“The moment that I took God out of the equation, the world became too large, too cruel and too indifferent for me to live in. I decided then that there was a God. There had to be. I needed Him”
The Bad Muslim Discount by Syed M. Masood was a novel I came across randomly near the end of the year. What drew me in first was the fantastic and eye catching cover. I mean just look at how immaculate and fun it is! Then I read the blurb and I was like okay okay two main characters who are Muslim, one is Pakistani and the other from Iraq, it’s about finding ones self in the modern western world. I am so in!
Being Muslim and a British Pakistani myself, it had been a while since I had read a book that made me feel scene. If I remember correctly, that book was A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza back in 2019. I absolutely adored that novel and have nothing but praise and admiration for the way it was written and the story that was told. I’m pretty nervous whenever I read books focusing on Muslims. The main reason being that the media usually portray Muslims in such a negative manner that i end up feeling annoyed and just lost for words tbh. Having read The Bad Muslim I’m happy to say that the representation of Muslims was done very well
The story moves between two narrators, Anvar and Safwa(Later known as Azza). We see them attempting to move through the spectrum of being within a traditional Muslim household. When considering the character of Anvar he is very much the blakc sheep of the family. He doesn’t take his religion, culture, and life seriously at all. Anvar is what my mother would call me “a cheeky wee shit”. Anvar’s tongue is sharper than a knife. He always says things that leave others in aghast and although humourous, you can tell Anvar uses his humour as a way of masking his own vulnerabilities, loss of cultural identity, and personal demons.
Anvar often questions his religion which is met with anger by his traditional mother and brother. Anwvar’s brother is basically the favourite son. He prays five times a day, doesn’t question his religion, and is studying to become a doctor. Anwar on the other hand is a jobless lawyer who can’t help but get himself away from the wrath of his parents and brother, and those he meets.
Parallel to this we have Safwa, whose story was heartbreaking and had me feeling so angry at how the world can spit out and chew people out without a care sometimes. She goes threw so much loss and sadly abuse at the hands of her father, Abu Fahd. You see, her father was kidnapped and tortured by the Americans. This changed him drastically and he is no longer the person he was before. Too make matters even more terrible, Safwa is approached by a creepy neighbour called Qais multiple times, he tells her he can help Safwa and her father escape to America with him. This comes at a price however. With no choice and essentially trapped, Safwa goes ahead in making the decision that changes her life forever.
As the story goes on, both Safwa and Anvar’s lives end up linking together as they meet in San Francisco within the same apartment complex. Their landlord Hafeez gives discounts to those Muslims who are basically not on the right track of being a good Muslim/struggling. This goes well with the title i.e. The Bad Muslim Discount.
When considering the characters we meet a wide variety of different characters. From the level headed and wise Zuha Shah, Anvar’s childhood sweetheart. I thought their relationship was really heartwarming and I adored their mutual love for books. It was Zuha who ignited Anvar’s passion for reading which was super sweet! We also have Bariah Faris the mother of Anvar who regualrly reminds Anvar of the teachings of the Qur’an and the life of Prophet Mohammed (pbhu). Then there’s Aamir, Anvar’s goody Two-Shoes brother who follows all of the rules and is basically the one who can’t do wrong.
“Aamir Faris, in short, uses dull crayons but he is relentlessly fastidious about coloring inside the lines.”
I also really liked Anvar’s dad, Imtiaz Faris. He is essentially the good cop when it comes to his parents. Anvar describes himself as always being safe when his father was around during their time in Pakistan. My favourite however was the stern Naani Jaan, Anvar’s grandmother she is what I’d call Pataka Naani. Like Anvar she’s very sharp tongued and blunt. You don’t want to be on her bad side. However, she is also incredibly wise and uses her love of Checkers to share her wisdom.
All in all, there are a wide range of fantastic characters that Safwa and Anvar come across in the story. Each of them plays a key role to their story and journey.
Another I thing I liked about the story was how the journey of Anvar and Safwa begins in their home countries of Pakistan and Iraq. This really showcases the duality of Muslim life in Pakistan and America. Anvar’s father, decides it’s best his family shift from Pakistan to America due to the government shifting towards a more fundamentalist outlook. On the other hand, Safwa comes from the wartorn city of Baghdad. Her situation is much more dire and heartbreaking leading her to inevitably make a hard choice about her future. I personally feel Anvar had it easy compared to Safwa. At one point she even tells Anvar that he has all this freedom yet won’t fully take advantage of that.
“I don’t understand you, Anvar.” She wove her fingers around mine. “You have all the freedom I have ever wanted, more than most people ever have, but you cage yourself, keep yourself from doing things, taking things, that you want. All of your life is yours, and you just … you live like you have no choices, like your fate is written.”
Finally I thought the writing was absolutely tremendous. I loved how it flowed effortlessly from Anvar to Safwa and then brought them both together in terms of their dialogue and shared experiences. We learn a lot about the different cultures including the history of the characters homeland. It was also a short history lesson as Syed explains the political situation in Iraq and the how they were invaded by the US and the war with the Soviet Union. We also see the ripple affect of this which lead to the “Klashinokov Effect” and the creation of the Taliban.
“The first time anyone ever touched my balls, so far as I can remember, was at the behest of the United States government. It turns out that one doesn’t simply get on an airplane and start a new life in America.”
Like it says in the blurb there is a lot of humour within the novel on part of Anvar and the situations he gets himself into. However, it is also an extremely emotional novel due to many dark things that occur in the life of Safwa/Azza. I am actually so glad Anvar provided comedic relief because the novel has many heartbreaking moments. Safwa’s story is extremely heartbreaking and really highlights the injustice of wars.
Overall, a fantastic novel that I thoroughly loved and recommend to everyone. This is actually my second 5 🌟 read of the year and if I could I’d give it all the stars in the world. It was so well written balancing both humour and seriousness. There so many moments when I laughed out loud and other times I was silent due to how emotional the heartbreaking moments made me. Some of the themes that Syed M. Masood discusses include love, the injustice of war, self discovery, family, the struggles immigrants go through within their home country and also when they make their journey to the west. I thought the author also did really well in his representation of the Muslim community. I was pretty nervous that it might drift to the typical stereotypes but I don’t feel it did. I am super excited to continue reading more novels by the author!
“The closest equivalent to arranged marriages, I think, are internet dating sites. Their systems have algorithms. Our system has aunties.”
Thank you so much to Doubleday for sending me this. It’s been a while since a book made me feel scene as a Pakistani Muslim. It was so refreshing reading a book that I could relate to. The book will be releasing on the 2nd of February!