Maghrib has come, the sun went down,
The shine is left on your face.
Maghrib has come, your face
Shines more beautiful because of the sun.
I would like to warm myself
In the beauty of your face

– Bosnian folksong

When it comes to exploring the Muslim identity in the realm of fiction, one is hard-pressed to find a story that provides a realistic narrative for the lay Muslim. However, in the past few decades, there has been an influx of literature authored by Muslim writers – a success championed by publishers who strive to include and amplify Muslim voices in the name of diversity. Likewise, there has been a slow but distinct shift in the Muslim narrative over time.

Novels that debunk popular stereotypes and endeavor to reconcile the Muslim identity with the twenty-first century are finally on the rise.

Though there is certainly much to celebrate, there are still problematic and potentially harmful narratives that impact our impressionable youth.

This does not mean we should restrict creative integrity and limit showcasing the diversity within the Ummah by any means, rather that we become more conscious about the ideas and morals we promote. The hidden agendas and sly narratives further a secular-liberal worldview, asserting Muslims should be grateful for any morsel of representation they receive.

Support Our Journalism

You are reading this because you value quality and serious journalism.

But, serious journalism needs serious support. We need readers like you to support us and pay for making quality and independent journalism more vibrant.

The uniqueness of The Beauty of Your Face lies in is its faithful portrayal of Islam. Mustafah’s novel digs into the core of religion, which is salvation from worldly misery. A sad reality for many immigrants is that their journey for a better life in a foreign land often results in faith being lost along the way.

Afaf’s irreligious upbringing causes her to express an interest in Islam only after witnessing a family member’s discovery of religion first. There is a key transitory scene in which Afaf has her first taste of spirituality and a desire to be part of something greater.

The contrast between the rejection she faces by her peers at school and the acceptance she receives from the wider Muslim community strengthens her embrace of religion. This moment emphasizes the importance of good company (suhba) in aiding one’s religious growth and spiritual development.

The Beauty of Your Face centers around the life of protagonist Afaf Rahman, a culturally conflicted Palestinian-American Muslim woman. Much of Afaf’s life is spent in Chicago after her immigrant parents, Mahmood and Muntaha, are expelled from their homeland Palestine and migrate to the US. Afaf, her older sister Nada, and younger brother Majeed thus grow up as first-generation Arab Americans.

The novel drives home the importance of family ties and the impact a holistic understanding of Islam can have on the lay Muslim. It is not often that one finds a narrative so personal and relatable and so The Beauty of Your Face is a delightful and inspiring read.

The Beauty of Your Face pieces evidence just how many interpretations of the Arab-American identity there can be, debunking the orientalist myth that Arabs and Muslims are a monolith. Each character is unique in his or her attempt to reconcile their internal/external conflicting identities.

On one end there lies Nada, Afaf’s older sister, who wholeheartedly embraces American culture and dissociates from her Arab roots by running away from home early in the novel. Contrastingly, their mother, Muntaha, harbors the opposite sentiment. Muntaha’s misery calls for nothing less than a return to the homeland. Ultimately, both culture and religion play a key role in shaping Afaf’s adulthood, with the latter taking precedence.

The school shooting is an integral part of the storyline. Although the story would have been intriguing enough based on Afaf’s religious journey alone, the shooting proves vital in showcasing her development as a protagonist. It is during her tenth year of teaching at the Islamic school that the shooting takes place.

These scenes are written from the first-person perspective of the shooter, a middle-aged white man. Mustafah does a great job of providing a granular account of the motives behind the attack from his perspective.

The shooter is exposed for what he truly is: a radicalized, xenophobic, perverted individual who harbors sick thoughts, especially towards women. The juxtaposition of his calm, mundane demeanor on the morning of the incident and his horrifying, dastardly actions later on in the day is chillingly relayed. \



Flitting between past and present, the novel largely details every major decade of Afaf’s life. The episodic nature of the narrative is such that the events of her past are peppered with an alternative perspective.

The sporadic disruptions in the overall narrative track the actions of a school shooter who has suddenly infiltrated Nurrideen Islamic School for Girls where Afaf is the principal. The events that lead up to the convergence of past and present ultimately render Afaf in an intense standoff with the shooter as narratives collide

The Rahman family never cared for religion, neither Mahmoud nor Muntaha expressed an affinity for faith or spirituality, and as such their offspring were raised with little to no knowledge about Islam.

Palestinian culture, therefore, plays a big role in cementing the Rahman family’s values and traditions. The writing incorporates common Levantine vernacular (unitalicized, thankfully) in a manner that flows coherently throughout the novel. Ultimately, it is a lack of faith paired with parental negligence that serves as the primer of Afaf’s teenage rebellion.

As an adult, Afaf begins her teaching career at the Islamic School and a center for refugees. Her adoption of the hijab is a notable moment, signifying just how far she has come. No longer is she the faithless, confused teenager with no sense of direction in life. She is now firm in her beliefs and wishes to display her faith in the world. The novel depicts this honorary donning as a celebratory event, with Afaf surrounded by her friends congratulating her on this bold move.

(This Review appeared in the November 2020 print issue of the Mountain Ink.)

To help us strengthen the tradition of quality reading and writing, we need allies like YOU. Subscribe to us.

Mountain Ink is now on Telegram. Subscribe here.

Become Our Ally

To help us strengthen the tradition of quality reading and writing, we need allies like YOU. Subscribe to us.