SAN FRANCISCO (WOMENSENEWS)–Muslim women–we just can’t seem to catch a break. We’re oppressed, submissive, and forced into arranged marriages by big-bearded men. Oh, and let’s not forget–we’re also all hiding explosives under our clothes.

The truth is–like most women–we’re independent and opinionated. And the only things hiding under our clothes are hearts yearning for love.

Everyone seems to have an opinion about Muslim women, even those–especially those–who have never met one. As American Muslim women, we decided this was an opportunity to raise our voices and tell our own stories. And what better tales to tell than love stories, which have universal appeal?

The search for love–with a Muslim twist–is captured in the title of this book, "Love InshAllah." InshAllah (God willing) encompasses the idea that it is only through the will of God that we attain what we seek in life and is used widely among Muslims, regardless of their level of religious practice.

The subtitle, "The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women," generated more controversy than we anticipated. Some accused

us of playing into an Orientalist fantasy about Muslim women, or of writing a salacious exposé of our faith community. Our intent was neither. We wanted to challenge the stereotypes of the wider American audience by presenting stories that are rarely heard, and, within the faith community, to create a space for Muslim women to share their lives honestly, across the full range of their experiences.

This book is not a theological treatise or a dating manual. It is a reflection of reality. We recognize that no book can fully capture all the voices and perspectives within the community, but we offer this as a beginning. We hope these stories start conversations within families and between communities about the similarities that bind us together, while recognizing and respecting the differences that enrich us.

We had only one criterion for women submitting stories to this book: that they self-identify as both American and Muslim. Some within our country doubt our Americanness by virtue of our faith. Some in our faith community gauge our Muslimness based on adherence to practice. The writers of Love, InshAllah present complex lives and identities that defy both of these assumptions.

We start with "Allahu Alim." Every important journey ends by profoundly changing the one who undertook it. These writers set out on a path to find something greater than themselves. The writers in "Alif" narrate the firsts that shaped their ideas about romance, sex and their sense of self.

In "International Habibti," women live out the fantasy of falling in love with a beautiful stranger while traveling in Argentina, Sri Lanka, France, Egypt–or rounding an unexpected corner in New York City.

Next comes "Third Time’s the Naseeb," where three women find unexpected and lasting love the third time around. We end with "You’ve Got Ayat," in which age-old rites of love, dating, and courtship collide with 21st century social networking.

These 25 writers live in small towns and big cities across the country and reflect a broad range of religious perspectives, from orthodox to cultural to secular. As such, they reflect the depth, breadth, and diversity of the American experience. For every story included in this book, there are thousands more out there, each as unique as the woman behind it.

We hope you’ll enjoy hearing from these women as much as we have.

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Ayesha Mattu is a human rights consultant, photographer, and writer. She was selected a Muslim Leader of Tomorrow by the UN Alliance of Civilizations and the American Society for Muslim Advancement in 2009. She lives in San Francisco. Nura Maznavi is a civil rights attorney and writer. Nura was raised in Los Angeles and now lives in San Francisco.

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