Book Review: She Wore Red Trainers
Monday, November 9th, 2015
Now that my eldest child is a teenager, I’ve been seeking ways to impart Islamic values and justify our family rules and boundaries in a way that doesn’t leave me looking like a complete idiot.
It’s not easy.
For starters, I don’t want to preach. There is no quicker way of turning someone off than droning on about all the things which are haram or doubtful – even if I can back up every point with appropriate ayahs, hadith and fiqh rulings (which for the most part, I can’t). Consequently I have been searching for a way to introduce those embarrassing and difficult topics to my children in a way that encourages them to follow my advice and overcome the allure of popular culture, which is constantly inviting them to rebel and go in the opposite direction. At the very least I’d like them to consider the possible consequences of the choices they make when I’m not around.
For this purpose the novel She Wore Red Trainers by Na’ima B. Robert is a godsend. The story itself is standard romantic fare with an Islamic twist – having fallen in love at first sight the main characters (Amirah and Ali) battle their nafs, lower their gazes, and avoid each other while they sort their feelings out.
However, if you are looking for a way to raise awkward topics for further discussion with teenagers, She Wore Red Trainers is a good place to start. The story is set in South London where Amirah and Ali are struggling with their families’ issues while striving to overcome their pasts and practice Islam.
To my relief the author has created a cast of characters who are far from perfect. They are real and believable. They struggle, they fail, and some fail spectacularly. Throughout all, their humanness is all too apparent, which makes for a refreshing read.
Na’ima B. Robert raises issues which are highly relevant to Muslim youth, successfully imparting advice, defining Islamic law, and explaining some of the wisdoms behind the rules. ‘Keeping your chastity ain’t no joke but guys like to think the rules don’t apply to them. But when they spill their seed and ruin a sister’s life, and have a child that they won’t raise, they wonder why there ain’t no barakah in their affairs. Brothers got to fear Allah and stay strong,’ one of the main characters advices Ali. On the same vein Amirah notes that ‘in my community, a ‘boy meets girl’ romance normally results in heartbreak, betrayal and a damaged reputation – for the girl, of course! In every scenario I’d ever seen, it was the girl who paid the price for entertaining the guy’s advances.’
As the story progresses Ali has to contend with his ambitious father’s high expectations and his younger brother’s doubts about Islam. Meanwhile Amirah fails her A’ Levels and considers marrying her brother’s friend to escape home. ‘Don’t get married weak and needy, looking to your husband to make your world the one you dream of. What a burden for him!’ An Aunty advises, adding ‘what happens when he fails this huge task you’ve set him without his knowledge? You become bitter and disappointed.’ These are wise words indeed for anyone thinking of marriage.
While there is much I agree with in She Wore Red Trainers, there are points where the author’s views are at odds with my own. This is no bad thing, and would certainly provide an opportunity for further discussion if the book is being read with a young person or with a group. For example, Amirah and her friends have a ‘totally naughty but hilarious Muslim hottie chart; the ‘Mottie Scale’ and no mention is made of the fact that such a scale would constitute ghiba. Also the book encourages youths to marry young. Of course marriage is superior to zinah, but I would prefer my children to study and establish themselves before they wed. Finally, the cynic in me was appalled at the romantic ending, but then I couldn’t expect anything else from a book which is described on Amazon as a Muslim love story, could I?
The book is available from Amazon: