Aaron Vlek embraced Islam in the 1970’s while living in the San Francisco Bay Area, long before the modern wave of religiosity had infused the American Muslim community. Her earliest friendships with Muslims were her local Iranian and Palestinian communities, where she became exposed to diverse languages, cultures and ethnic manifestations of Islam. Vlek eventually chose to follow the path of Sufism, which satisfied her both intellectually and spiritually. Four decades later she has poured her experiences into Jinn Theory, a work of fiction that is both intellectual and spiritual in the subjects it explores.
Jinn Theory follows a series of characters living in Istanbul as they go about their seemingly mundane lives. As any great mystic will tell you, however, there is magic in the mundane and this is precisely what Vlek captures by weaving her simple story through each of these characters’ daily lives.
Written primarily from the perspective of an antique shop owner named Rafiq, the seemingly disparate characters in Jinn Theory include his closest friend the baker; a sophisticated but haughty academic woman; an over-zealous Sufi; and a group of fundamentalists who run the local mosque. Yet through the telling of the story, all of these lives become intertwined after an old coin inexplicably shows up in Rafiq’s shoe, and otherworldly occurrences begin to penetrate his uneventful life.
Vlek’s novel is a testament to her own spiritual journey. At the age of thirteen she inherited an entire library of books on mysticism when her step-grandfather passed. She then devoted many years thereafter to exploring her innate spirituality on her own terms. Vlek’s journey to Islam was sparked when, as an adult, she discovered a local bookstore selling dozens of small, inexpensive books on the subject. She soon became engrossed in exploring Islam, which called to her on a visceral level. For Vlek, her religious path has revealed itself not only through academic study, but also through bona fide spiritual experience.
Contemporary fiction about the Muslim world is often dripping with tragedy and horror, relying on war or oppression as an overarching motif for their plots. So, it is a refreshing change to read a book that instead captures some of the beauty and spirituality that has inspired generations of mystics within this faith tradition. The writing in Jinn Theory is sweet, innocent and simple. It transcends modernity and offers the reader an escape into a quaint and gentle world.
Jinn Theory is a work of fiction that is as eclectic and human as American Muslims themselves. There is no social or political agenda to this book, but there is a very simple spiritual agenda: to remind us that there is much in this world we do not know and can’t control—and those are the things that cause us to grow in our faith.
Jinn Theory by Aaron Vlek is available at Amazon.com; its sequel is currently in progress.