37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2010
Willow's honest and uplifting memoir "Butterfly Mosque" is living proof that an individual can maintain fidelity both to one's American and Muslim roots without mutual exclusivity or an "internal" clash of civilizations. Instead, Willow's "unholy" juxtaposition of both worlds, as brilliantly told in this memoir, is in fact a successful modern marriage of fluidity, cultural awareness, and open-mindedness that embraces--not demonizes--both Muslims and the West as critical foundations for her spiritual journey.
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2010
G. Willow Wilson is honest to the bone, and I laughed and cried by turns at the vivid and poetic account of her life's journey in The Butterfly Mosque.
From a student's philosophic interest in Islam to a religious awakening in the hospital while suffering from what she calls adrenal distress, to Egypt, where she accepted a teaching position for a year, to meeting Omar, her adored and adoring soon-to-be Sufi husband and his extended family--all against the backdrop of the Middle Eastern way of life in Cairo, that overcrowded, overhot, overdusty great city of the Nile.
Willow's descriptive and analytical powers are at once affectionate and insightful. The Middle Eastern way of life, with its emphasis on family and community interdependence instead of independence, its Islamic tradition of courtesy and hospitality, and its foundation of religion woven into every aspect of daily living, is something few in the secular West seem to appreciate.
Indeed, the Middle East division of the State Department as well as Western Think Tanks and Islamic Studies seminars would benefit greatly if The Butterfly Mosque were required reading.
Her candor is both refreshing and thoughtfully intelligent, and her bravery in forging a common ground, a space in which to live with her husband and within Islam the way her heart beckoned, is to glimpse what is left unsaid, but there between the lines--those that accept their calling and follow their heart are on the Divine path, no matter their religion.
If you have not yet read this wise and intimate memoir, buy a copy now, or order it online here, or check it out of your local library. Willow's is a life worth knowing.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2010
Willow's journey exemplifies both the complex interweaving of cultural, spiritual, and personal influences of religious faith -- a truth serum countering the mainstream media's one-dimensional portrayals -- and the sort of "Us/Them"-dissolving cultural experiences we need to read and see more of. Countless have fallen into the pit of Absolutes in their attempt to walk the tightrope of Religious and Cultural Understanding, but Willow's brave balancing act is as graceful and flowing as her writing style.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 7, 2010
The Butterfly Mosque is a lovely tale of an American woman's travel to Egypt and eventual marriage into a middle-class Egyptian family. The author is very intelligent and adept at making complex yet concise observations about life in a different culture. Much of the book is taken up by her day-to-day affairs and discovery of satisfaction in being a housewife: learning how to buy chickens in the market or becoming accustomed to differing gender relations such as not conversing with strange men and learning to accept and even welcome the protective attitude of men towards her. As such, it would probably be better classified as travel writing than memoir.
Her observations of American and Egyptian cultures are astute, however there are moments when she risks overgeneralizing, and is particularly harsh towards other Westerners. While perhaps deserved in some instances, she seems to fall into the phenomenon of those who have joined a new group and, having recently become aware of their past insensitivities and gaffs, are eager to distance themselves from others.
I agree with other reviews that note the limited information about her 'journey to Islam'. The reasons she gives for her conversion seem somewhat superficial and leave the reader wanting more. Given its classification as a memoir, one also longs for more information about her American and Egyptian family and her relationship to them. Her sketches of family members are tender yet minimal. As written everyone seems generally happy and supportive about her conversion, marriage, and decision to live in Egypt. While this may be so, one can't help but wonder about tensions behind the scenes. Of course in a memoir it's always a delicate balance between what to keep private and what to expose. Yet it is through allowing the reader to witness difficulty that we more closey identify with and better understand their plight.
This aside, Ms. Wilson adroitly positions herself as accessible and unthreatening enough to reach Americans with little knowledge of Islam or Islamic countries. From here she mounts himdefenses of her adopted culture and religion and dismantles Western stereotypes. The last chapters of the book feel a bit cobbled together, seeming to be expanded versions from various articles she has written. Overall, however, I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Islam or Egypt. Ms. Wilson is clearly a very talented writer and I look forward to her future publications.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Willow went to Egypt with nothing more than a teaching job and an urge to learn about Islam from the people who live it. Raised an atheist, she did not wrestle with the usual conundrum of whether or not Jesus was the son of God and a savior. She decided (without the help of a Muslim boyfriend) that the evidence for the existence of God not only held water, but held water within Islam.
Her story, however, does not focus upon this process, nor upon how she fell in love with an Egyptian and got married. Hers is a story that pulls the disparate elements of her life into a whole that makes sense. It's a multi-layered story that not only reveals who she is as an American, but who the Egyptians are, and how the enormous, but sometimes subtle differences between American and Egyptian culture really do clash in ways we cannot predict.
She writes authentically, honestly. I know this because I, too, married an Egyptian, and spent some time in Egypt. No American can write about living in Egypt without addressing the difficulties of daily life there, or the discomfort of trying to stay healthy in a polluted environment. At the same time, no one can deny the spirit of generosity and optimism that percolates through the national character of Egyptians. Egyptians themselves are what make Egypt livable and actually lovable.
This book is a gift to those who would venture into the waters of an intercultural life. It is especially good reading for those who have an interest in Egypt. It is not an apology, nor is it a explanation of, or justification for, the more controversial aspects of Islam. It is a memoir, not a textbook.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2010
Instead of the same old tired stereotypes about the Middle East, we found a fresh voice, an authentic experience and lots of insights in between. Whatever your views of Islam or Arabs, this is a well-written travel memoir, an insider's view that is inter-laced with love and faith. Inspiring & highly recommended.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Although somewhat interesting, as someone who has spent some time in Egypt, I was disappointed at her portrayal,of the country, which doesn't go much beyond what an off-tour tourist might discover in a couple of weeks. I think she exaggerated a lot things for dramatic effect. (It's not THAT hard to find a little market to buy fresh veggies. . . . or a Pizza Hut for that matter. .. in Cairo, even if you don't speak Arabic.) Moreover, I was really disappointed in her lack of depth concerning both love and her conversion to Islam. She seemed to give both about as much thought as I give to picking out a new pair of shoes or where to take a vacation. Overall, she came across as a spoiled American who wanted to shock (or rebel against) everyone from her parents to the Grand Imam, garner a lot of attention for herself in doing so, and then crow that she is a "free-thinker." . Over and over again, she seemed totally oblivious to not only the nuances, but the major trends, of both the culture and religion to which she claims devotion and to the American culture that she claims to have left.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2010
The Butterfly Mosque is the real deal. Not one of those fake books about Islam and Muslims which are written by so-called experts, but this is an actual true story of an American Muslim convert who shares her personal story of finding Islam, love and friendship! A Must Read for anyone interested in about REAL Muslims and Islam in America!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
First of all what this book is... it is about integrating yourself into another culture. If you have lived in another country or even a different part of the United States and done this, you know it takes work and time and sacrificing some of what you are in order to do this. The rewards are immeasurable and Willow does a commendable job in describing her integration into the life of Cairo, Egypt.
She does convert to Islam. What I found lacking was more information on the rationale why she converted, there is almost none except for a conversation she has with a friend. She did seem prone to convert even before much investigation into it. She says she promised to convert if made well in 3 days during a serious illness, because the 3 people caring for her were from Iran. Her recovery takes longer, but the seeds of the conversion is there.
She seems naïve, in so many ways, especially for an educated young lady. She states at one point that the women are treated badly because it is Egyptian culture, not seemingly seeing the manner they are treated in most Muslim countries.
One might also take umbrage at her blanket condemnation of American, British and Canadian behavior to the native population she lives among. It seems there is no one from any of those countries that does not insult or joke about the native population.
In total this is about learning to live in another culture. The Muslim religion is part of it, but it is not overwhelming.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 14, 2012
While growing up, one of my favorite books was Road to Mecca by Muhammad Asad. It was a blend of adventure and spirituality - unlike any book I had read before. G. Willow Wilson's Memoir, The Butterfly Mosque, read in the same way; a female Muhammad Asad if you will. Her story was absorbing, well-written and nuanced on so many levels that I sighed at one point, reflecting on the power of words to so thoroughly stir us.
When I got to the last word of The Butterfly Mosque, only one word came to my mind: FINALLY. Finally, we have a breathtaking book on the Western Female Muslim perspective that is not mining for controversy through irreverence or shock value (I can name a few authors here who do this well but will refrain; let me just say that they are mentioned in The Butterfly Mosque). Instead, we have a book which grapples with all the "uncomfortable" issues in a frank, open way, with a perfect blend of emotional and intellectual insight.
As a Western Muslim woman, I understood this book deeply. I recommend it to one and all who truly want to understand people, in their myriad ways of being.
(And please, Ms. Wilson, continue writing for your readers await!)