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“We Need to Write Muslim and Arab Women into Literature”: Salma El-Wardany on Her Debut Fiction Book

Salma El-Wardany

Salma El-Wardany’s debut fiction book, These Impossible Things, releases on June 9. It draws on the contemporary challenges, relationships, and rollercoaster emotions of three British-Muslim best friends who find themselves torn apart one evening after a heated argument. El-Wardany crafts a compelling tale about the complexities of faith and female friendship.

El-Wardany, who is an Egyptian-Irish-South Asian writer, poet, and BBC radio presenter, creates nuanced characters who navigate the sometimes conflicting aspects of their British upbringings and family cultures as they complete college and embark on new journeys as adults. Shattering literary stereotypes about Muslim women, El-Wardany is brazen in her subject matter, story, scenes, and relationships. She doesn’t shy away from topics that are often seen as heavily taboo within Muslim communities – rarely do Muslim authors explore matters such as mixed race and interreligious relationships, sexual trauma, and domestic abuse, but El- Wardany uncovers each of these themes boldly through the perspectives of these fictional and extremely relatable, millennial Muslim women who frequently straddle the line between religion and rebellion.

El-Wardany’s ‘These Impossible Things’

Having worked in the mainstream media herself, El-Wardany was motivated by the pressing need to challenge the prevailing narrative underlining stories about Muslim and Arab women. “They’re only ever spoken about in damning headlines that reduce them to caricatures of fear and mockery. That narrative then seeps into society and the lived experience of thousands of Muslim and Arab women becomes harder and more unsafe,” she says. “We need to write Muslim and Arab women into literature, so their stories are told properly. To bring them out of the shadows and into the light. To give their lives the true depth and nuance they deserve. To bring their stories into popular culture and in doing so, shift the narrative, and create better lives for Muslim, and Arab women.”

Through her captivating storytelling, El-Wardany paints a picture of the rarely explored ideals and aspirations that drive 21st century, modern Muslim women. “Kees, Malak, and Jenna are three women trying to navigate their careers, their families, their love lives, and their own ambitions,” El-Wardany explains. “They’re hungry for more. They have a real desire to excel and be great at what they do, and their friendship is one of the most important things in their lives. They’re emboldened and encouraged by one another, and they’re also each other’s safety net when life gets hard. Muslim women today are striving for more than just husbands and babies – they’re placing real importance on their female friendships in a
way that was traditionally focused on male partners, and I think that will really resonate with Muslim and Arab readers.”

Read Next: “The World Needs More Books and Fewer Bullets:” Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi is a Role Model in the Pursuit of Literacy

Originally published in the June 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia

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