August 1 began the holy month of Ramadan for Muslims, a time of reflection on patience, spirituality and humility. This year, Ramadan falls during a time of intense upheaval, uncertainty and ignorance on the Islamic world. Yet if the three have spurred anything in the literary world, it would be the ever-growing wealth of Muslim writers and scholars publishing on their experiences, their analysis, and their projections for both Islam as a religion, and the Islamic world as a geographical region. If you’re looking for a new book for your summer reading list, check out this list of 15 books on Islam as religion, as politics, as culture and as the uniting tie between millions of people worldwide:
1. Living Islam Out Loud: American Muslim Women Speak, edited by Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur
An anthology of essays and poems on growing up female and Muslim, edited by Muslim activist Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur, also the former chief executive of the Muslim women’s magazine Azizah. Though the stories are diverse in how they look at topics such as faith, love, religion, marriage, homosexuality, abuse and expectations from American culture, what strings them together is the acknowledgement and exploration of the American Muslim woman as an identity that is never fixed, but always fluid, evolving, adaptable to changes that not only occur in faith, but in self-identification as well.
2. Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate, by Leila Ahmed
Written from an unapologetic feminist perspective, Leila Ahmed, director of the Women’s Studies program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, provides a historical survey of the historical roots that have led to contemporary Islamic conversations on women and gender, with particular attention to women’s roles in shaping Middle Eastern history. With theological and literary resources, she effectively debunks many of the dominating Western misconceptions of female subjugation in the Islamic world, attributing the stereotypes to colonialism and its use of pseudo-feminism to eschew and dominate non-Western cultures.
3. The Muslim Next-Door: The Qur’an, the Media, and That Veil Thing, by Sumbul Ali-Karamali
As the 2009 Bronze Medal Winner of the Independent Publisher’s Award, this book, written by Muslim-American author Sumbil Ali Karamali, offers clear explanations of the religion and population that has dominated mainstream news and daily conversations since 9/11. Starting with the basics of Islam and its practice, Ali-Karamali doesn’t shy away from the complicated issues of jihad, fundamentalism and female status in Islam. “I live inside my religion because it is sensible, simple, and it teaches good things like forgiveness, generosity, tolerance and compassion,” Ali-Karamali wrote in the book’s final paragraph. “I live in America because I believe it can be a nation of many faiths. As people of all religions have urged, it is time for genuine understanding and dialogue, not media hysteria and anti-Islamic racism. If we can separate the daily distortions from the reality, perhaps we can break out of that medieval framework of domination and hostility. Instead of working towards a ‘clash of civilizations,’ perhaps we can avoid a ‘clash of ignorances.’”
4. No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, by Reza Aslan
A history of Islam, by comparative religions scholar Reza Aslan, from the Middle East’s pre-Islamic climate, to the life and death of Prophet Mohammad, through its reformation of the four caliphates and then European colonization, and to today, where he argues Islam’s compatibility with democracy and the religion’s brink of another reformation.
5. Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East, edited by Reza Aslan
With the goal of shifting American views of the Middle East away “from the ubiquitous images of terrorists and fanatics,” this anthology, edited by Aslan, covers literature from the past 100 years of the Islamic world, much of which is translated here for the first time in English, representing writers as far west as Turkey and Morocco, and as far east as Pakistan. Among other things, this book provides both a moderate voice and living documentation of the cultural pluralism that has dominated and continues to push the Middle East towards the reformation that Aslan convincingly argues is on its way.
Read more: Afshin Molavi, arab, benazir bhutto, books, culture, Edward Said, egypt, Feisal Abdul Rauf, iran, islam, islamic world, israel, Leila Ahmed, literature, Maria M. Ebrahimji, Melody Moezzi, middle east, Mohsin Hamid, muslim, Omid Safi, palestine, politics, reading list, Reza Aslan, Roy Mottahedeh, Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur, Sumbul Ali-Karamali, Zahra T. Suratwala
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