The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman's Journey to Love and Islam

The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman's Journey to Love and Islam

4.2 9
by G. Willow Wilson

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The Butterfly Mosque, journalist G. Willow Wilson’s remarkable story of converting to Islam and falling in love with an Egyptian man in a volatile post–9/11 world, was praised as “an eye-opening look at a misunderstood and often polarizing faith” (Booklist) and “a tremendously heartfelt, healing crosscultural fusion”…  See more details below


The Butterfly Mosque, journalist G. Willow Wilson’s remarkable story of converting to Islam and falling in love with an Egyptian man in a volatile post–9/11 world, was praised as “an eye-opening look at a misunderstood and often polarizing faith” (Booklist) and “a tremendously heartfelt, healing crosscultural fusion” (Publishers Weekly).

Inspired by her experience during a college Islamic Studies course, Wilson, who was raised an atheist, decides to risk everything to convert to Islam and embark on a fated journey across continents and into an uncertain future. She settles in Cairo, where she attempts to submerge herself in a culture based on her adopted religion and where she meets Omar, a man with a mild resentment of the Western influences in his homeland. They begin a daring relationship that calls into question the very nature of family, belief, and tradition. Torn between the secular West and Muslim East, Wilson records her intensely personal struggle to forge a “third culture” that might accommodate her values without compromising them or the friends and family on both sides of the divide.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

—A Seattle Times Best Book of the Year

The Butterfly Mosque is replete with insights into faith, family, cross-cultural courtship and the inevitable ‘clash of cultures,' making it an absorbing read. . . . Wilson’s memoir offers the reader valuable insights into the Islamic faith. . . . A remarkable journey, one that illuminates the humanity in us all.”—The Seattle Times

“Captivating . . . [An] excellent memoir . . . [that] deserves attention; not just for the clarity of [Wilson’s] style and her shrewd observations, but for her sincerity and courage in following her own truth.”—The Globe and Mail

“Eloquent . . . A life-altering adventure in love, faith, and surrender . . . [Wilson] wins the reader over with her courage, her keen intelligence, her insatiable hunger for truth, and her fine writing. It is riveting to watch a liberal, fiercely independent young American transform into a Muslim and an Egyptian daughter-in-law. . . . Much more than a coming-of-age story, Wilson’s memoir explores expatriates and anti-Westernism, economics and fundamentalism, Egyptian culture and feminism . . . [and] builds a bridge between the East and the West through her writing.”—Charlotte Observer

“Wilson’s book, particularly in these treacherous times of mistrust and paranoia, is a masterpiece of elegance and determination. . . . Wilson has written one of the most beautiful and believable narratives about finding closeness with God that makes even the most secular reader wince with pleasure for her. . . . A natural-born storyteller.”—The Denver Post

“Wilson skillfully conveys the terms of complex sociological discord. . . . Her careful examination and forthright wit make her an ideal ambassador to those who haven’t . . . separated [Islam] from its attendant terrorist factions and stereotypes. . . . Wilson has the objective sensitivity to understand the attitudes and arguments facing her; she’s multicultural, eloquent and humbly persuasive. And even better, she knows how to tell a great story.”—Paste Magazine

“Wilson’s illuminating memoir offers keen insights into Islamic culture. . . . An eye-opening look at a misunderstood and often polarizing faith, Wilson’s memoir is bound to spark discussion.”—Booklist (starred review)

“More than one skeptical reader was thoroughly won over by [Wilson’s] lack of preachiness or self-righteousness.”—Elle (Readers’ Prize)

“A gorgeously written memoir about what it means to be human in a fractured world, told with warmth and wit to spare. The Butterfly Mosque is a book that will stay with you for years.”—Reza Aslan, author of No god but God and How to Win a Cosmic War

“Satisfying and lyrical . . . [The Butterfly Mosque] proves a tremendously heartfelt, healing cross-cultural fusion.”—Publishers Weekly

“[An] honest and uplifting memoir . . . [that] embraces—not demonizes—both Muslims and the West as critical foundations for [Wilson’s] spiritual journey.”—The Huffington Post

“Thoughtful . . . Wilson’s gorgeously written, deeply felt memoir is more than a plea for understanding. It’s also a love story and an exploration of life in a culture far removed from ours. . . . [The Butterfly Mosque] pulls aside the veil on a world many Americans judge based on thin, sometimes ugly, media stereotypes. Wilson’s sincere love for her faith blooms on almost every page [and] that heartfelt desire to know The Other infuses the book with soul.”--Boulder Daily Camera

“Memoirs like Wilson’s continue to be an important counterpoint to the tales of Mideast belligerence that fill the nightly news.”—Winnipeg Free Press

Publishers Weekly
In this satisfying, lyrical memoir of a potentially disastrous clash between East and West, a Boulder native and Boston University graduate found an unlikely fit living in Cairo, Egypt, and converting to Islam. Wilson embarked on a yearlong stint working at an English-language high school in Cairo right after her college graduation in 2003. She had already decided that of the three Abrahamic religions, Islam fulfilled her need for a monotheistic truth, even though her school did not include instruction in the Qur'an because “it angered students and put everybody at risk.” Once in Cairo, despite being exposed to the smoldering hostility Arab men held for Americans, especially for women, she found she was moved deeply by the daily plight of the people to scratch out a living in this dusty police state tottering on the edge of “moral and financial collapse”; she and her roommate, barely eating because they did not know how to buy food, were saved by Omar, an educated, English-speaking physics teacher at the school. Through her deepening relationship with Omar, she also learned Arabic and embraced the ways Islam was woven into the daily fabric of existence, such as the rituals of Ramadan and Friday prayers at the mosque. Arguably, Wilson's decision to take up the headscarf and champion the segregated, protected status of Arab women can be viewed as odd; however, her work proves a tremendously heartfelt, healing cross-cultural fusion. (June)
Library Journal
In essence, Wilson's journey as related here is a simple one: coming-of-age, finding community and religion, and discovering the many aspects of love. But the context is not simple at all. At once introspective and impulsive, Wilson as a teen had pink hair, partied hard, and responded to the pull toward God by getting tattoos. After college and a serious illness, she took a teaching job in Egypt, where she encountered cultural confusion, complicated social and political tensions, and Omar, a thoughtful young teacher with a taste for heavy metal bands. Following her own inner compass, Wilson explored faith and a blossoming romance. She writes with sympathy and insight about cross-cultural relationships, family, and belief. VERDICT Moments of clarity and humor thread through this uplifting story of one young American seeking integrity in a fractured world. A first-rate memoir and love story that is a delight to read.—Lisa Klopfer, Eastern Michigan Univ. Lib., Ypsilanti
Kirkus Reviews
Debut memoir chronicles Wilson's conversion to Islam and negotiation of Egyptian society. The author, who has published essays on religion and the Middle East in the New York Times Magazine and the Atlantic Monthly, begins with a trip to Iran in 2004, noting that she was a Sunni living in Egypt. She then flashes back to her sophomore year at Boston University, where she suffered from kidney troubles and was hospitalized. Her medical trauma caused her to reconsider her religious views. "As a child," she writes, "I had precognitive dreams about mundane events like the deaths of pets, and I could not remember a time when I was not in love with whatever sat behind this world." Feeling unfulfilled by atheism, she began to study Arabic and Islam around the time of 9/11. She tried to read The Satanic Verses but found it "dense and unpalatable." Urged by dreams of a white horse and some Tarot cards, she headed to Cairo in 2003 with a friend, met dreamy Omar at a language school, fell in love, "came out" as a Muslim, met his family, married him, began functioning as an Egyptian woman and discovered that she loved the balance in her life between her myriad uxorial duties and her journalism. She defends some aspects of the paternalism of the culture and records how she struggled to learn the complex cultural choreography her new life demanded, and how ugly Americans in Cairo's markets horrified her. Her parents and American friends endeavored to understand, but as Egypt veered ever more conservative, she and Omar considered a move to the United States. Several times the author quotes others who praise her writing abilities. Enlightening cultural description and analysis blends somewhat awkwardly with self-regard. Author tour to New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, Ore., Seattle. Agent: Warren Frazier/John Hawkins & Associates

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Product Details

Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
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Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.24(h) x 0.86(d)

Meet the Author

G. Willow Wilson was born in New Jersey in 1982 and raised in Colorado. She is also the author of the critically acclaimed comics Air and Vixen. She divides her time between Cairo and Seattle.

Visit Willow's website at

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