Self-described as revolving around “the emotional tug-of-war between a daughter-in-law and her mother-in-law”, Here with You by Umm Afraz Muhammed is a halal-romance that examines the difficulty of navigating relationships by taking a nuanced look at one that’s often reduced to a stereotype. Here with You is author Umm Afraz Mumhammed’s first release in the realm of fiction (she has previously authored non-fiction works) and I recently interviewed her on the book, her writing process and the projects she has planned next.
Q: How did the idea for Here with You first come to you?
A: Some years back, one of my closest friends was going through the struggle of living under the same roof as her mother-in-law. She used to tell so many things that I didn’t know, that I only heard of in cine-dramas and movies. I was a writer, and have always wanted to be an author. I would start writing stories and then trash them. But not this time. With Here With You, I needed to get the story out – from the life of an everyday Muslim.
Q: Did you have a very clear message that you wished to impart with the book from the start or did its message evolve as you wrote?
A: My idea was clear from the get-go. I wanted to give the readers hope, positivity, and understanding of each other while living as a joint family. The characters have a voice of his/her own so we get to see and feel from their perspective.
Q: What’s your favourite line from Here with You?
A: There are so many it is difficult to choose. But if I had to choose it would be the title that is said in their contexts.
Q: Authors get asked constantly whether they’re writing about specific enemies or people they dislike – what I want to know is which character in Here with You is the most different from anyone you’ve ever met before?
A: Alhamdulillah, I can safely say every character in my book is purely fictional *laughs*. And one character who I haven’t met before, or rather witnessed, is Sabrun Nisa *wink*.
Q: Did you find it difficult balancing the stereotypes of monster in law and demon daughter in law with trying to write an authentic story where your characters have real flaws and aren’t perfect?
A: Alhamdulillah, no, I didn’t find it difficult to write the characters. To me, they are like your everyday Muslims – trying to practice Islam and live each day as a normal human being.
Q: Besides “read my book”, what’s one piece of advice you’d like to give a man who’s about to find himself bringing a bride home to live in a joint family system?
A: Being a son takes priority over being a husband. But, remember, she is coming to live with you leaving behind everyone she has known and grown up with. Consider her, respect her, and give her the space and place she needs as a daughter-in-law and as your wife.
Q: Do you already have your next project in the works?
A: Yes, alhamdulillah. This too will be an in-law topic, although with a different take.
Q: What’s your process when writing? Do you have a dedicated work space or are you writing whenever and wherever you can?
A: If I’m sitting to write religiously, then it is my laptop, usually when the kids are at school or just before bedtime. However, I also type on my mobile when I get an idea or when I have a small time-frame at hand.
Q: Is there a particular author who you believe has influenced you?
A: I take inspirations from many of our Muslim authors, right from Umm Zakiyyah and Hend Hegazi. But I feel closely with those who are of my origin – South Asian – like Zeneefa Zaneer, and Nisha Sulthana.
Q: What was the very first thing you wrote?
A: The blunder of starting with a title, A Tale of Two Women and a Man *covers face*. I think that would have been a comical tale *laughs*
Q: Do you think you’ll ever be done with writing?
A: No way. Writing is my escape into an imaginary world where I get to play with the characters. It is like playing with dolls, except, the dolls here are characters.
Q: What’s one genre you think you’d never tackle and what’s the genre you’d like to write next?
A: Anything that goes against the limits of Islam, I wouldn’t be writing it.
This time, I am planning to write a more darker novel. The genre would still be family, drama, Islamic fiction.
My thoughts about the book itself are overall positive.
Here with You is an easy read and one that deals with a valuable subject matter as well. It’s difficult to strike a balance in fiction, especially when writing about emotionally charged situations and I appreciated the realism interwoven into the characters’ actions. I’m a huge fan of halal love stories and Here with You definitely fits that description. The MC, Salma, is relatable and easy to like and all in all, you’ll step away having had a great reading experience. I look forward to the darker novel that Umm Afraz has planned next In Shaa Allah.
My rating for Here with You is 4.2 stars.