The Muslim Next Door: The Qur’an, the Media, and that Veil Thing

Book Cover - Muslim Next Door

Since 9/11, stories about Muslims and the Islamic world have flooded headlines, politics, and water-cooler conversations all across the country. And, although Americans hear about Islam on a daily basis, there remains no clear explanation of Islam or its people.

The author of this book is an American Muslim of Indian origin. Brought up and educated in California and London, the author was shocked by the tragic events of September 11, 2001 but, like other American Muslims, she was frequently asked questions by her friends, colleagues and acquaintances about her faith and its practices. This inspired the author to write this book.

According to the author, this book attempts to �??show what it means to be Muslim. It is an introduction, in anecdotes, of mainstream Islam from the viewpoint of a South-Asian American Muslim woman who grew up in a middle-class suburb of Los Angeles. There is no single Islam, no absolute interpretation of it – just as there is no single, absolute interpretation of Christianity or Judaism or any other religion. This book describes the basic beliefs and practices of mainstream Muslims throughout the world, illustrated with vignettes of life as an American Muslim.(p3)

Consisting of an introduction and 11 chapters, this is a conversational book rather than an academic study or a religious textbook.

In chapters one and two, the author provides an overview of fundamental Islamic practices, thus showing that Judaism, Christianity and Islam have more in common than we are led to believe. Islam, argues the author, one of many American faiths. Muslims are ordinary people who share the same monotheistic tradition as Jews and Christians. We struggle with the same daily conflicts and challenges as our non-Muslim neighbors-But the common Western perception of Islam has become a contorted, evil caricature of the real thing since the end of the Cold War, we in the United States have been bombarded with daily, unchecked, untrue, public denigration of Islam to an irresponsibly defamatory degree. The words of ill-informed fear-mongers, designed to convince us that Muslims are essentially different from the rest of humanity, are accepted by too many people as truth.(p2)

In chapters three and four, the author provides a brief account of the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) and the nature of the Qur�??an, touching upon the challenge of interpreting the Divine message without a proper understanding of the Arabic text and context of the verses.

By contrast, in chapters five and six the author briefly describes the difference between Sunni, Shia, Sufi and other groups that exist in the global Muslim community. After that the author deals with the question: who makes rules in Islam? Unlike Catholicism, argues the author, there is no one single central figure in Islam (like the Pope) or even a system of priesthood. Muslim scholars have always interpreted the Quran and Prophetic traditions for the guidance of the masses.

In chapters seven, eight and nine, the author explores the role of women in Islam, clarifies the difference between Jihad and fundamentalism. Thereafter, the author explains the role of criminal law in Islam with reference to theft and adultery because Shariah (Islamic law) as a whole is often portrayed as being outdated and barbaric due to the harsh punishment prescribed for such crimes. In so doing the author seeks to contextualise the whole debate around crime and punishment in Islamic law.

Then, in chapter ten the author explains that, like other Americans, Muslims too were shocked and horrified by the events of September 11 but sadly the coverage in the media did not reflect this.

So what should Muslims do to correct misconceptions about Islam? According to the author, It is up to us Muslims to educate ourselves about our religion so we can stem the divisiveness and prevent extremists from success. It is up to us Muslims to defend and explain our religion and reconcile it to the modern world. Most of us have indeed been trying. But we need media cooperation to give us a voice. (p216)

In the final chapter of the book, the author explains why misconceptions about Islam persist and seeks to separate the reality from the murky mythology that is perpetuated by the media. As a result, the faith of more than one billion people is projected as enemy number one, evil religion. The author wants to move beyond such inaccurate characterisation. 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 propelling ourselves inexorably towards a clash of civilization, perhaps we can avoid a clash of ignorances. (p247)

This is an interesting, invaluable and timely book even if at times the reviewer disagreed with the author’s interpretation of aspects of Islamic theological and legal issues. Recommended reading for a just-folks understanding of Islam.

Book Cover, The Muslim Next Door

The Muslim Next Door, The Qu’ran, the Media and that Veil Thing

Book: Amazon

Image Credit: Standford

Source: Crescents of Brisbane