The Scope of Permissibility

Zeynab Gamieldien

The Scope of Permissibility
Ultimo Press
5 July 2023

The Scope of Permissibility

Zeynab Gamieldien

A stunning debut novel that follows the intertwined lives of three friends as they navigate the complexities of university life, adherence to their faith, and the transition into adulthood.

Bound together by their shared beliefs and alienation from wider Australian society, Sara, Abida and Naeem are drawn to their university's Muslim Students' Association. Within its walls, Sara and Naeem begin a covert relationship, while Abida campaigns for the group's presidency. But Abida's ambitions for leadership threatens both her longstanding friendship with Sara and the increasingly fragile relationship between Sara and Naeem.

As tensions rise and loyalties falter, the three must balance the demands of love, faith and ambition, with each decision they make having the potential to change their lives forever.

Told through three distinct perspectives, The Scope of Permissibility is a poignant coming-of-age tale that captures the push and pull of expectation and autonomy.


In her debut novel, Zeynab Gamieldien’s characters navigate exams, friendships, families and religion within the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) at their Sydney university. Sara is an honest (albeit blunt) friend who is tired of explaining her religion and South African heritage to people. Naeem is a hafidh who reads the Quran beautifully, but finds his gaze slipping from the text to Sara’s green eyes in a way that makes his heart jolt in both excitement and guilt. Abida is determined to rip the rose-coloured glasses from the eyes of her fellow university students by becoming the next president of the MSA. Though all three live separate lives, their desires and ambitions begin to intertwine.

Gamieldien’s third-person perspective offers readers insight into the minds of Sara, Naeem and Abida – three very different characters who each show us different circumstances and ways of living, whether this be through practicing religion constantly or occasionally, being rich or poor, being afraid of one’s family or being so close to your siblings that you might as well be their second mother.

I warmed to this book, though slowly at first. It is character rather than plot- driven, and the action only really kicks in just before the halfway point. However, Gamieldien’s exposure of Islamophobia, patriarchal authority and wealth gaps in Australia make her debut a compelling read. Equally, the angst between Naeem and Sara is all too realistic, and I couldn’t help but feel a burning hope for these two characters to love each other and Allah at the same time. Gamieldien provides a nuanced discussion of love versus lust, and it was this coupled with her brilliant social commentaries that inspired me to keep on reading and devour this book all at once one sunny afternoon.

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