“Do I admit to being a bad person? No. I will, however, admit to being a bad Muslim, which is an entirely different thing.” - The Bad Muslim Discount by Syed M. Masood.
Syed M. Masood’s YA book, MORE THAN JUST A PRETTY FACE was one of my favorite YA books I read last year. Thus, I was beyond excited when I received a copy of his adult novel. While the title of both his books mentioned above gives it a lighter feel, both books touch on one’s religion/faith and the (suffocating) culture surrounding the religion. I talk about this, but as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (also known as Mormon), due to some similarities between the two religions, I feel so seen when I read books by Muslim authors when exploring themes such as faith.
I pulled out some of my journals I wrote in college. I went to Brigham Young University where 98% of the students are members of the LDS church. Upon reading my journal entries, so much of it was about my guilt of not being a “good-enough Mormon.”
I love Masood’s books because he writes about the very concerns I have about my faith. Am I a good person? I think so. I try. But when I tell people I’m religious-LDS/Mormon- I always feel the need to say, “I am, but I’m not the best Mormon.” One’s religion is so personal and I think as long as I’m working on my bettering my relationship with God, shouldn’t that make me a good Mormon? I will never leave the church, but this book did remind me of all the complexities and at times suffocating church culture that comes with being a person of faith.
Anyhow, back to the book. The Bad Muslim Discount is told from a dual perspective and follows Anvar, who is from a Pakistani family that immigrated to America, and Safwa, an Iraqi who takes a much more dangerous route to get to America.
My thoughts: I loved Anvar! Anvar is funny, unapologetically flawed, and I loved seeing his journey with his faith (something I relate to so much)! The characters in Anvar’s story were also better developed and full of personalities. I can see some conservative members of faith perhaps being a bit offended by Anvar as he judges those that are pious, rule-following Muslims like his brother, Amir. (Also how people like the mother or Amir judge Anvar for being a “bad Muslim.”) But, as a Mormon, I don’t think I ever related more to character than to Anvar or Zuha. I just want people to remember that religion is a JOURNEY, not always a linear one at that, and there is not a “right” way or just one way to be a good Mormon/Muslim/person of faith. Religion is nuanced. I was torn with Safwa’s POV. First of all, I had no idea where her story was going. While Anvar’s story was written with a clear-cut direction, confidence and assertiveness, Safwa’s was very one-dimensional. It seemed like the author lacked confidence writing from a woman’s perspective. I especially worried that all the characters in her story might perhaps be too stereotypical of what white America thinks of Muslims. Safwa and her story as an afterthought. Perhaps if she were written as a supporting character, the book would have seemed better polished. Safwa and her story lacked nuance and meat to be one of the main characters. Once I finished the book, I kept asking myself the point/purpose of Safwa’s story. I knew the message the author wanted his readers to takeaway from Anvar’s story. However, I didn’t understand the purpose of Safwa. I loved the author’s YA book and loved Anvar and his story so much, I know I will continue to read what Masood writes. But, with what could have been a great novel, Safwa and her story made it mediocre at best as it muddied the entire book for me.. While I wasn’t a fan, I’m glad the book gave me the push I needed to think more about my faith.