Frequently Asked Questions
Painted Hands is a novel about contemporary Muslim women who might be called feminists. Is there such a thing as Muslim feminism?
Absolutely. For information on Muslim feminism, I recommend the following books: Women and Gender in Islam by Leila Ahmed • Believing Women in Islam by Asma Barlas • The Veil and the Male Elite by Fatima Mernissi • Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism by Omid Safi • Qur’an and Woman by Amina Wadud and of course, Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay, co-edited by myself along with Gina Messina-Dysert and Amy Levin.
Why do you think people have such a hard time reconciling the words “Muslim” and “feminist”?
I think the image of Muslim women has been very limited in America. It tends to be a woman in or from a foreign land, usually in need of rescue and often in need of rescue from Islam. This image persists despite research showing that Muslim American women are highly educated and high-income earners. The overwhelming narrative we tell about Muslim women in this country, for whatever reason, has been difficult to overcome, and in reality is perhaps only overcome when people meet individual Muslim women. I also think there is a great deal of conservative, anti-feminist (here, I would even say anti-woman) scholarship on the part of some Muslims.
Such interpretations are countered by the work of really thoughtful and brilliant scholars—both men and women—but it is an ongoing struggle. Whether these teachings are always reflected in practice in the Muslim community is a separate issue. There is much work to be done surrounding the image and status of Muslim women in both the non-Muslim and Muslim communities, and I hope my novel is part of that process.
Where did the idea for Painted Hands come from?
I wanted to write about Muslim women who were dynamic, successful individuals, and the struggles they faced personally navigating two cultures and professionally in the current political climate. The actual impetus for the novel came from an image I had of a Muslim feminist and a right-wing politico who, despite their philosophical differences, became unnervingly attracted to one another. I was curious if they could find love, and I wanted to explore it.
Which character in the novel most closely resembles you?
There is a little bit of me in each of the main characters, of course. I think Zainab says things I’m often thinking, but I don’t always have her boldness, or her lack of concern with what others will think. I’m probably more like Amra, who strives for diplomacy and tries to see all sides of a situation, maybe because we’re both lawyers. Like Chase, I was deeply affected by events from my childhood. And I share some of Hayden’s frustration with the relentless wrath of the western beauty myth and the corresponding sense that a woman’s value is contingent upon her ability to “get a man.”
What was the hardest part of writing the book?
I wrote the book during President Obama’s first term, and there was so much intolerance exhibited by some on the far right about whether he was a Muslim—with the clear implication that that would be a bad thing— whether he was an American, whether he was an actual enemy of the United States. In that context, at times it was difficult to write from Chase’s point of view. He was never that extreme, but he does traffic in some anti-Muslim bigotry. I knew Chase was capable of great beauty, and to preserve his capacity for that, there were times I had to take a break from him and focus on other sections of the book.
The novel includes a woman-led Muslim prayer. Is there such a thing?
Yes, although as I illustrate in the novel, it is not without controversy.
Can you help me with some of the Muslim and Urdu terminology in Painted Hands? Is there a glossary of terms I can consult?
Of course, I'm happy to help!
Is Painted Hands the first novel you wrote? Do you have any novels “in the drawer”?
Painted Hands is the first novel I wrote. I do, however, have some short stories in the drawer.
How did you get your agent?
I got my agent, Kent Wolf at Lippincott Massie McQuilken, through good old-fashioned querying.
Can you pass my novel/memoir/short story collection on to him?
The best way to get Kent to read your work is to query him.
Can you read/critique my query letter?
On occasion, I will offer to read a query letter. Otherwise, here are some great resources for query letters:
Nathan Bransford: How to Write a Query Letter
Query Shark: The Entire Blog
Writers Digest: 20 Tips on Query Letters as Told By Janet Reid
Rachelle Gardner: Anatomy of a Winning Query
Can I send you my novel/memoir/short story collection to you for a critique?
I have my own critique partners, and unfortunately I don’t have time to read for other people right now. Additionally, as a lawyer, I am cognizant of plagiarism claims and therefore won’t open/read any manuscripts sent to me.
Are you really a vegan? How did that come about?
I have been a vegetarian since the summer after I graduated from Smith, when I read Alice Walker’s essay, Am I Blue? I’ve eaten vegan on and off for the past few years and move back and forth between veganism and vegetarianism.
Your twitter bio says you were married in a hot pink gharara. What’s a gharara?
A traditional Pakistani wedding dress.
What are you working on now?
A novel about family and conditional love and finding a way home.