Zeena Nackerdien

The Heroine Next Door

What does it mean to be Muslim in an interconnected world beset by intractable problems such as wars, HIV/AIDS, TB, and diabetes? In the absence of easy answers, four Muslims leave the chaotic shores of apartheid-South Africa for the USA and Germany, hoping to learn how to become savvy builders and fixers contributing to inner and outer peace. Because of deaths of relatives and friends due to chronic diseases, Leila becomes a scientist with a keen interest in HIV/AIDS, TB, and diabetes. Her fiancée, Khalid, is an observant Sunni Muslim cut down in his prime during the 9/11 attacks. Her friends, Khadija and Shuaib, live secular, agnostic lives defined partly by promiscuity, homosexuality, and different interpretations of Islam. Yet their friendships survive personal and cross-cultural misunderstandings as well as biases towards Muslims.


Leila eventually returns to South Africa as a middle-aged woman, retracing her youth, and contributing insightful solutions to the HIV/AIDS/TB/Type 2 diabetes problem in that country. She also finally realizes the folly of looking to other people for happiness and carves her own path with greater contentment. When a stranger with an intriguing world view crosses her path, Leila knows that her life as a Muslim woman in the 21st century is about to be rewritten.