Reading: Wall Street Journal

August 7, 2008

I don’t seem to get much reading done these days, at least not the kind where I hold a book in my hands. I listen to audiobooks, both while riding my exercise bike and while driving. What am I reading more these days is online blogs and newspapers, which expose me to lots of information and ideas I probably would never pick up from books.

Today I found not just one but three interesting subjects in WSJ online, and as I didn’t feel like choosing among them for this post, I decided to include all three.

First I read yesterday’s column by Asra Nomani (a former WSJ reporter), lamenting the circumstances which have closed the door on publication of a historical novel set in Mohammed’s harem. Written from the point of view of Aisha, Mohammed’s young wife, the novel is racy but not – from indications given in the article – derogatory towards Mohammed. But one person was critical and spread word of the novel’s premise, and with the speed of email and blogs warnings of “a new attempt to slander the Prophet of Islam” spread like wildfire. Claiming concerns about safety and possible terrorist threats, the publisher of the book has postponed the book – indefinitely.

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Reading: The Shia Revival

April 19, 2008

Like many Americans, I had heard of Sunni and Shia Muslims but until recently had little idea what difference there was between two. Imam Qazwini’s book American Crescent (see my March 13 post) presented some basic material, but The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future by Vali Nasr tells much more.

Unlike Qazwini, who treats differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims as fairly minor, Nasr depicts the sectarian conflict between the two as the root of much political and military activity within and among Muslim nations. To Americans who for nearly three decades have associated Islam with the glaring face of Ayatollah Khomeini, it may come as quite a surprise to find out that he was a Shia Muslim, which makes him a member of a sect that is considered heretical if not downright apostate by many Muslim fundamentalists.

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Reading: American Crescent

March 13, 2008

I mentioned this book previously in my Feb. 26 post on Ashura in Karbala. Now that I have finished reading it, I am interesting in learning more about several topics that Imam Qazwini discusses – and some others that he does not address.

I found the latter part of the book – Qazwini’s experiences in America – somewhat less interesting that the history of his early life. The first several chapters told about growing up in Iraq, Kuwait, and Iran, including much about the people and culture of those lands, as well as their recent history and political climate. He also told much about the history and practices of Islam. All this was material I knew very little about, and his personal experiences and his passion for his faith made it a much better way to learn about Islamic faith and culture than reading an account by a non-Muslim outsider.

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Ashura in Karbala

February 26, 2008

A few weeks ago I might have taken no notice of this headline: Shiite Pilgrims Crowd Karbala. Like many Americans, I knew there were Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims but not quite what the difference was. (I learned it long ago in a high school history class, but at the time it seemed hardly worth remembering once the test was over.) I certainly had no idea what or where Karbala was, or why pilgrims of any sort would be going there.

Then a book in the public library caught my eye. American Crescent: A Muslim cleric on the power of his faith, the struggle against prejudice, and the future of Islam and America is both the personal story of its author, Imam Hassan Qazwini, and an explanation of Islam and its history and traditions for Americans who know little about them. I had read about Islam in books on world religion, but not a description by a Muslim of his own faith.

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