Although she’d cultivated an academic interest in Islam at university, Willow Wilson’s religious awakening really came in the hospital. She was suffering from adrenal distress, and its symptoms – including insomnia and hair loss – would last for a year and a half. “Being ill had shaken something loose in my head,” the 27-year-old writes in her new memoir The Butterfly Mosque (Grove Press, 2010). “That so many people were well – that I had been well for so long – seemed miraculous.”
After she recovered, Ms. Wilson accepted a teaching position in Cairo: Her decision to convert to Islam came mid-flight, over the Mediterranean. Days later, she would meet her future husband Omar, a pious Muslim and heavy-metal aficionado, at their English-language school. He showed her markets and cafés free of Westerners, and later steered her through her first Ramadan.