What happens when a Muslim man is tasked with establishing a mosque in his sleepy English village?
Ayisha Malik’s hapless, hijab-wearing girl-about-town Sofia Khan was one of the most engaging, cliche-busting comic creations of recent years. As the protagonist of two books inspired by Malik’s adventures on the British Muslim singles scene, Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged and The Other Half of Happiness, Khan’s monologues combined Bridget Jones-ish expostulations – “Oh my actual God. There’s a man in my bed!” – with a dry turn of phrase that suggested covering one’s head can be a fashion as well as a religious statement. “Some people like shopping, some people like therapy, I happen to like praying.”
Malik’s first non-Sofia novel takes place in a fictional south coast village named Babbel’s End, where the Muslim population numbers precisely three: mild-mannered accountant Bilal Hasham, his local journalist wife, Mariam, and their teenage son, Haaris. Bilal’s natural instinct to blend in has always been a bit of a disappointment to his mother, whose dying wish is that he grow a beard. This turns out to be the easy part; she also instructs him to build a mosque in the middle of the village.