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Book Review: Tight Rope

Salaam alaikum all!

I know, I am breaking my strictly-Ramadan theme for the month, but I agreed to take part in a book launch, and it’s happening TODAY!

For my part in the launch, I just got to enjoy reading the book ahead of time, and to share my review with y’all. If you are trying to keep distractions out of your way this Ramadan, I would suggest saving this post and having a read through after Eid, because today’s book up for review is a work of fiction, not necessarily the resources I usually like to share.

Albeit, it is a very relevant piece of fiction.

So, the book I am going to be telling you about today is called Tight Rope by Sahar Abdulaziz. It tells the story of political activist Nour Ibrahim, but also so much more.

The only real concrete details of the setting that we can glean from the book are that it takes place sometime in post-9/11 New York, during the presidential campaign of some unnamed individual. With plenty of talk of Muslim registries, Jewish cemeteries being defaced, rampant racism, and overt sexism, we can all make the leap as to what this resembles.

The story is focused around an upcoming rally that Nour is helping to plan and speaking at, while giving glimpses into her personal life as she shrugs off illness that ends up being serious, and deals with being the target of a serious of racist emails that take a turn for the threatening.

Though it is the story primarily of Nour, a black Muslimah activist, it follows a few different characters throughout the book. That is one of the things I loved about it; the way each chapter is told from a different perspective and in the end they all come together into a seamless storyline.

I also really loved the fact that each of the characters was either personally relatable, or just so real that I could swear it was someone I actually know. Take Russell, the main antagonist and a vehement white supremacist—the way he talks is so close to the rhetoric I am used to hearing from random, ignorant strangers on the street back home that it is eerie. Or Maryam, a Puerto Rican convert to Islam who is just trying to make sense of her new identity and place in the world. I think she was actually my favorite character, just because I was so excited to see a convert coming up as a main character, plus the struggles she faces are so accurately aligned with the experiences of so many converts that I know.

Each character highlights a different point of view, and different struggles faced by many in our communities. First generation American teenagers struggling to bridge the gap between old and new, new converts from a very different family background, the marginalised African American community that makes up such a large part of our American Muslim community. Activists, deli-workers, unemployed. Each character not without their faults, but the diversity amongst the characters was truly wonderful.

I don’t want to give too much of the story away, because I definitely think you should go check it out on Amazon for yourself, but I will finish by saying that what I really liked about this book was not only its relevance to current times and relatability and realism in terms of characters, but also the fact that it made me a little uncomfortable at times. Just like with my previous review of Amilah, this book forced me to think outside of my box, and re-evaluate the way I thought about some issues.

There were times when I was reading about the lifelong struggle of Nour as an African American Muslim woman in America, and I found myself thinking that this sounds a bit exaggerated. No one’s life is as awful as all that. But then a little voice peeped up inside my head and told me: that is your privilege talking right there.

I have the luxury of believing that everyone else shares my tolerant world-view because I grew up white, and don’t get much opportunity to see otherwise. But this book really hit me over the head with it, that if I want to be an ally and be sympathetic to any marginalised community, the first thing I have to do is admit my own privileged standing. Yes, I lost a little bit of this when I donned a jilbab, and of course I will never be as privileged as a male in our society, but just the very genetic fact that I am missing melanin in my skin means that I will never experience the world the way an African American, or any other marginalised group, does.

That is why I really loved this book—it made me reconsider how I think about various movements going on within our society, and definitely made me think about whether or not I was still a part of the problem. For all that I think that I am an ally, this book taught me that to be an ally to any group or community, you need to learn to recognize your own privilege, and learn to become an ally on their terms, not what you consider helpful.

Also, just a side note: there is an amount of strong language in this book, so if you are not interested or easily offended by that, I would pass this one up. I don’t really appreciate all of the swearing, but it does accurately reflect American culture and especially the way certain age groups talk, and adds something to the realism of the scene.

Anyhow, I hope y’all will go pick it up (maybe after Ramadan) and let me know what you think in the comments!

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