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Learning About Islam: 15 Books to Get You Started

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  • August 4, 2011
  • 6:00 pm
Learning About Islam: 15 Books to Get You Started
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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.

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Photo courtesy of hapal via flickr.

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8:50AM PST on Dec 23, 2014

Why would I want to learn about islam ? I know they hate & want to kill all who don't convert to their religion, that's enough for me,may be they need to learn more about us,I can't believe this article is on Care2.

3:45PM PDT on Sep 2, 2011

@Giovanna M
"Mayne they had a righ to inherit half, that was half more than Christian women (who didn't even had a soul)."

Well you said Muslimas had EQUAL rights, so don't bring in Christian women. You concede then since they inherit half, their testimony is half, and by the way Moe said they were deficient and most would go to hell, that they in fact were not equal. Please don't patronize us by trying to whitewash this pedophile murderer and highwayman into a feminist!

"I'm not saying Islam is perfect"

Wow, I'm sorry. I thought you were Muslim. I see by the above statement you are not.

8:18AM PDT on Aug 18, 2011

Dolores, I hate to bust you bubble but there is not now and never has been a tolerant organized religion, and do some research and you find Buddhists have committed crimes against others too, they have just never worked quite as hard as the Judeo-Christian-Isalmic tradition religions for political power to force their ideology onto others. And yes, I did intentionally say Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition as they all share more in common than the bits they hate and kill over.

5:58PM PDT on Aug 13, 2011

Some people have tried to say that the religion is good because they have met some good people who practice it. I submit that their are good people. their religion has little or nothing to do with their goodness. As I have said before, allreligions that claim to be the revelation of some deity are inherently intolerant and bigotted. Any goodness is in the person not the religion.

It is like the story of the 5 blind men and the elephant. We each perceive our world according to our life and viewpoint. If we are good we will see good.

Superstition is harmful to children and other living things

2:00PM PDT on Aug 12, 2011

The fact is that any group that claims a revelation from some deity is inherently vicious, intolerant and bigotted. It matters not if the claim comes from some bronze aged desert nomads, a 1st century apocolyptic jewish preacher, a 3rd century Roman emperor, a 7th century goatherd or a 19th century west New York farmer. They are all patriarchal, misogynistic, bigotted purveyors of massive quantities of male bovine excrement.

Superstition is harmful to children and other living things

12:51AM PDT on Aug 12, 2011


The same crapola is in the Bible and in laws that abounded in Christian countries. We may be TRYING to get past that but the GOP is making a great effort to re-color our country as an Inquisition wannabe. Your points are all dying on the vine

10:34PM PDT on Aug 9, 2011

Si?...taco bell....go straight 2 blocks ,you can't miss it.

9:42PM PDT on Aug 9, 2011

No thanks. I have heard, seen, and read enough of Islam, Christianity, all the major religions of the world. I am more interested in philosophies from the ideas of agnostics and atheists, which are much more peaceful and logically correct than ANY religion I have ever come across. No thanks guys. I like the music, the people and the art are beautiful, but the insanity of religion is a big turn-off. I don't want any part of any religion. Welcome to the 21st century. Stay in the 1st if you like, it's your choice.

2:20PM PDT on Aug 9, 2011

Cuántos prejuicios e ignorancia! No cabe duda que los discursos oficiales, que los medios de información y que la falta de interés por conocer la verdad conduce al fanatismo: fanatismo contra el islam. Qué religión está libre de sangre, de manipulación, de convenciencias, de mentiras, de asesinatos? En qué país no hay gente que muere o mata por sus creencias religiosas? Por qué nos negamos a informarnos, pensar y decidir por cuenta propia? Pecan de fundamentalistas tanto los de oriente como los de occidente.

10:27AM PDT on Aug 9, 2011

Yo; speaking about lies.. start with the ones about Jesus Christ in the quran.
That's enough. His Blood testifies against these lies. And ...even your brass admits 6 million Africans became Christian last year. Jesus; TheSon of God IS lord Sal...can't get around it......and ending my time on this earth won't change it .
and That's the Truth.......MARANATHA......Come LORD JESUS.

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