Book Review: Hearts We Lost, A novel by Umm Zakiyyah

Arts & Entertainment

Umm Zakiyyah has done it again!   This novel is sure to give readers a new perspective on Islam.  It delves into issues that, even today, are too sensitive and uncomfortable for the vast majority of Muslims to confront.

In this heart-warming, suspense-filled, tear-jerker, Umm Zakiyyah takes the reader on a spiritual and moral journey that examines the struggles of a young man who unexpectedly finds himself facing a dilemma that will change the course of his life forever.

In part one, we meet Sharif, a 26-year-old African-American, who is returning home to America after a six-year study abroad in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  Having lost his father while a teen, Sharif feels obliged to fulfill the role of imam in the small Maryland masjid where his father had the same role.

But on his return, Sharif finds himself a stranger in the midst of the very people he grew up with. Even the love he has for his beloved fiancée, Hasna, is put to the test when he finds he is unable to accept her lifestyle—one which he himself grew up with.

What really hit home while reading this part was the striking similarities in the problems faced by Sharif as a practicing Muslim in America and that being faced by practicing Muslims in their native Muslim lands.  They face tough challenges while going against the cultural grain they have known all their lives.

In part two, Sharif is now Imam of his community and begins the arduous task of trying to reform the minds of a people set in their ways—people who have become so comfortable with their version of “true” Islam that Sharif himself fears he will be ostracized and deemed a “traitor” to his African-American roots.  He faces this fear not only with his community but also with his own flesh and blood, most notably his mother.

Sharif finds that at every turn, he is forced to follow the path of “moderation” as dictated by the only version of Islam his community has ever known.  Compounding matters for Sharif is a dream [of a future wife] he repeatedly sees that seems to pull his heart in an unexpected direction—a direction that not only disrupts his personal life but is sure to, once revealed, cause an uproar in his community.

In part three, after soul-searching and seeking Allah’s counsel, Sharif is convinced that the events he sees in his dream are ordained by Allah.  Thus, he decides to seek the opinion of the one person he has taken as a second father-figure since childhood— the father of his fiancée. But Sharif finds that even those whom he thought he could trust are quick to malign and alienate him, leaving him with no choice but to leave his family and home.

The author does an outstanding job in keeping readers on the edge of their seats throughout the entire novel. The book also contains some beautiful lines of poetry that are sure to evoke tears of emotion for the unsuspecting reader.

Umm Zakiyyah has interwoven authentic narrations from the Prophet salallahu alaihi wa sallam and ayaat from the Qur’an in such a manner that even the learned Muslim is left feeling as if he were reading them for the first time. 

I read this book in seven days, and in those seven days I learned priceless lessons that I have since sought to apply in my daily affairs, with the help of Allah.

But by far, the most humbling of all lessons for me was how the characters, every single one of them, come to the realization that they are but human beings, mere creations from dust and that, ultimately, when all seems lost, it is to Allah’s decree alone which they must submit.

If I were to describe this book in a few words, it would be “a powerful lesson in tawakkul [placing one’s trust in Allah].” This book by far exceeded my expectations. May Allah reward the author with nothing less than Jannatul Firdaus.


For more information on this novel and other novels from Umm Zakiyyah, or to read an excerpt, visit the publisher’s website at