Guest Review: Islam Our Choice

August 13, 2010

Today, I’m featuring a guest review from one of my favourite bloggers. I’ll let her take it from here!

My name is Amy McKie and I blog at Amy Reads. When Carina put out the call for guest posters, I had two books about women and Islam on my tbr shelf. I also knew that I was planning a women’s issues week for one of the weeks of her challenge (coincidentally, the week I would be in her city). I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to combine all 3 things. So today I offer you a review here, a review there, and (here is where you can be jealous) I get to meet her today as well!

If you are interested, stop by my blog at Amy Reads for a review of Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam by Amina Wadud.

I would definitely recommend taking a look at Amy’s blog, as she always reviews fantastic books, and our tastes are eerily similar. I haven’t read either of the books that she’s reviewing today, but she’s piqued my interest!


Book cover for "Islam Our Choice" edited by Debra L. Dirks and Stephanie Parlove.Title: Islam Our Choice: Portraits of Modern American Muslim Women

Edited by: Debra Dirks and Stephanie Parlove

Pages: 298

Publisher (Year): Amana Publications (2003)

Genre: Non-Fiction, Religion, Women

Source: my TBR shelf

Rating: 2.5/5

Why I Read It: I picked it up ever ago because it sounded interesting.

Date Read: 09/08/10

In Islam Our Choice, five American Muslim women talk about their experiences growing up and what prompted them to convert (or revert, as it is called in Islam) to Islam, as well as their experiences after that. Each woman took around 40 – 60 pages and provided a short biography of her life and her experiences with Islam.

I really enjoyed the view in to each of these women’s lives, but the whole collection had too much of a prophesying feel to it for me. I was interested in hearing how and why they chose Islam, and their experiences as Sisters in Islam, but I was less interested in feeling like they were trying to convert me, if that makes sense.

That feeling aside, I do have to admit that, as has been remarked upon already by other bloggers, I find it hard to give a rating to people’s life story. I feel as if I am judging them, which I am definitely not doing. So, as the memoirs themselves were all well done and interesting to read, I will instead review the book as if it were written to try to convert me, and I will share my general thoughts and impressions on where it was good or fell short of the mark, and my general observances.

A subject that was remarked upon a few times was these women’s treatment by other Muslims, including in other countries including Tunisia, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Israel and Egypt. These women all had only positives to say about their time abroad in Muslim countries and their experiences with other Muslims. I am not trying to be a wet blanket here, but I would expect that in those other countries it would be hard to miss that all is not how it is at home. I haven’t been to those countries, but by all accounts both in the popular media and serious (unbiased) studies, the facts appear that women are oppressed. This is not something that it seems these women ever noticed, or at least they did not mention it.

Also, they all veil, and there was no discussion or option not to, it was always remarked upon as required. I know that many Muslims chose not to veil and there is religious justification on both sides, so I found it surprising that all of the women took the veil as a hard requirement.

Another thing that was conspicuous by its absence was discussion of the different interpretations of Islam and their treatment of women. These women countered claims that women in Islam were treated as property or that they had no rights, but didn’t really acknowledge the fact that Western women think that because it is all that is seen in the media, yes, but it is also the case in some parts of the world. I would have found it better if they had acknowledged not only their Islam that they are practicing, but the fact that there are multiple interpretations and what that means. Perhaps I am thinking too much like a scholar here though, and as this was a biographical collection that doesn’t have as much of a place in the collection.

To me, a religion should be strong enough to sustain you through the good and the bad. And religion as it is practiced is never perfect, as you are always trying to strive to attain that perfection that is talked about. But it is important, I think, to acknowledge the good and the bad in any religion because it forces you to see the truth and see where you can grow, and where you can help others. This, to me, was what the collection lacked. It lacked the acknowledgement of the negatives and so felt very one-sided to me. As the book seems to have the intention to bring new converts, I think the women reading the book should get a picture of how Islam is misrepresented as well as how these women see it and practice it so that they can better respond to others in their lives after reversion. I know I would have felt more convinced by the book if the negative side of it was more acknowledged.

There were also a few sentences that grated on me as a feminist (“I found Islam’s teaching that the men were to care for the women reassuring after having had a bad marriage where I had been both the breadwinner and the child bearer” pg 237), I don’t feel that Islam is, overall, anti-women. My other review today gives some idea of that I think this is a book that would resonate more with older women, or women who don’t feel the urge to be in the workplace and creating a career – the book, while it features women who work outside the home as well, is more geared to the homemakers among us.

Overall reaction? Interesting book that definitely gave me a unique view into the lives of these women. I thank them for getting this collection together. Despite its flaws, it was a joy to read and I would recommend it to people looking to know more about how American women come to choose Islam, and how they experience it. I only hope that at some point another collection comes out that is perhaps geared to younger women, or those of us who are focused on careers and less on husbands and children.

Thank you again, Carina, for the chance to do a guest post. I’ve had a great time learning more about Islam. I’m interested to hear what you think of this book. 😀


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.

9 Comments

  • Stujallen August 13, 2010 at 8:27 am

    another great book from you amy ,most of the books I read from isalmic world are works of fiction ,often feel I should back it up slightly with some non fiction ,I found the patience stone Atiq Rahimi ,a insightful portralm of a womens life in Afghanstan ,all the best stu

    • Amy August 13, 2010 at 9:32 am

      Thanks Stu, I’ve added it to my wish list 😀

  • Niranjana (Brown Paper) August 13, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    Nice review! Like any book skewed solely towards one side, this one leaves me feeling a bit dubious about the whole thing–and wondering about the publisher’s credibility.

    • Carina August 13, 2010 at 3:43 pm

      In a lot of cases of books like this, the publisher is religious-based. Not always the case, though – I’m not sure in this one.

      • Amy August 14, 2010 at 3:14 pm

        I didn’t think to look up the publisher, but now that I do I see that they are a religious based publisher. Their website says “Amana has been in the business of publishing works of religious thinkers and writers of repute for over 20 years”. That explains it 🙂

  • zibilee August 13, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Fabulous review, Amy! I think a lot of the things in this book might stick in my throat a bit, and I know exactly how you feel about passing judgment over someone’s true life story. I think the biggest thing that would bother me about this book is the proselytizing feel to it. I am not big on that, and since I don’t do it to others, I don’t want it done to me. Overall, a thought provoking review, though I don’t know how much I would enjoy the book!

  • Amy August 14, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    Thanks zibilee, that is what bothered me too. It was definitely trying to convince me, but in a one-sided way.

  • Darlyn August 21, 2010 at 9:57 am

    Hi Amy, great review. Quite intimidating read. I really need to read the book as being a Muslim myslef, this can be something to compare to what I’ve learned and live. Thanks for highlighting!

    How can I miss Carina Ramadhan Reading. Now I’m going through all the posts.

    • Amy August 21, 2010 at 1:15 pm

      Thanks Darlyn! I’d be interested to hear what you think of the book!

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