During the month of Ramadan (August 11 – September 10), I am going to be posting daily reviews of books that deal with Islam, as well as other discussion posts related to the topics that come out of these books. I will be writing about both fiction and non-fiction books, and from a variety of sources and perspectives.
With the announcement this week that my partner is moving to Vancouver for a new job, my reading got put on semi-hiatus for a couple days, and so I don’t have a review for you today. (I’ll be back with the daily reviews starting Friday.)
In the meantime, though, I’m going to highlight some other books – some that I’ve read, some that I haven’t – that didn’t make it into the schedule for Ramadan Reading this year. This is by no means a comprehensive list, nor does it mean that they are necessarily the best books you can find – but they are books that I’ve at least heard of, and that you might find interesting.
Michael Muhammad Knight embarks on a quest for an indigenous American Islam in a series of interstate odysseys. Traveling 20,000 miles by Greyhound in sixty days, he squats in run-down mosques, pursues Muslim romance, is detained at the U.S.-Canadian border with a trunkload of Shia literature, crashes Islamic Society of North America conventions, stink-palms Cat Stevens, and limps across Chicago to find the grave of Noble Drew Ali, filling dozens of notebooks along the way. The result is this semi-autobiographical book, with multiple histories of Fard and the landscape of American Islam woven into Knight’s own story.
In the course of his adventures, Knight sorts out his own relationship to Islam as he journeys from punk provocateur to a recognized voice in the community, and watches first-hand the collapse of a liberal Islamic dream. The book’s extensive cast of characters includes anarchist Sufi heretics, vegan kungfu punks, tattoo-sleeved converts in hard-core bands, spiritual drug dealers, Islamic feminists, slick media entrepreneurs, sages of the street, the grandsons of Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X, and a group called Muslims for Bush.
Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Azar Nafisi, a bold and inspired teacher, secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. Some came from conservative and religious families, others were progressive and secular; some had spent time in jail. They were shy and uncomfortable at first, unaccustomed to being asked to speak their minds, but soon they removed their veils and began to speak more freely–their stories intertwining with the novels they were reading by Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, as fundamentalists seized hold of the universities and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the women in Nafisi’s living room spoke not only of the books they were reading but also about themselves, their dreams and disappointments.
Azar Nafisi’s luminous masterwork gives us a rare glimpse, from the inside, of women’s lives in revolutionary Iran. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a work of great passion and poetic beauty, a remarkable exploration of resilience in the face of tyranny, and a celebration of the liberating power of literature.
Syrian immigrant Khadra Shamy is growing up in a devout, tightly knit Muslim family in 1970s Indiana, at the crossroads of bad polyester and Islamic dress codes. Along with her brother Eyad and her African-American friends, Hakim and Hanifa, she bikes the Indianapolis streets exploring the fault-lines between “Muslim” and “American.”
When her picture-perfect marriage goes sour, Khadra flees to Syria and learns how to pray again. On returning to America she works in an eastern state—taking care to stay away from Indiana, where the murder of her friend Tayiba’s sister by Klan violence years before still haunts her. But when her job sends her to cover a national Islamic conference in Indianapolis, she’s back on familiar ground finding herself attending a concert by her brother’s interfaith band The Clash of Civilizations, dodging questions from the “aunties” and “uncles,” and running into the recently divorced Hakim everywhere.
Beautifully written and featuring an exuberant cast of characters, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf charts the spiritual and social landscape of Muslims in middle America, from five daily prayers to the Indy 500 car race. It is a riveting debut from an important new voice.
Fourteen centuries of Islamic thought have produced a legacy of interpretive readings of the Qu’ran written almost entirely by men. Now, with Qu’ran and Woman, Amina Wadud provides a first interpretive reading by a woman, a reading which validates the female voice in the Qu’ran and brings it out of the shadows. Muslim progressives have long argued that it is not the religion but patriarchal interpretation and implementation of the Qu’ran that have kept women oppressed. For many, the way to reform is the reexamination and reinterpretation of religious texts. Qu’ran and Woman contributes a gender inclusive reading to one of the most fundamental disciplines in Islamic thought, Qu’ranic exegesis. Wadud breaks down specific texts and key words which have been used to limit women’s public and private role, even to justify violence toward Muslim women, revealing that their original meaning and context defy such interpretations. What her analysis clarifies is the lack of gender bias, precedence, or prejudice in the essential language of the Qur’an. Despite much Qu’ranic evidence about the significance of women, gender reform in Muslim society has been stubbornly resisted. Wadud’s reading of the Qu’ran confirms women’s equality and constitutes legitimate grounds for contesting the unequal treatment that women have experienced historically and continue to experience legally in Muslim communities. The Qu’ran does not prescribe one timeless and unchanging social structure for men and women, Wadud argues lucidly, affirming that the Qu’ran holds greater possibilities for guiding human society to a more fulfilling and productive mutual collaboration between men and women than as yet attained by Muslims or non-Muslims.
Fatema Mernissi, the world-renowned Islamic feminist, has shed unprecedented light on the lives of women in the Middle East, in works hailed as “enchanting” (The New York Times Book Review), “exuberant” (Elle), and “remarkable” (The Washington Post Book World). Now, in Scheherazade Goes West, Mernissi reveals her unique experiences as a liberated, independent Moroccan woman faced with the peculiarities and unexpected encroachments of Western culture. Her often surprising discoveries about the conditions of and attitudes toward women around the world — and the exquisitely embroidered amalgam of clear-eyed autobiography and dazzling meta-fiction by which she relates those assorted discoveries — add up to a deliciously wry, engagingly cosmopolitan, and deeply penetrating narrative.