Book review: by Al Reem Albeshr, Sail Magazine

Seeing The World From A Muslim Convert Woman Perspective - full article below

Being a young Muslim woman in today’s world is tough. My thoughts and beliefs are constantly challenged by the shifting environment around me. I often find myself pondering over my identity, rights, and role in the society. Hence, a book titled “Big Little Steps” intrigued me, and a glimpse over the chapters seemed like it would contain some of the answers that I looked for between its covers.

Big Little Steps, by a French writer Mathilde Loujayne, is a guide for women from all faiths and walks of life interested in Islam. It is a holistic heartwarming journey from the lens of a western convert to Islam, who shares her experiences and offers empirical advice and insights to women along the way. The book is divided into five chapters, each covering various topics like the five pillars of Islam, praying and fasting, mental health, women’s rights, marriages, death, etc. Moreover, it answers Muslim women’s common questions and concerns like their roles in society and such.

I was instantly interested in the book, and I fell in love with Loujayne’s yearning curiosity to learn about other religions. Loujayne’s curiosity was born as she was growing up in the South of France in an atheist upbringing.  Even though Loujayne was eight at the time, she still had big questions like, “who created this?”, “how am I here?” and because she went to a Catholic school she learned the answer is “God”. Loujayne’s whole world flipped upside down when her older brother Stéphane passed away at the age of sixteen. From thereon, her goal was to be reunited with him by being the best person she can be. Marseille in France became too painful for her and her family to stay in and so they moved to the Sultanate Of Oman, where her father found a job. Loujayne became well-acquainted with the Arab Muslim environment: “Muslims were so friendly and welcoming and I never felt judged for being of a different faith”. Later on, Loujayne’s curiosity transformed into debates with either her family members or friends on issues that concerned her teenage self like sexual relationships, abortions, boyfriends, etc. She found her views and opinions to be quite different and that drove her to grow progressively curious.

While Loujayne was on her spiritual journey, researching and reading more about the Orthodox Church, 9/11 happened. That day, negativity and labels towards Muslims were scattered all over the world, terrorism birthed stereotypes and a great deal of Islamophobia was spread. Loujayne was struck. Ever since that day, she began reading and learning more about the Quran, she found solace within the Quran, it provided her with answers and brought her inner peace. Just as she was about to step into her eighteenth year she converted to Islam. Though she converted when she was eighteen, she only published this book in her thirties.

I didn’t desert Christianity; rather, I felt that I had upgraded my faith and now had the latest version! Islam was the crystallization: all the different pieces of my spirituality coming together.

Being a Muslim convert, Loujayne was faced with numerous questions about her conversion that were sometimes hurtful. Furthermore, that caused her to gradually hide her faith, but Big Little Steps is a response to everyone who asked: “but why did you convert?” Loujayne also wrote Big Little Steps because when she first converted to Islam, she never really found one book that addressed all the aspects and questions that converts have while still being appealing and easy enough to read. So she aimed that this book of hers would fill that void.

In my experience, I found the book to be very easy to read. It contains simple yet explanatory illustrations, and the pinkish theme is very calming as well. Loujayne made sure to break down words that aren’t very understandable to non-Arabic speakers, and she also attached sources from the Quran and hadiths in the footnotes. Not only that, Loujayne also recommends books that contain a further explanation on certain topics she addressed briefly for those who want to go further.

During the read, I stumbled upon a Khalil Jibran poem, a letter from Malcolm X, quotes by Gandhi, and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid, etc. While reading, I sensed a bit of humor that kept me entertained. For example, in one of the chapters Loujayne talks about the so-called “taboo” that is pigs, and explains how us Muslims don’t necessarily hate pigs, we just don’t consume them for certain reasons. Loujayne even stated that her kid enjoys watching the widely acclaimed TV show “Peppa Pig” (just like my sister!).

I found the third chapter: “Womankind” to be the most captivating chapter in the book. In it, Loujayne discusses all the aspects of being a Muslim woman, and talks about many women who have contributed to Islam throughout its history. There is also a section in which Loujayne interviews many successful Muslim women in today’s world on their views of Islam.

Would I recommend this book? Most definitely! From my point of view, I feel like reading Big Little Steps was an experience beyond the pages; I sensed a positive change in my own being. For any woman out there who would like to learn more about Islam, even the Muslim women youth who want to build a stronger identity in today’s world, this is the book for you.

Read the full article on Sail Magazine's website!

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