Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Review: Living Islam Out Loud-Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur

Living Islam Out Loud: American Muslim Women SpeakEd. Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur

Astrolabe, no.
Suq as-Sunnah, no.
NAIT's Islamic Book Service, no.
MeccaCentric Media, no.

Whatever your feelings about this collection of essays, I think the most disturbing fact is that none of the top Muslim media outlets carries it.

I read this in a few sittings over the course of two days. The essays are gripping. I found myself emotionally swinging between rejection and empathy, pity and admiration, anger and resignation, guilt and complacency, and, most importantly, despair and hope.

Highlights for me include:

Part II entitled "Love", where I read several demotivating essays about American Muslimat's affairs and marraiges. I say demotivating because every relationship done "by the book", the book we collectively created about sexual relationships, is negative. The only positive ones are those which violate our community norms, which I have of course spent my childhood and adult life imbibing and perpetuating. Is it possible to be psychologically healthy growing up Muslim in the United States? Is it better to arrive in the United States as a mature adult? Is it better to have spent one's youth completely ignorant of Islam and learn it as an adult?

"The Muslim in the Mirror" highlighted for me Professor Mohja Kahf's transformation from liberal Muslim to radical Muslim in her encounter with a Muslima whose husband was physically abusing her. And I believe "radical" is a positive term, meaning what we need is something really different from what we've been doing. Another great essay is "Being the Leader I Want to See in the World" by Asra Q. Nomani. Yes, it would be great if the Muslims who worked to fix our dysfunctional practices in the U.S. had the personal and outward piety of Imam Sahnun and Nana Asma'u. Since that situation does not obtain, we have to work on ourselves and at the same time do what we can. Ms. Nomani found a situation where wrong was occurring and nobody was taking responsibility, so she took action.

The absurdity of our hijab discourse was highlighted to me by the stories of Aroosha Zoq Rana and Inas Younis. Aroosha enjoyed singing and performing and had talent. She began to wear hjiab to protect herself from Muslims' criticism of her performances. Inas, already wearing hijab, considered wearing a khimar (face covering) to increase her devotion to God, even though she was struggling to cope with her Islam after her son was diagnosed with autism.

Sarah ElTantawi's article "A Message on the Clearing" returned the focus of my thoughts to what had always been my cental experience of Islam: salaa and reading Qur'an. Yet, throughout the volume, many authors revealed their first experiences of Islam to be scary, rules-oriented and alienating. Sarah's essay describes the Muslim's life as a journey from one clearing through difficult weeds to the next clearing. At each clearing, there is "enough cool water, laughter, and beauty to keep going, onward toward our final meeting with the truth." I think this is a good metaphor. Each of us, in our own spheres of influence, should be pulling the weeds that block a Muslim's path, just like the famous hadith about clearing an obstacle from the road being the least of the branches of belief. We should not be people who block the path of Allah (Al-Sadd `an sabiil Allah).

Khadijah Sharif-Drinkard's essay represented a great attitude-always learning in every situation, never allowing fatigue to be the excuse for giving up.

I liked that many authors identified their personal struggles as the means by which Allah helped them to correct defects in their understanding and practice of Islam.

I felt trepidation when I read phrases like listening to my inner voice, since I honestly don't trust my own voice and I think there are plenty of texts in the Qur'an where disbelievers trusted their own voices.

Is he, then, to whom the evil of his conduct is made alluring, so that he looks upon it as good, (equal to one who is rightly guided)? For Allah leaves to stray whom He wills, and guides whom He wills. So let not thy soul go out in (vainly) sighing after them: for Allah knows well all that they do! Quran

Oftentimes, on the Day of Judgement, they then confess that they really did know they were wrong. As a history major in school, I found that whole groups of people would trust their own voices as they plunged off cliffs.

I can say this for certain. I did not approve of or support every statement or action of every author. However, I know something is not right in the way I am and the way we collectively live in the U.S., and I think we need to really discuss the issues these authors raise.

Related Links: This site has profiles of the authors.

Featured on Bill Thompson's Eye on Books- Saleemah's interview is at minute 9:45.

Tram Nguyen, the editor of ColorLines, has written a review at

Boston Globe Review by Vanessa E. Jones-
National Public Radio Interview on Ed Gordon's News and Notes-
Incidentally, I also looked at
None of which carried this book.
By Ayman H Fadel, at 11/20/2005 03:36:57 AM
Salaam 'AlaikumSubhan'Allah, I didn't even know about those other outlets. I rarely buy books online; Kazi is the only one that I know of (excluding the above, which I just learned of, except NoorArt, which I thought was for children's stuff only) that carries a very wide range of books -- from classical to modern conservatives to liberal. If this were three years ago, I'd say Sufi Books would carry it, but it's my understanding that they only carry books from Pir Press now (and the bricks-and-mortar store, which had everything from al Albani to ibn 'Arabi is gone). -- Umm Zaid

No comments: