A timely offering, Ali-Karamali’s book on the culture of the Muslims, the religion of Islam, and a brief history of Muhammad’s own journey of faith is well-written, stress-free to read, and easy to understand. Nonetheless, there has been much controversy over this book, since for those who have deep ingrained prejudices, the truths that Sumbul speaks may seem inflammatory. I believe that was not her intent. Well-educated (with an advanced degree in Islamic Law) and brought up in California, (with an admittedly well-to-do upbringing,) she brings her intelligence, passion, and easy-to-read perspectives to bear on this provocative and pressure-laden topic. It is a wonderful place to start if you have questions about what (and why) Muslims believe as they do, and what the Islamic religion brings to the world.
Sumbul approaches the difficult questions by providing stories of her own life and upbringing. Each chapter deals with a different aspect of Islam, and Muslim, from Chapter One – “Everyday Islam” - to Chapter 11 – “Why the Misconceptions Persist.” Even though the book is written with a personable approach, straightforward to read and understand, Ali-Karamali certainly did her research, as the Chronology, Notes and Suggested Reading List at the end of the book demonstrate. If the book piques your interest, you will find plenty of resources in those pages to expand your knowledge.
One of this reviewer’s concerns is that Sumbul’s book is preaching to the choir. In other words, those of us attracted to the book, and interested in what it teaches us, are already willing to open our minds to the possibilities of the good to be found in the people and their religion. The readers that need to be reading this title are those who are confused about what they hear and read, particularly from the media, and the misconceptions about Islam and terrorism. The 12 “Questions for Discussion” also included in the back of the book are dynamic and thought-provoking; they alone could provide some transformative thought for those of the Christian or Jewish persuasion who seek enlightenment and understanding about Islam.
Ali-Karamali is proud to be an American Muslim. She is drawn to the tenets of the founding fathers of tolerance for religious diversity, and the book is, perhaps, her way to ask for such tolerance in modern times, along with hope for ongoing dialogs within America, to gain further understanding. She presents her researched information with political and social commentary, as well as presenting an unusual memoir of being brought up in a culture of Christian-Judaic perspectives. She admits to struggles with her faith, within the boundaries of socialization – dating, dances, holidays and friendships with non-Muslims. She is honest and forthright about her presentation of her stories in a non-academic format; she is not writing for the scholarly; she is writing for the everyday person who is struggling with questions and seeking understanding.
Being written by someone who has not struggled in a Muslim country for personal rights, or even struggled in this country for financial and social parity, it may be that Sumbul is not completely perceptive in the sense that she fully understands religious or social struggle. However, even if that is so, she has done her best to present the straightforward candid information about both the history of her religion and the modern misconceptions that have warped American comprehension. She has given the reader a solid foundation to formulate an opinion that is not based on media hysterics, government policy or political pandering.
In addition, Sumbul opens our eyes to the concept that war in the Middle East is not against Islam, or even against the Muslim people. It is an ongoing battle against terrorism and terrorists, whether they are homegrown or global. Just as those of the Jewish faith suffered during World War II for their religious beliefs, so do the Islamic people suffer today for the misconceptions and outright propaganda presented to the people of the world. We need to step back, as individuals, and educate ourselves one-on-one in understanding and appreciating the beauty of that part of the world – and the fact that as an Abrahamic religion, Islam shares roots with both Christianity and Judaism. Sumbul Ali-Karamali does her best to provide education, information and a personal perspective to her beliefs. Read it and see for yourself.