Saturday, September 1, 2012

Next Perspective

I read The Muslim Next Door - The Qur'an, the Media, and that Veil Thing by Sumbul Ali-Karamali with the hope of gaining some understanding of the Qur'an.  But, as I should have expected from the title, it is about much more than that.  Living in South East Michigan, I was probably not Ali-Karamali's target reader, as Muslims are already a part of my family's daily life.  In fact, when my daughter was in 4th grade, I brought in rice krispy treats for her birthday, thinking that I was doing well by avoiding both nuts and gluten.  But alas, the Muslim girls wouldn't eat them.  This was a new one for me!  It turns out, as Ali-Karamali mentions in her book, that marshmallows contain pork gelatin, and instead there are special Halal Krispy Treats made for Muslim children.

Although much of the book was an introduction to the lives of Muslims in America, I did learn a thing or two about the Qur'an and rules that most Muslims follow.  Specifically, I didn't realize that the Qur'an is as new as it is.  It was first compiled into a book in 650 A.D.  For its time, the Qur'an was actually quite progressive in treating women as equals in terms of issues like inheritance, when they would not inherit equally in England for centuries.  Additionally, the Qur'an is somewhat fluid, in that its interpretation changes with the time and culture.  I was also surprised that there are not central leaders, and that imams are just people who are able to lead prayers, not necessarily people trained in the meaning of the Qur'an.

In the wake of 9/11, the media and many commentators quoted sections of the Qur'an in support of the position that the Muslim religion is necessarily violent, and seeks to dominate others.  Ali-Karamali accurately responds by pointing out that lines of the Bible, taken out of context like the lines of the Qur'an quoted by these talking heads, are just as violent and domineering.  Ali Karamali's message is that Muslim Americans are just like us, and are outraged by extremists who act in the name of Islam but are actually defying the word of the Qur'an.  The Qur'an itself, as she explains, authorizes violence only in defense, and places a premium on maintaining peace and offering forgiveness.

I also hadn't realized how many of the issues that we may think of as being Islamic or Muslim are really culturally specific to the country.  For instance, there is nothing in the Qur'an that says that women can't drive, and Muslim women drive in most countries, just not Saudi Arabia.  The same is true of the veil.  Whether a woman wears a veil or not may have more to do with where she is living or where her family is from than with the words of the Qur'an.

If you are looking for an in depth study of the Qu'ran, this is probably not the book for you.  However, if you don't know any Muslims, and would like to hear the perspective of a Muslim American woman, you may enjoy this book.

One more down for the Support Your Library Challenge!

Next up:  I was Told There'd be Cake by Sloane Crosley

Still Listening to:  Freddy and Fredericka by Mark Helprin

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