Love From Mecca to Medina by S.K. Ali

Review by Carolina Leyton

Salaam Reads, 2022

344, paperback, $18.99, 9781665934152

Young Adult, ages 14+

Fiction, Romance

To keep on seeking even when what lay around you looked barren and unpromising.

Believing that the to-and-fro between the hills wasn’t futile, that pacing was productive, went against everything we’d been taught in school, everything we were, in fact, taught everywhere. (…) But instead, here on pilgrimage, we were told to believe that there was inherent benefit in the searching and waiting for things to unfold.

In the Author’s Note, S.K. Ali asks if Mecca and romance even go together. Love from Mecca to Medina is a resounding YES to that question.

This novel follows Adam and Zayneb, two Muslim young adults who just got their nikah (marriage ceremony) done but live an ocean apart. Adam is in Doha. Zayneb is in Chicago. Adam is jobless. Zayneb is in her first year of law school. Adam has way too much time to ruminate about Zayneb and how he has nothing to offer her. Zayneb’s living situation is less than ideal, what with living on the couch of a so-called friend spreading rumors about her.  

With Thanksgiving break approaching, Adam’s father suggests the newlyweds go on Umrah, the pilgrimage to Mecca. Adam jumps at this opportunity because attaching himself to his spirituality sounds better than pining after Zayneb. Zayneb would much rather just be with Adam in a cozy, private cottage, but since this is what Adam wants, Zayneb reluctantly follows suit.

The novel is divided into five parts, with Umrah making up the bulk of the story. The first part sets the stage and makes it clear why Adam and Zayneb need to reconnect to their faith and each other. Though I found the pacing to be a bit abrupt when Umrah started, as I followed the characters through their pilgrimage, I came to terms with the idea that the moment Umrah starts you must focus solely on your faith. When Zayneb and Adam stopped talking about all the things that worried them, it felt like all the conflict that had been set up in the first part was conveniently forgotten. However, as those worries started coming back, I understood that, as a reader, I was experiencing this Umrah the way the couple was experiencing it: at first, they are overjoyed to be with each other, focusing all their energy on this spiritual reset. But as Umrah moves forward, their thoughts and worries come flooding back in. As a non-Muslim reader, I feel honored to have read this book and to have been invited to witness one of the most sacred traditions in Islam through Adam and Zayneb’s perspectives.

Ali’s novel is being marketed as YA perhaps because of how the romance develops. This is a halal (proper, according to Islam) love story. Does this mean it is not a romance? Absolutely not. Nothing in this novel is sacrificed: it is as much about a beautiful, peaceful romantic love as it is about spirituality and Islam—two things that are not mutually exclusive. I would classify this as a New Adult novel rather than Young Adult due to the age of the characters, and because they are in a moment of their lives that corresponds with an older age group. It is all here: the character development, the ode to Umrah and Islam, and the relationship between these two amazing characters—Love From Mecca to Medina is truly one of the best romances I have read in a while.

This story helps fill a gap in the publishing industry when it comes to Muslim representation. S.K. Ali demonstrates that religious faith, love, and a meaningful, page-turner of a story can be found in one place. This novel can truly be read by anyone—Muslim or non-Muslim young adults. For non-Muslim folks, come into this book with humility and gratefulness to experience the sacred ritual of Umrah respectfully.

Carolina Leyton is completing her thesis for the Children’s Literature Masters. She completed her BA Honours in UBC Okanagan. From the age of 9, she has been an avid reader and writer and now hopes to become an author of critical, important, and unique YA novels. 

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