I was raised in a Muslim family my whole life and Islam dictates in a lot of ways how I see the world. However, when reading Mohsin Hamid’s novel Exit West, I feel like my Islamic world and the characters’ views of Islam are completely different. One example is the meaning of prayer in the novel, which strangely does not seem to mention God or worship in any way, shape, or form but is “a gesture of love for what had gone and would go and could be loved in no other way” (202). However, in real-life Islam and for most people, prayer is a way to glorify God and to reach some form of inner peace, and it is not optional in the way the novel makes it seem. Praying the five daily prayers is a requirement and one of the fundamental pillars of one’s faith, but this is not a reason to complain. Many people including myself and Saeed “value the discipline of it, the fact that it [is] a code, a promise [we have] made, and that [we] stood by” (202). Prayer is a truly mysterious thing and the experiences formed within it can be miraculous but can also be plain, depending on point of view.
On the other hand, some parts of the novel are ‘Godless’ and contrast heavily with the topic of spirituality. You would think that someone who seems to be so into their faith would abstain from smoking a joint whenever they want without feeling a sense of regret, but in this novel it happens. I believe Hamid wants to showcase religion as something that is more important at some times than at others, a sort of artificial, abstract idea that we refer to as a last resort, similar to what Albert Camus is getting at in his novel The Stranger. Personally, I believe that religion can be much more than that but in the strange world Nadia and Saeed are in, with its doors and long sentences, this is somewhat true.