Today, I’m featuring a post written by an American author whose books caused quite a stir when they were published. Here’s a brief introduction in her own words:
Sherry Jones is an author and journalist living in Spokane, Washington. She is at work on a new historical novel about four sisters who all became queens in thirteenth-century Europe. Visit her website or find her on Facebook.
I also asked Sherry to suggest some books for non-Muslims to read. You can find these recommendations at the end of her guest post.
Make sure you stay tuned later this week, as I’m going to be featuring guest reviews on Wednesday of her books Jewel of Medina and Sword of Medina!
Muslims propose a community center and mosque near the former World Trade Center, and what happens in our so-called Christian country? With “God is love” as our central tenet, do we reach across cultures and religions and try to heal the psychic wounds caused by al-Qaeda’s attacks on Sept. 11, 2001? Do we strive to understand one another, and how terrorism hurts everyone irrespective of religious faith? Do we forgive, and seek forgiveness?
We’ve seen some of that, sure – for example, in New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s moving speech advocating the Muslim center. But the ugly twin heads of fear and ignorance stand in place of the Twin Towers, prompting violence, insults, and outright lies about Islam.
Honor killings, Islamic? Not in the Prophet Muhammad’s time. Stoning as the punishment for adultery? That didn’t happen while he lived. Female genital mutilation? That’s cultural, not Islamic, and it was not practiced in the original Muslim community. Terrorism isn’t Islamic, either, by the way: Muhammad admonished his followers to use violence only in self-defense.
In fact, as readers of my novels The Jewel of Medina and The Sword of Medina know, the Prophet Muhammad, revealer of Islam, preached – and practiced – equality and justice for all, rich and poor, male and female. “Fear your Lord who created you from a single soul,” he said in the Qur’an. You can’t get more egalitarian than that.
Muhammad helped women, and gave them many important rights such as the right to inherit property and testify in court. During Muhammad’s time, women fought in battles and prayed in mosques alongside men. His inner circle of Companions included many women, including his youngest and most beloved wife, A’isha, a cheeky, outspoken girl who talked back to her husband, gave political advice to Muhammad and his successors, and led troops in the first Islamic civil war. That A’isha became the most powerful and influential women in all of Islam speaks volumes about Muhammad’s attitudes toward women.
My novels, both about A’isha’s amazing life, sprang from a wish to learn more about this much-maligned religion and its founders. A journalist for thirty years, I approached the topic with an open mind, recognizing that most of what I was hearing about Islam probably wasn’t true. As I wrote, I hoped that my books would inspire non-Muslims, especially women, with A’isha’s tale of love and empowerment. But a small part of me also hoped that my novels would help build bridges of understanding between Muslim and non-Muslim cultures.
Published now in 20 languages, The Jewel of Medina has, for many readers, accomplished what I hoped it would. “You’ve put a human face on the Muslim religion,” a Christian man wrote to me. And a Muslim woman from Saudi Arabia told me she learned from my books stories about A’isha that she had never been taught in her madrassa — stories of A’isha’s strength and power that gave her a sense of her own possibilities within her faith.
Judging from the stupid, hate-filled comments we’re hearing in response to the mosque proposal, however, much more needs to be done. Educating ourselves, and each other, is the very best way to dispel hurtful rumors and eradicate hate. It’s the only way for non-Muslims to find empathy for Muslims, seeing them not as enemies to be conquered but as humans like ourselves with the same hopes, fears, desires, and struggles that we experience. Understanding, I believe, leads to empathy – which is the only path to peace.
Five books I recommend for non-Muslims:
- Women and Islam: An Historical and Theological Enquiry by Fatima Mernissi. This fascinating, approachable book by one of the pre-eminent feminist scholars in Islam explores the Prophet Muhammad’s treatment of his wives and its implications for all women in Islam.
- Aishah the Beloved of Muhammad by Nabia Abbot. One of my primary sources for The Jewel of Medina and The Sword of Medina, this biography of A’isha bint Abi Bakr, the youngest and most beloved wife of the Prophet Muhammad, presents her as a feisty, witty woman who overcame great cultural obstacles to find her own power.
- The Trouble with Islam Today by Irshad Manji. Founder of the Moral Courage Project at New York University, Manji, a feminist Muslim, takes a hard and honest look at the changes wrought by patriarchy in Islam that led to fundamentalist oppression of women today.
- Standing Alone: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam by Asra Nomani. An American journalist tells of her journey to Mecca in search of her spiritual roots and her discovery there of the egalitarian nature of Islam – followed by her return to West Virginia where she led an unsuccessful struggle for women’s equal access to her community’s mosque.
- Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. This beautifully wrought book not only offers insights into some of the West’s great literary works, but recounts an Iranian woman’s real-life struggle to reclaim the power lost to women after the Islamic revolution of 1979-1981.
This book is a part of the Ramadan Reading event happening here this month.
You can find other posts in the series by clicking on the image to the right, or by taking a look at the schedule of posts and reviews.