Tuesday, September 14th, 2010
Every day during Ramadan, I shared a book from my shelves which has influences me and helped me on my journey towards a better understanding of Islam and faith. Here are the recommendations compiled into one list:
Day 1 recommendation: “Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari’a” by Abdullahi An-Nai’m. The Quran was revealed to Prophet Mohammed during Ramadan. The first word was “Read”. In that spirit, each day of Ramadan I’ll recommend a book on Islam from my library. I’m often asked which books have influenced me – I’ll be sharing them over the next month. Day one recommendation
Day 2 recommendation: “Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam” by Amina Wadud. I have often said that praying behind Amina Wadud in March 2005 when she led 100 of us – 50 women, 50 men – in a mixed-gender Friday prayer was one of the most moving moments of my life. Whenever I meet Amina I tell her she’s my hero. This is one of two books by her from my bookshelf which has inspired and influenced me. In it, she explains her journey to Islam, her involvement with women’s rights and social justice movements and groups and the circumstances that led to and followed the Friday prayer.
Day 3 recommendation: “Conference of the Books: The Search for Beauty in Islam” by Khaled Abou El Fadl. I bought this book soon after I arrived in the U.S. The words “beauty” and “Islam” in the subtitle are what drew me. Like Amina Wadud and Abdullahi An-Nai’m, Khaled Abou El Fadl has been instrumental in shaping and inspiring my journey here in the U.S.
Day 4 recommendation: “Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate” by Leila Ahmed. Ahmed and Fatima Mernissi saved my mind when, as a young feminist struggling with the headscarf and (freshly returned to Egypt after almost eight years in the UK and six years in Saudi Arabia), with finding my own way.
Day 5 recommendation: “Sexual Ethics in Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith and Jurisprudence” by Kecia Ali covers sex, concubines, same-sex sex, FGM and a whole host of other questions you had but would ask really quietly.
Day 6 recommendation: “Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism” edited by Omid Safi is full of essays by a who’s who of scholars of progressive Islam including: Khaled Abou El Fadl, Amina Wadud, Ebrahim Moosa, Sa’diyya Shaikh, Farish Noor, Scott Siraj al-Haq Kugle and Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons.
Day 7 recommendation: “When You Hear Hoofbeats, Think of a Zebra” by Shems Friedlander. Opening lines: “When we hear hoofbeats, do we think of a zebra? Probably not. Because we usually do everything the way we’ve always done it. I’m interested in how we perceive reality and how we gain the knowledge to accomplish this. Islam and Sufism ask us to gain knowledge. To have knowledge of Allah it is necessary to have knowledge of ourselves. If we truly know ourselves, then we will know Allah. If Allah allows us to know Him, we might know ourselves.”
Day 8 recommendation: “Faith and Freedom: Women’s Human Rights in the Muslim World” edited by Mahnaz Afkhami. This book was launched at the U.N. Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995. I took a month off from work to go to China for the conference and was thrilled to get a copy, meet fellow Muslim women and feminists there and to see that many of my favourite authors are included in the book, such as Fatima Mernissi, whose books will appear later on my list of recommendations.
Day 9 recommendation: “Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights and International Law” by Abdullahi An-Nai’m. When I was about 19, attending King AbdulAziz University in Jeddah, a friend of mine was complaining to me about some cleric or other’s opinion that she found very sexist. I vowed right there on the spot never to read or listen to another Muslim man again. And I meant it. Until I came across this book by Abdullahi An-Nai’m, the Sudanese-American scholar and law professor at Emory University. Reading his views on equality of the sexes and squaring Islam with universal human rights persuaded me to give Muslim men another chance.
Day 10 recommendation: “A Border Passage: From Cairo to America-A Woman’s Journey”. This is the second book by Leila Ahmed on my list. I mentioned when I recommended the first book by her that she is one of my heroes and that her writing and scholarship were instrumental in saving my mind as I struggled to find my own way. It’s always good to get a more personal look at one’s heroes which is where “A Border Passage”, Ahmed’s memoir comes in. She’s an exquisite writer so it’s a delight to follow her journeys and to observe the construction of her various identities as she crossed new borders.
Day 11 recommendation: “The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist’s Interpretations of Women’s Rights in Islam” by Fatima Mernissi. If there is a reason I am (somewhat!) sane today, it is because I discovered Fatima Mernissi’s “The Veil and the Male Elite” along with Leila Ahmed’s “Women and Gender in Islam” in my early 20s. I will be sharing other Mernissi books from my library.
Day 12 recommendation: “Nothing Sacred: Women Respond to Religious Fundamentalism and Terror” edited by Betsy Reed and Katha Pollitt. The “opposite of fundamentalism is feminism” writes Pollitt who along with Reed collected voices of women from Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism to trace the common thread of misogyny that runs through extremist wings of all those religions. Great essay in there about Women Living Under Muslim Laws, an international solidarity network that provides information, support and a collective space for women whose lives are shaped, conditioned or governed by laws and customs said to derive from Islam.
Day 13 recommendation: “’Believing Women’ in Islam – Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’an” by Asma Barlas. From opening page “The central question I have posed in this book, whether or not the Qur’an is a patriarchal text, is perhaps not a meaningful one from the Qur’an’s perspective since its teachings are not framed in terms of the claims made by either traditional or modern patriarchies. However, since the Qur’an was revealed in/to an existing patriarchy and has been interpreted by adherents of patriarchies ever since, Muslim women have a stake in challenging its patriarchal exegesis.”
Day 14 recommendation: “Homosexuality in Islam: Islamic Reflection on Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Muslims” by Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle’s book just arrived so I haven’t read it yet. In its favour though are: the essay he wrote on the same subject in “Progressive Muslims” (which I recommended a few days ago), Daayiee Abdullah gave me a headsup and it was also recommended by a friend on Twitter who read it and who said it left her in tears, and another thing in its favour is that in his acknowledgements Kugle thanks Amina Wadud, one of my heroes, and Kecia Ali, whose book “Sexual Ethics in Islam” I recommended a few days ago. So, I’m very much looking forward to reading and learning.
Day 15 recommendation: “Journey to the End of Islam” by Michael Muhammad Knight. I’ve been a fan of Michael’s writings since way back in the days of MuslimWakeUp! My list for the month focuses only on non-fiction or else I would’ve also included his seminal “Taqwacores”. Re “Journey to the End of Islam”, how can you resist a book that begins by comparing pilgrimage to ‘Fantastic Voyage’ “(the Isaac Asimov novel, not the Coolio song) but you’re not only the microscopic explorers; you’re also the body being explored. After making your way through the circulatory system and reaching the end of your mission, tunes out it was just a journey to the center of you.
Day 16 recommendation: “Islam’s Black Slaves: The Other Diaspora” by Ronald Segal pokes at a sore spot many like to ignore: the slave trade that went East and South rather than West. From a Guardian review: “There is much to be angry about in this book – and not just in the actions of the Arab and sub-Saharan slavers, but in the Islamic scholars today who seek to wish away or deny altogether the existence of this other black diaspora.”
Day 17 book recommendation: “Voice of an Exile: Reflections on Islam” by Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid with Esther R. Nelson. Dr. Nasr was one of my heroes. I eulogized him in an essay soon after his passing. I loved this book because like Leila Ahmed’s “A Border Passage: From Cairo to America, A Woman’s Journey”, “Voice of an Exile” gives great insight into how Dr. Nasr developed his ideas and how the personal affected the intellectual positions and vice versa. May you be resting in peace, Dr. Nasr.
Day 18 recommendation: “The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley” by Malcolm X, Alex Haley and Attallah Shabbaz. Everyone should’ve read this by now! Even more now considering the rally and march I went to in DC today (Reclaim the Dream to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech), considering the place of MLK and Malcolm X in the Civil Rights Movement and Black consciousness, considering MLK and Malcolm in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing”, considering the anti-Muslim hate spewing in too many parts of this country today.
Day 19 recommendation: “The Place of Tolerance in Islam” by Khaled Abou El Fadl, Joshua Cohen and Ian Lague. There are several books by Khaled Abou El Fadl on my bookshelf. I’ve already featured “The Conference of the Books: The Search for Beauty Within Islam” as a recommendation earlier. In today’s book, he debates tolerance with several others, including Amina Wadud, Tariq Ali and Milton Viorst.
Day 20 recommendation: “Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text From a Woman’s Perspective” by Amina Wadud. My second book by Amina Wadud’s (the first was “Inside the Gender Jihad”). Quranic exegesis, or tafsir, was for too long a male preserve. Thank God for Amina Wadud and other women scholars who used their scholarship to change that.
Day 21 book recommendation: “American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion” by Paul Barrett profiles seven American Muslims. I had the pleasure to speak on two different panels on American Muslims with Paul – one at the 92nd St. Y along with Altaf Husain and Asra Nomani and the other at the Council on Foreign Relations along with Altaf Husain. I wish there were more books like his around.
Day 22 recommendation: “Defenders of Reason in Islam: Mu’tazilism and Rational Theology from Medieval School to Modern Symbol” by Richard C. Martin. Jamal Mahmood kindly lent me this book and I must buy my own copy so that I can return it to him. Thank you for your patience, Jamal! I’m learning a lot from this book about the Medieval Muslim “rationalist” theological school known as Mu’tazila.
Day 23 book recommendation: “Windows of Faith: Muslim Women Scholar-Activists in North America” edited by Gisela Webb. This book definitely needs an update! It was great to buy it and learn about the work of the wonderful women in it, who include Riffat Hassan, Azizah Y. al-Hibri, Mohja Kahf, Amina Beverly McCloud, Asifa Quraishi, Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons and Amina Wadud. Now we need a second volume that includes more great North American Muslim women.
Day 24 book recommendation: “How Does it Feel to be a Problem: Being Young and Arab in America” by Moustafa Bayoumi poignantly portrays the lives of seven Arab-Americans, six Muslims and one Christian, living in Brooklyn after 9/11. As with Park51, conservative bloggers have attacked the book, Elizabeth Minkel writes on the New Yorker blog, as part of the “growing sentiment that Muslims – led by President Obama, of course – are working to destroy America. It’s a shame that Moustafa Bayoumi’s book, a thoughtful and highly regarded portrait of the group living with this growing antagonism, has to be at the heart of it.”
Day 25 book recommendation: “Living Islam Out Loud: American Muslim Women Speak” edited by Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur brings together a diverse group of American Muslim women to speak for themselves.
Day 26 recommendation: “Liberal Islam: A Sourcebook” edited by Charles Kurzman. I was surprised by some of the selected authors/scholars that Charles Kurzman chose but others such as Mahmud Mohammed Taha and Fazlur Rahman) were good to see. Essays organized under six views that Kurzman describes as constituting liberal Islam.
Day 27 recommendation: “iMuslims: Rewiring the House of Islam” by Gary R. Bunt is a book I assign to my students. It’s a great resource for looking at the impact of the internet/social media on Muslims around the world. Gary looks at both how transformative online activity has been for Muslim debate and discussions – did you know you could perform a virtual Haj? – and the ways extremist groups have used such networking. I was so glad to see MuslimWakeup! mentioned. Ziauddin Sardar wrote a good for the Independent. Look for Zia’s book “Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim.”
Day 28 recommendation: “Taking Back God: American Women Rising Up for Religious Equality” by Leora Tanenbaum portrays the similar battles Jewish, Christian and Muslim women in the U.S. face and how they “rising up and demanding religious equality. These women love their religion but hate their second-class status within it.”
Day 29 recommendation: “Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society” by Fatima Mernissi. The second Mernissi books to make my list:
Day 30 recommendation: My final book recommendation for this Ramadan comes with additional symbolism: “The Qur’an: A new translation by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem.” Read! Don’t Burn! I started my recommendations by remembering that the first word revealed to Prophet Mohammed was “Read”. I’m glad to have shared some books that I’ve enjoyed reading and which have helped me on my own path. Happy Eid!