How “The Colour of God” invites deep reflection
By Mashal Butt
On a rainy late Tuesday afternoon, I was dragging my feet across the room to find something to do in order to pass time till Iftar. I decided to pick up Ayesha Chaudhry’s The Colour of God. I got cozied in bed and started reading. The next thing I knew, hours had passed and I was struggling to put the book down. I only retreated from reading to send Chaudhry a quick note about her moving voice and to break my fast.
From growing up with a puritanical version of Islam, to critiquing the white supremacist and capitalist Canada, Chaudhry pens deep personal essays on race, family, immigration, colonisation, tragedy to reflect on the complexity of life, faith and identity. Through the powerful rawness in her voice, Chaudhry fosters space for the very real, very brutal experiences of being Muslim, of being South-Asian in Canada in her latest book.
The Colour of God talks about love and loss, shame and fear, joy and grief. It encompasses what it is to be a living, breathing people in communities and resists simplistic overtones. It explores the murky, the complex, the chaotic within all of us. It explores communities, varying communities and how our lives are not lived in vacuums. And how such full lives in turn impact our identities as we move through the world.
No one fits in a box. Ever. Humans, by their definitions, are leaky. We cannot be contained.
An Associate Professor of Islamic studies and Gender studies at the University of British Columbia, Chaudhry’s reparative voice opens up communication with the Muslim, South-Asian reader by beautifying the text with Urdu and Arabic phrases and exclamations. As a South-Asian, reading the “Uffs” in the book make you feel like a giddy kid. But she does more than just effortlessly reflect the South-Asian experience.
Weaving in her experiences of wearing the niqab and the hijab, something the West is obsessed about when it comes to Islam, Chaudhry deliberately commits an act of resistance by refusing to reduce the act of veiling to the mainstream binaries of oppression or liberation. Chaudhry talks at length about the veil and her experiences with it, but never does she descent into the pit of the black and white narrative that we are so used to when it comes to veiling. She never answers for the reader her decisions regarding the veil in plain yes or no. Instead, she designates the veil as a mirror and invites us all to challenge our own biases, to transcend the black and white binary and to explore complexities of life and identity. She turns the table on its head and asks, rather demands us to do some reflective work.
What this does is that it stirs something in you. Something recognisable but at the same time, unrecognisable. Just like Chaudhry is trying to work her way through how countless life experiences and incidents have shaped her who she is today, she is reaching out and inviting us to do the same. To work together and to learn and unlearn from our past selves. To challenge our present selves.
The Colour of God is written with love. It sparks joy as you move through the book. You laugh. You cry. You reflect. You feel. There is something for everyone to resonate with. And this is what makes Chaudhry’s voice and her book a gift.