Sofia Khan is Not Obliged is a romance novel by Ayisha Malik, published in 2015. This post is full of spoilers. If you’re looking for a review, you can find one on Experiences and Reflections instead.
Sofia Khan is a Muslim woman working for a publicity company. She was supposed to marry Iman but called it off because she didn’t want to live with his family. In particular, marrying Iman would mean living with a hole in the wall, a hole connecting what would be her home to his parents.
At work one day, she is distressed after having been called a terrorist. She shares some of her experiences as a Muslim woman and her frustrations with dating, and her boss decides she could write an interesting book on Muslim dating. Although she’s never written a book before, Sofia has a blog and gets a sizable advance to write the book.
Researching the Dating World
Sofia joins an online dating site and uses meetups with her friends as research for the book. She’s friends with Hana, Fozia and Suj. Hana is dating a man who already has a wife, marries him, and then decides to divorce him because she doesn’t want to share her husband. Fozia is dating a man who won’t marry her because her family disapproves that she is divorced and she eventually leaves him and starts dating Riaz, a nice man that she had met too soon after her divorce. Suj is a model who’s having a fling with a man she cannot marry because he is Black.
The first person Sofia befriends is Naim. They met off the dating site and then on it and it’s not clear to her if they are friends or dating. He’s unrealizable and a bit self-absorbed but he makes her laugh and she enjoys the time she spends with him. When he calls, it’s easy for him to convince her to change her plans to meet him and she falls in love with him but the feelings are one-sided. Along the way, we meet other potential matches, in meetings arranged by her parents with the help of a matchmaker.
An Undomesticated Wife?
Sofia is a nightmare in the kitchen and does not cook. This, combined with her advanced age of thirty, makes her an unattractive match, a fact that’s clear during visits from the parents of her possible matches. She’s supposed to demonstrate her skills in homemaking but she really isn’t domestically inclined.
Sofia’s parents almost divorced once and don’t really seem to like each, frequently alluding to a missed opportunity to divorce. She remembers that time when they were struggling, when her mother almost left her father. Marriage doesn’t seem that attractive to her but her younger sister, Maria, can’t wait to get married.
Maria gets married and moves in with her husband’s family. However, to their dismay, she leaves and returns to her parents’ home even though she is pregnant. She doesn’t like how her mother-in-law treats her, expecting her to take care of all the chores. Her husband has to agree to stand up for her before she will return home.
A Quiet Place for Writing
Sofia’s home is often full of people so she accepts the invitation from her Irish neighbor, Conall, to write at his home. He is a photographer and often out. Conall and Sofia develop a friendship and maybe even something more but neither act on it. Conall also listens to her, and she tells him about her dates.
Part of Sofia’s attraction to Conall is that he is good-looking. A few times, she sees Conall wearing minimal clothing, and her conservative approach to dating as a Muslim does not protect her from being attracted to what she sees. However, he’s not someone she would date because he does not share her religion.
Love and Marriage
Inspired by Conall’s advice, Sofia tells Naim she loves him and it is clear he does not feel the same. When she finds out that he hooked up with his ex on a recent trip, she cuts off communication with him.
For research, Sofia goes to some singles matching events but stops after seeing Imran at one of them. When he calls her out of the blue (or rather with the prompting of her friend, as she later learns) she agrees to meet with him.
Imran and Sofia start spending time together. When her father has a heart attack, he’s kind and caring. Her father would like to see her settled and his illness creates a sense of urgency for her to get married.
When Imran offers to leave home and marry Sofia, she agrees. She reasons that she likes him and her father will be happy she’s settled. .
Connor decides to be a photographer in Afghanistan and he says he is not sure that he will return. At a Free Palestine protest that she attends with him, Sofia realizes that he takes action for his beliefs. Even though she is Muslim, she had never been to a protest before. On the other hand, he goes to protests even though he is not Muslim. When a man walking by called him a traitor, he punched the man and had to be pulled away by Sofia.
There is a sense of unfinished business between Conall and Sofia but neither of them says anything. However, Sofia does not tell Imran that she went to a protest with Conall. She knows that he doesn’t like them spending time together.
Another Broken Engagement
A few days before Conall leaves, Sofia calls off her wedding with Imran. She realized that it’s a big deal for him to leave home and she would be forever indebted to him.
Conall leaves town without either him or Sofia admitting the feelings between them. When Conall leaves town, his brother takes over his home.
The Wrong Book
Sofia finished her book. Her bosses liked it except they wanted her to make it more exciting and sellable by adding sex. Sofia made the edits but then she realized that she did not want to write a stereotypical book about Muslim dating and convinced her boss to let her write a new book. She also gave in her notice at work even though she wasn’t sure what she’d do next.
Conall Shows Up
Sofia and Conall stay in rare contact. He writes to tell her he’ll be going from Afghanistan to Pakistan but she doesn’t tell him when her father passes away. However, he finds out from his brother. One day as the family is sitting together with Maria and her baby, and visitors wanting to see the baby, Conall shows up. He was supposed to be going to Pakistan based on his last email, so Sofia was shocked to see him. He looked different, with a beard, but was still Conall. Within minutes of his return, Sofia decided that she would visit India and Pakistan, staying with Conall’s group. Their plan is to work on a documentary about shanty towns to raise funds to help educate children who can’t afford school.
The Ending of Sofia Khan is Not Obliged
Sofia Khan is Not Obliged ends with Conall and Sofia on their flight to Pakistan. Conall tells Sophia that he’s become Muslim. She’s stunned and agrees to explore a future with him. Conall jokes that they’re going to go to the mosque to teach her some disciple and he tells her that they will take cooking classes since she is a disaster in the kitchen.
While Conall is in the washroom, Sofia is writing in her journal and she reads the following quote from Anaïs Nin:
“We write to taste life twice.”
This gives her an idea for her (revised) book. When Conall returns from the bathroom, he laughs at the last line in her entry.
What do you think it is?
The sequel to this book was released in 2016. Let me know if you’ve read it as I’m not convinced enough by this first book to read the second.