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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 extraordinary story of an all-American girl’s conversion to Islam and her ensuing romance with a young Egyptian man, The Butterfly Mosque is a stunning articulation of a Westerner embracing the Muslim world.

When G. Willow Wilson—already an accomplished writer on modern religion and the Middle East at just twenty-seven—leaves her


The extraordinary story of an all-American girl’s conversion to Islam and her ensuing romance with a young Egyptian man, The Butterfly Mosque is a stunning articulation of a Westerner embracing the Muslim world.

When G. Willow Wilson—already an accomplished writer on modern religion and the Middle East at just twenty-seven—leaves her atheist parents in Denver to study at Boston University, she enrolls in an Islamic Studies course that leads to her shocking conversion to Islam and sends her on a fated journey across continents and into an uncertain future.

She settles in Cairo where she teaches English and submerges herself in a culture based on her adopted religion. And then she meets Omar, a passionate young man with a mild resentment of the Western influences in his homeland. They fall in love, entering into a daring relationship that calls into question the very nature of family, belief, and tradition. Torn between the secular West and Muslim East, Willow records her intensely personal struggle to forge a “third culture” that might accommodate her own values without compromising the friends and family on both sides of the divide.

Editorial Reviews

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)
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

Library Journal
A mystical memoir of a young woman's call to Islam, journey to Cairo, and embrace of the culture she finds there. An unusual perspective, although some readers may wish that she spoke more directly to women's issues.
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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Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
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Meet the Author

Willow Wilson was born in New Jersey in 1982. After graduating with a degree in History and coursework in Arabic language and literature, Willow moved to Cairo, where she became contributor to the Egyptian opposition weekly Cairo Magazine until it closed in 2005. She is a convert to Islam and her commentary often addresses Islamic and interfaith issues. An avid supporter of new and alternative media, Willow has also written for politics and culture blogs from across the political spectrum.

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Butterfly Mosque 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Habib Shaikh More than 1 year ago
the moment i read thefirst page i knew this was going to be a page turner. a westeners take on islam. if u are nonmuslim and reading this it will open gates to how bad islam is portrayed by the media in the west. it will surley make you understand muslims and their beautiful religion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written travel memoir of an American woman in Egypt. Full of fresh descriptions & insights, a true insider's view. You will not find the same old stereotypical images of Islam & Arabs, but rather the author's honest, authentic experiences & what they meant to her. A smart & compelling book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautiful is really the word to describe the writing and its message. It was personal and insightful. Also as a good read if you want to understand Islam and women in the middle east from a more personal perspective.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was very, very interesting. The author wrote an honest description of her introduction to Islam. She was also very truthful about her travels and the people she met along the way. I was both fascinated and stunned by her honesty while discussing areas in the middle east and the traditions of the people she came in contact with there. I hope she continues her writing. I for one am anxious to read more of books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very intersting perspective ogf a convert boston university graduate who syidied in egypt
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