Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran

Posted by nliakos on November 27, 2015

by Carla Power (Holt 2015; ISBN 978-0-8050-9819-8)

According to the copyright page, this book should be searchable under “Muslim converts–Biography”, which is peculiar because Carla Power, a secular American journalist, never converted to Islam during (nor, so far as I can tell, after) the year she spent studying the Quran with her friend Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi. Power spent much of her childhood in Muslim countries (Egypt, Afghanistan…), but she is your basic non-believer. The Sheikh, as she calls him (or sometimes just Akram), grew up in a small Indian village, studied in a madrasa in Lucknow, India, as well as in Syria and Saudi Arabia, and lives in England, where he teaches at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. They met when they worked together at the Centre during the nineties, and he gave her extraordinary access to his time and expertise during the year covered by the book.

Sheikh Nadwi is an amalgam of a very conservative scholar who bases his entire life on the Quran, and an open-minded thinker tolerant of others’ views and foibles. He comes across as a wise and humble human being. He is also the father of daughters and the author of a forty-volume study of Muslim women scholars going back to the time of the Prophet. He is unafraid to criticize the shrill and violent version of Islam practiced by jihadists; he is very sensitive to what is in the Quran versus the culture of one’s country of origin.

Power tries to explain how the Skeikh’s  Muslim worldview differs from the Western/Judeo-Christian one, and also where they share some things in common. As a non-believer, she is unable to accept some of what he says, but she respects the power of his beliefs.

In these days of Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, Boko Haram, and the like, this book teases out what Islam is, and what it is not. A reader comes away with a much better understanding of this important world religion.



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