Fresh Talent: Sofia Khan is not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

Fresh Talent: Sofia Khan is not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

Sofia Khan is not Obliged – Ayisha Malik

‘Brilliant idea! Excellent! Muslim dating? Well, I had no idea you were allowed to date.’ Then he leaned towards me and looked at me sympathetically. ‘Are your parents quite disappointed?’

Unlucky in love once again after her sort-of-boyfriend/possible-marriage-partner-to-be proves a little too close to his parents, Sofia Khan is ready to renounce men for good. Or at least she was, until her boss persuades her to write a tell-all expose about the Muslim dating scene. As her woes become her work, Sofia must lean on the support of her brilliant friends, baffled colleagues and baffling parents as she seeks stories for her book. But in amongst the marriage-crazy relatives, racist tube passengers and polygamy-inclined friends, could there be a lingering possibility that she might just be falling in love …?

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged is the hilarious and fresh debut novel by Ayisha Malik.

Read if you loved: You Had me at Hello – Mhairi McFarlane

Ayisha Malik Biography

Ayisha Malik is a British Muslim, lifelong Londoner and lover of books.

She read English Literature at Kingston University and went on to complete an MA in Creative Writing.

She has spent various spells teaching, and being a publicist at Random House. Now, she works for the editorial consultant agency Cornerstones.

You can follow her on Twitter @Ayisha_Malik.

Ayisha Malik on the Inspiration Behind Sofia Khan is not Obliged

People don’t laugh enough. Not at the serious stuff, anyway. Take the time I was called a terrorist, for example. Sure, it was pretty crap, but it was also absurd – I was wearing vintage shoes, for God’s sake – terrorists don’t wear vintage shoes. The moment I thought this and, admittedly, laughed at my own joke, I wondered: wouldn’t this scene be funny in a book? So, the seeds of Sofia Khan were being sown every time something ridiculous happened to me, or someone I knew. The punchline would generally involve a hijab, or something related to this constant need to practise my religion – like the time I was caught praying at an author’s book launch. When I’d go home – after a day of hoping no-one saw my arse in the air, mid-prayer – I’d switch on the news and invariably hear the word ‘Muslim’ and ‘terrorist’ in the same sentence; this just didn’t sit right.
‘And when will you get married, hmm?’ multiple voices in the ether would sound.
Yes, the world might be falling apart, but that’s no reason why your life should do the same. Being unmarried in your thirties within South Asian culture is tantamount to your very own personal apocalypse. And I wasn’t alone – this was many a Muslim/Asian girl’s story.

It was these juxtaposed realities that would fill me with despair, while simultaneously having me roll my eyes. Priorities, people. Priorities. But I didn’t want to write about the politics of being a Muslim, or the ways in which 9/11 and 7/7 have been the cornerstone of the changing tide of sentiment towards Muslims. Like many others, these events have shaped certain aspects of my life, but they haven’t defined it. My life is generally defined by which restaurant serves halal meat and whether or not that Haribo sweet contains gelatine (it usually does).

In a time like this, when it’s all doom, doom, doom, I thought, wouldn’t it be good to just show a normal(ish) side to what it’s like to live in London as a Muslim: to write about a heroine who generally has the same ups and downs as most people, but just happens to wear a scarf? I wanted to create a heroine with whom people would fall in love, and maybe – although this was only part of the inspiration – just maybe, the next time someone heard some atrocious news about an attack they wouldn’t automatically link the word ‘Muslim’ to terrorist. Maybe an obvious, but often forgettable, idea that they’re not all the same would bop to the surface because they would remember Sofia. It’s pretty optimistic of me, but you just never know.

So, Sofia Khan – with her penchant for God, Lemon Puffs and good looking men – came into being to show the very ordinary life of a Muslim, living in quite an extraordinary time.