Simultaneously, the non-Muslim community viewed us as being silent, submissive and oppressed.
Both of these perspectives had very little to do with the vibrant, opinionated, funny, intelligent Muslim women we knew and loved amongst our families and friends, many of whom certainly had far more colorful love lives than anyone would publically admit to.
Many people have written about Muslim women, but rarely has anyone stopped to really listen to us or allowed us to tell our own stories. And that’s exactly what we wanted to do. At its root, this book is about trust – the trust we built with each of our writers. We deeply respect their context and perspectives and they know they can entrust us with their most intimate stories.
Elan: What struck you the most while reading through the submissions for the book?
AM: We received hundreds of submissions from around the country and were struck by how unique each story was, and by extension, how unique each Muslim woman is.
Elan: If there were one thing you would hope the readers would take away from your book, what would it be?
AM: Regardless of our differences, we can choose to interact with each other in a compassionate and respectful way. By opening ourselves to each other’s stories, we will find that what we all have in common is our search to love and be loved.
Listening is a revolutionary act, and we invite you to hear these beautiful voices.
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