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"After the initial anger, further doubts surfaced and were posted" EXTRACT 1 OF 2.

Byline: Bird Summons by Leila Aboulela

Leila Aboulela's latest novel follows the story of three women on a road trip through the Scottish Highlands, on a journey which is as much spiritual as it is physical She had hired a coach, then when the women started pulling out after the anger over the photo, a minibus, then when the numbers fell still further, a people carrier, then when there was just the three of them, Salma decided to take her own car. She had fought a battle and lost. The next time the Arabic Speaking Muslim Women's Group held their annual election, she would be voted out and someone else would be in charge. She had misjudged the situation. "How was I meant to know that the grave had been defaced!" This was a lame defence. If her rivals in the group could find a news article and post it to the group chat, Salma hadn't done her research properly. But even if she had known, it wouldn't have deterred her. It certainly wasn't deterring her now. She still wanted to go and offer her respects. She still believed in the purpose of the visit - to honour Lady Evelyn Cobbold, the first British woman to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca, to educate themselves about the history of Islam in Britain, to integrate better by following the example of those who were of this soil and of their faith, those for whom this island was an inherited rather than adopted home.

Salma's determination stemmed from her recent restlessness. Ever since her last birthday, time seemed to be snagging. She would put her foot forward and find herself still in the same place, as if she were about to stumble. More than once, she found herself wondering, can I last till the end without giving up or making a fool of myself? In her argument to the Arabic Speaking Muslim Women's Group, she said, "We might never understand what it's like to be the eldest daughter of the seventh Earl of Dunmore or to have a townhouse in Mayfair and a 15,000-acre estate in the Highlands, but Lady Evelyn was a woman like us, a wife and a grandmother. She worshipped as we worshipped though she kept her own culture, wore Edwardian fashion, shot deer and left instructions for bagpipes to be played at her funeral. She is the mother of Scottish Islam and we need her as our role model."

The outrage had blown up right in her hands. One minute she was taking confirmations, collecting money, debating whether the cut-off age for including boys should be eight or ten, and the next, the photo was posted on the group page - a photo of the headstone broken off and the plaque bearing the Qur'anic verse of light crossed out. This was followed by a deluge of comments seemingly from all thirty-six members of the group. Is this what you want our children to see? That you can be from the Scottish aristocracy, buried in the middle of nowhere and still the haters will get you.

After the initial anger, further doubts surfaced and were posted - Why didn't she wear hijab? Why wasn't she in touch with other Muslims? Sounds like an eccentric imperialist no offense ... Then women started dropping out of the trip because their friends were dropping out or because their husbands discouraged them. It's too far away. Heard that some brothers from Glasgow tried to find it and got lost. Apathy crept in too. Khalas we know about her from what you said. We read the links you sent, no need to visit. Even Salma's daughters refused to go because no one their age was going. And so, it now whittled down to the three of them - Salma, Moni and Iman.

Salma's refusal to abandon her much-diminished trip stemmed from her insistence not to be stopped or cowed by the Arabic Speaking Muslim Women's Group, and her assumption that a true leader forged ahead without need of followers. She was, though, grateful for the company of the other two and adjusted the journey with them in mind. Instead of an overnight visit to Lady Evelyn's grave they would stay a week at the loch, a resort on the grounds of a converted monastery, then make their leisurely way to visit the grave.

"Why so long?" Moni had asked. "Because you of all people need a break." Moni didn't think she needed a break, but she did feel beholden to Salma for all her help with Adam's condition, and when the other women in the group had started pulling out of the trip, she had decided to express solidarity with her friend.

It surprised Salma that out of all the women in the group, Moni was the one who ended up coming. They were not particularly close. As for Iman, she went everywhere with Salma, sitting next to her in the front seat. If you wanted to be mean, you would say that Iman was Salma's sidekick. If you wanted to be nice, you would say she was like a devoted, much younger sister.

Pick up a copy of next week's your life for the second extract from Bird Summons by Leila Aboulela.

The book is available to buy in Waterstones and on Amazon.


Author Leila Aboulela
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Press and Journal (Aberdeen,Scotland)
Date:Jul 20, 2019
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