Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Posts Tagged ‘islam’

A God Who Hates: The Courageous Woman Who Inflamed the Muslim World Speaks Out Against the Evils of Islam

Posted by nliakos on March 26, 2016

by Wafa Sultan (St. Martin’s Press 2009; ISBN 978-0-312-53835-4)

I have never read a book quite like this one before. I am a cultural relativist who tries not to judge different cultures according to the standards of American culture, and I believe that people should be have freedom to worship (or not) as they please. Wafa Sultan was born and grew up in Syria and immigrated to the U.S. when she was in her thirties. She thinks that people like me are naive. She thinks that Islam is imbued with hate and violence and that Allah is an ogre who uses people’s fear to  control them. This is strong stuff. As I was reading, I alternated between feeling repelled by her negative stereotyping, e.g., “A Muslim man can see himself only in terms of his ability to pump out money and sperm” (pg. 131) and wondering about whether there is any basis in truth for her contention that Islam is a religion based on raiding and booty and has not changed in fourteen centuries.

Sultan claims that there are no full and accurate translations of the Quran into other languages (because this is forbidden), so even non-Arabic speaking Muslims do not understand the essential messages of the text, let alone non-Muslims; but that Muslims who study and memorize the text in its original form are constantly exposed to messages of hatred, fear, prejudice, and inequality (everyone in Muslim society plays the roles of slave and master at different times). Unlike Asra Q. Nomani, who found the strength in the Quran to stand up to the cultural mores in her local mosque (Standing Alone in Mecca), Sultan views the Quran as the source of evil in the Muslim world.

I most enjoyed the parts of the book in which Sultan tells her own story, especially Chapter 7, “First Step to Freedom,” where she describes her adaptation to American life. Of course, it makes me feel good to read how she was made to feel welcome when she first came here, and I am glad that she appreciates the opportunities that living in the U.S. has afforded her. However, I was very uncomfortable with her many statements that all Muslims are lying when they act friendly to Americans. Sultan herself, as well as her husband, clearly constitute exceptions to her rule that all true Muslims think this or do that (despite rejecting the teachings of Islam, she still considers herself to be Muslim and the product of a Muslim upbringing), so why does she accuse all other Arab Muslims of being potential terrorists? (Donald Trump must love her.) As I read, I thought to myself, in my forty-plus-year career as an ESL teacher, I taught numerous Muslims, and I really can’t believe that every one of them actually hated me and considered me as no better than a prostitute because I don’t cover my hair. I remembered specific students I have had who confided in me and sought guidance from me, and I don’t believe this slander of their characters. But what about a reader who has never met a Muslim, or an Arab? That reader would be more likely to accept Sultan’s claims at face value.

Sultan insists that she loves her adopted country, yet she cannot bring herself to espouse some of its most basic values. She was appalled at Colin Powell’s statement that there would be nothing wrong with electing a Muslim president of the U.S., saying, “Islam is not just a religion: It is a political doctrine that imposes itself by force, and we have to subject to microscopic scrutiny any Muslim in America who ascends to the heights of [the Presidency].” (pg. 240) She sounds like Ben Carson or Ted Cruz. (I hope she has also reconsidered her statement that “any American capable of being a presidential candidate is an American worthy of my trust” (pg. 238) in this day of Donald Trump.)

There were many moments when I wanted to stop reading, but I made myself read to the end because I think it’s important to be exposed to the opinions of others, even when they go against our own beliefs, so as to achieve a better understanding of where they are coming from. It’s not something I do often enough.

If any of my former Muslim students reads this post, I would very much like to know their opinions about it and about the book, if they read it.

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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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My Isl@m: How Fundamentalism Stole My Mind–and Doubt Freed My Soul

Posted by nliakos on April 4, 2015

by Amir Ahmad Nasr (St. Martin’s Press 2013, ISBN 1-250-01679-9)

Amir Ahmad Nasr, aka Drima (author of the blog The Sudanese Thinker) was born in Sudan, grew up partly in Qatar and partly in Indonesia , and has traveled in many different countries, chronicles his search for truth as a teenager and young adult. Although his parents were tolerant of other faiths, he was impressed by fundamentalist and intolerant thinking in school. However, the urge to become a jihadist was balanced against the more rationalist views of people he met in his life and most particularly, online after he discovered the blogosphere and began to write his own blog in 2006 . To his credit, Nasr followed and read the entire spectrum of bloggers, from the wacko Muslim jihadists to the wacko Israeli and American far-right, and everything in between, and he found kindred souls among Muslim bloggers and journalists like Sandmonkey, Mona Eltahawy, Wael Abbas, and others.

The real focus of the book is his religious, not political, journey. He employs the metaphor of a marriage in which he is the groom and Islam is the bride. In Part One, “The Arranged Marriage,” he describes being born and educated in a purely Muslim world. Part Two, “The Fall from Grace,” describes how doubts about his beliefs began to plague him, and in Part Three, “The Painful Heartbreak,” he loses his faith in God. Part Four is “the Messy Divorce,” in which he stops even the semblance of religious practice, and part Five, “The Reconciliation,” narrates how he found a way to reconcile religion and rational thinking. Along the way, there is a lot of angst; I can’t imagine how he managed to actually complete his university studies what with all the blogging, blogging conferences, and reading about religion, politics, and philosophy, but somehow he did. I suppose that his passion will mellow as he gets older. As he describes sleepless nights spent mourning his lost love, I thought about how questions of religion and politics can  consume us when we are university students and in our early twenties. For better or for worse, the kind of passion we feel at 20 is likely to diminish by the time we are 40 or 60. So it will be for Drima, in all probability. I may start following his blog, just to see what happens.

I admire Nasr’s determination to be honest with himself (even when it makes him look bad) and to continually seek truth, even when it is inconvenient or painful. He seems like a kind and good person at heart.

I learned a lot from this book, which I just picked off the biography shelves at my local library. That is always a positive thing.

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Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam

Posted by nliakos on August 15, 2012

by Asra Q. Nomani (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006)

Asra Nomani was born in India but raised mostly in the United States. This book describes how she confronted her own faith by going on the Hajj with her parents, her niece and nephew, and her baby son, Shibli. The book describes in detail her experiences before, during, and after the Hajj and then follows her as she musters up the courage to speak out for the rights of women in Islam in the United States, and at her own home mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia in particular.

Along the way, Nomani shares what she is learning about her religion. I knew some but learned much that I did not know about Islam–its history, principles, practices, sects. Nomani writes that the Prophet intended women to play an important role in Islam, but that his progressive vision has been hijacked by conservative men seeking to consolidate their power over women. (Interestingly, in Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes the opposite claim: according to her, Islam is basically skewed against women. Who is right? Does it depend on which hadith (saying attributed to the Prophet) you believe?)

Nomani expects to find discrimination and judgment in Mecca; instead, she finds that men, women and children pray together in Islam’s holiest places during the Hajj. Subsequently, she is surprised and hurt by the vehemence of the resistance she encounters back in Morgantown when she attempts to open the mosque to women (who are traditionally expected to use a separate entrance and to pray in a separate part of the mosque where they cannot see or hear the prayer leader well, if they choose to pray in the mosque, which is not even expected of them).  Her parents, in particular her father, support her throughout her struggle to convince or force the mosque leaders to grant women equal access to the mosque. In her frustration, she sometimes rewards him by scolding him, as if he were to blame, but he remains her staunch supporter.

Reading the book showed me many sides of Islam. Like Christianity, it is not one thing. This should be obvious, but I don’t think it is to many people. Readers of Standing Alone in Mecca will finish the book with a much greater understanding of Islam than they had when they began it.

Posted in Non-fiction | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »