The Bad Muslim Discount starts off in darkly comic fashion. “I killed Mikey,” the narrator, Anvar Faris, tells us. “It sounds worse than it was. You have to understand that I didn’t kill Mikey because I wanted to do it. I killed him because God told me to do it.” Mikey is Anvar’s pet goat, which must be sacrificed for the Muslim celebration of Eid. In the opening sections of this novel, author Syed M. Masood mixes humor with tragedy. When it works, it’s captivating. When it doesn’t, it can feel uneven and disjointed.
The plot concerns the lives of two Muslim kids, 14-year-old Anvar in Karachi, Pakistan, and a teenage girl in Baghdad, Azza bint Saqr. For each of them, extremism engulfs their countries, forcing them to flee. Anvar’s coming of age in Karachi and then San Francisco is the lighter tale. His father, frustrated with the fundamentalism gripping Pakistan, pursues the move and is the comic foil to Anvar’s orthodox mother, who is torn between her love for her country and religion and her cultural wifely duty to defer to her husband.
Conversely, Azza’s is much a darker story. Her father is arrested and held by the U.S. military in 2005, forcing Azza to seek refuge with an aunt in Basra, Iraq, before she and her father may finally immigrate to San Francisco. However, Azza is sexually abused by the person producing their illegal passports, and she arrives in the U.S. traumatized.
After a college romance with a Muslim family friend, Anvar becomes a lawyer, tasked with the thankless job of protecting Muslims' civil liberties amid the rise of Western Islamophobia. Both Anvar and Azza live in the same subsidized apartment block, and inevitably a relationship ensues—with devastating consequences.
Pride, religion, personal identity, romance and sexism are just some of swirling themes that Masood addresses in this brave novel. Ultimately, however, its success rests on the characters and our willingness to believe in them, and that is where The Bad Muslim Discount can feel a little short-changed.