Muslims reading romance: Bruneian considerations of “Halal” and romance novels

Dr Katrina Mohd Daud (Universiti Brunei Darussalam)
Session 8.1: Muslim and Middle Eastern Romances


In 2017, Bruneian writer Aisha Malik self-published “Jewel: An attempt at a Halal Romance:, the first Anglophone romance of its kind by a Bruneian. The novella traces out a burgeoning relationship between the newly religious Prince Danial and the hal-American, half-Kadazan Yasmin Colburn, and asks what a halal romance looks like in contemporary Southeast Asia.

Malick’s novel is timely. Over the last decade, there has been an upsurge in the production of Muslim romance novels globally, spanning from the Kano market literature of Littattafan Soyayya (boos of love) in Nigeria, to the “halal” love stories of Na’ima B Robert in the UK, to the blockbuster success of Habiburrahman El Shirazy’s Ayat-ayat Cinta (Verses of Love) in Indonesia. Nevertheless, this production remains very marginalised and localised in the billion-dollar global juggernaut of romance publishing, which is still dominated by Anglophone romance produced by American, Australian and British writers, sometimes in translation, but mostly in the original English form.

These Anglophone romance novels occupy a prominent place in conventional Bruneian bookstores, but in recent years there has been a notable increase in the number of local ‘Islamic’ bookstores which, in comparison, foreground ‘halal’ romances or exclude the genre entirely. Malik’s novel is part of a wider conversation about Muslim romances as well as to what extent Muslim readers generally are invests in ‘halal’ romances.

This paper seeks to examine the reading practices of Bruneian Muslim readers of romance novels through a comparison of the curation of these novels in local conventional and Islamic bookstores, as well a through a qualitative and quantitative analysis of how Bruneian Muslim readers perceive ‘halalness’ or consider it important in their consumption of romances. Part of this analysis will be drawn from interviews conducted with Bruneian Muslim readers and writers of romance in 2017.

Presentation notes:


  • 90%+ literacy rates
  • Bilingual country
  • Small population
  • Market for readership is very small
  • Bookstores need to be stocked with books that sell
  • Romances were popular, always foreign and in original language (English)
  • Print books are in Malay, e-books are in English

Last 5-10 years has been a rise in secular novels with Muslim heroines

  • Eg Major Pettigrew’s last stand – Helen Simonson
  • Love, hate & other filters – Samira Ahmed
  • Trust Me – Laura Florand

Can’t buy books that are satire or critical about governance of Brunei

English language writers publish digitally, even if they can’t purchase in Brunei

Malay language writers publish in print

Desire for writers to see themselves reflected on the world stage

Ideology – Malay Islamic Monarchy

Halal romance – a response to western popular romance

Has parallels to Christian romance – the conflict is the belief in core faith

Form, style, covers are similar to western romances

Aisha Malik (pen name for a doctor)

  • Jewel
  • For You, I Do – teaches people how to live in a Muslim relationship, written for global audience

She uses a pseudonym to avoid social criticism

Looking for global audience, hence writing in English

  • Hard to access in Brunei
  • Calling them Muslim romances now instead of halal romances
  • Wanting to offer another option for young Muslim readers
  • 2013 implementation of Syariah Penal Code means there is a risk re content of stories
  • Originally built up audience on Wattpad, then published on Amazon
  • Did not convert her Wattpad audience into sales
  • Constantly updates her books for readers – text changes, new covers etc
  • Added an epilogue to Jewel on Wattpad because readers asked for it.
  • Removed non-halal scene from Amazon version of Jewel.
  • Rebranded as ‘sweet romance’ for western audiences
  • Malik reads non halal romance herself, but doesn’t want to replicate it. She wants to provide options for her readers.

Other examples:

  • She Wore Red Trainers: A Muslim Love Story – Na’ima B Robert (2014) – aspirational story
  • Love, Hate and Other Filters – Samira Ahmed (2014) – set in the US

Your thoughts and stuff

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: