79 of 88 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2008
Sumbul Ali-Karamali has written a prayer, and modestly called it a book. It is "The Muslim Next Door: The Qur'an, the Media, and that Veil Thing."
I don't care who you are or what faith tradition you follow, this book is necessary. I use the word necessary because it's the only one that fits. Really. This book should be required reading in America. Ms. Ali-Karamali has written gently, and repectfully, with humor, and also with an authoritative scholarly voice. I can't remember the last time I carried a book around with me the way I have carried this book. Part of the power of this book for me has been in the experience of carrying it with me and encountering the interest and puzzlement of other people simply in reaction to the title. Always with the "Why are you reading that?" as a kind of subtext. I have enjoyed carrying the book with me as a social experiment, and as a way to enter into the suggested topics for discussion in the back of the book. This book will stay with me a long time.
I read a previous review of the book that said something like it was a quick read. I would say, instead, that this book is very approachable while maintaining its scholarly integrity. It provides citations, easily notated by chapter, an historical chronology, and recommendations for further reading. It should be taught. How lucky would be the students of the author herself. She should tour. Seriously. At the least, this book should be required reading in curricula around the country.
I have gone over my copy carefully and have dog earred and post-it marked and highlighted and underscored. I have read the chapters in order and returned to them again. I have sat thinking deeply about the questions for discussion at the end of the book. I am hoping that others are reading this book carefully and respectfully as well- with an open heart to the author's personal experience, and with due respect given to her curriculum vitae.
I am hoping, selfishly, that the author will tour with this book and lecture. I hope that the author will be invited to universities and high schools across the country. I hope that the author will be invited to churches, synagogues and community centers. I hope that the author will be the key note speaker at a long line of interfaith dialogue dinners. I hope that this is a "first" book with more to come.
As a Jewish Spiritual Director, I was looking carefully at each chapter of this book to see if I might find a bone to pick with the author or reason why I could not wholeheartedly recommend this book. There are theological differences, of course, but that was a given since this is not a book about my faith tradition. Readers have to remember what they're reading! I found only tiny nits to pick that arose from my own knee-jerk worries about anti-Semitism on the rise in America. I worried that some reference to a particular group of "Zionists" and Jewish Defense League might be misunderstood by common readers as representative of the opinions and activities of all Jews. But, the author was respectful to Jews and to Judaism and to Christianity as well. I will return to this book many more times in my life I have no doubt. I will recommend this book without reservation and will give this book as a gift to our local library and URGE all of you to immediately get a copy from Amazon or to order it through your local bookseller. In fact, this book should be required reading for all candidates for political office in the U.S. and certainly anyone sent as an emissary on behalf of the U.S. into Middle East. I learned a lot from this book, was reminded of more, and encouraged to delve deeper into the recommendations for further reading. Thank you for this good work.
I found the book to be honest and well-researched. This author is the genuine article: a thorough scholar and a gifted writer. Throughout, I kept thinking that this American Muslim woman is a real patriot. Her writing is enhanced with love and hope and bravery and pride in the American ideal; specifically an a nation of tolerance for religious diversity. I found myself nodding in agreement at every turn of the page. When I got to the last page, I found that my notion of this book being a combination of religious, political and social educational tool, a personal memoir, and prayer for peace to be summed up in the most beautiful final paragraph. I hope the author will forgive me for reprinting it here:
"I live inside my religion because it is sensible, simple, and it teaches good things like forgiveness, generosity, tolerance, and compassion. I live in America because I believe it can be a nation of many faiths, As people of all religions have urged, it is time for genuine understanding and dialogue, not media hysteria and anti-Islamic racism. 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 working toward a "clash of civilizations," perhaps we can avoid a "clash of ignorances."
This just reads to me like prayer....like a prayer for all of us. Isn't it? For my part if we redact "anti-Islamic" ...that sentence would read ...it is time for genuine understanding and dialogue, not media hysteria and racism.
-"For those who have come to know God, the whole world is prayer mat" -Bawa Muhaiyaddeen
28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2009
As a public middle school teacher I had searched for accessible information on Islam for my students since 1993. In light of American media bias and the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East, my intent as a teacher of ancient cultures has been to illustrate the shared history, cultures, personalities, and beliefs of the three great monotheistic religions. Prior to 9/11, there were no books written for general public consumption or as student resources. There were erudite PhD treatises available online, but nothing that could be used in a secondary classroom. Following 9/11, many books were written in an attempt to explain Islam and Muslims to the Western world. Again, I found many of the texts to be either dry historical overviews or agenda-ridden commentaries on faith.
Finally, a book appeared that was, literally, the answer to my search. Sumbul Ali-Karamali's book, "The Muslim Next Door:the Qur'an, the Media, and that Veil Thing", provides a clear, comprehensive and often entertaining explanation of the religion of Islam and the life of a practicing Muslim. I give full credit to her for adding critical depth and breadth to my, and my students', understanding of Islam and what it shares with Judaism and Christianity.The longest chapter in the book is dedicated to women's status in Islam, providing a powerful counterbalance to media coverage of Saudi Arabia and the Taliban's treatment of women. Ms Ali-Karamali's impeccable academic and professional credentials, as well as her knowledge of Arabic, allows her to identify and correct many misconceptions and misinterpretations of the Qur'an. Her informal writing style, with personal anecdotes to which young people and adults can equally relate, illuminates complex aspects in a clear, understandable way. Not only is this book an invaluable educational tool and a primer for building understanding among different cultures and religions, it will have a profound personal impact on anyone who reads it.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2012
Since I live in a very diverse community and work with a number of Muslim professionals, I was quite intrigued By Ms. Ali-Karamali's book. She provides some illuminating documentation about the history of Islam and places it in a proper historical context. Her most compelling argument is her eloquent plea for us to recognize that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are not representative of the small minority within their faith who are violent. In my opinion she is entirely right in her contention. No individual is responsible for the actions of others whom they most likely do not even know.
However she tends to gloss over historically relevant points that can undermine her premise. She describes jizya taxes in almost positive terms and never once discusses the dhimmi laws intended to subjugate monotheists of other faiths. While I can understand her reluctance to delve into these issues in great detail, had she done so her book would have earned greater credibility in my eyes. Every faith has strengths and flaws. She appears to fall into the "No True Scotsman" fallacy on a number of occasions. A faith can be arguably defined by the practices of its contemporary majority, regardless of what an ideal interpretation would represent. Islam as well as other faiths (Orthodox Judaism and Amish Mennonite, for example) can be very legalistic. Legalism tends to trend towards some dehumanization.
Additionally, she neglected to discuss some extraordinary facts regarding the history if Islam. There's no question that Muslim societies have made incredible and irreplaceable contributions to world culture, science and art. But for the scholars in medieval Muslim societies, Egyptian and Greek science and mathematics might very well have been lost. Islam was directly responsible for propelling Europe out of its Dark Ages and into the Renaissance.
I recommend this book for anyone hoping to gain further insight into "The Muslim Next Door." It's worth reading , especially if you hope to understand the deliberate media hysteria being raised against Muslims in the Western word, and the unjustifiable suffering it causes to fine people like Ms Ali-Karamali.
21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2008
So many books on Islam, you say? Well this one stands out as ultimately readable -- even funny at times -- with profound and touching insight about what it is to be a Muslim HERE and TODAY. Ms. Al-Karamali relies not just on her own experience as a Muslim raised in Southern California but as an educated Islamic scholar to shed light on what is not-so-mysterious and certainly not-to-be-feared about Islam and those who practice it. These topics are complicated and can often be inaccessible, but this book manages to be an enjoyable read while leaving you with a genuine better understanding of our Muslim neighbors.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2011
I was an undergradute at UCLA when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. In the ensuing months I was very deeply troubled when I saw my classmates forced to leave school and move to Relocation Centers for no other reason than that they were of Japanese ancestry. It was a total violation of their Constitutional rights and of the values on which those Constitutional rights are based. The stain that those actions put on our nation I feel as deeply today as I did then.
During the 1980's and '90's there was a growing sense of fear and hostility throughout this nation toward people from the Middle East. With the attack of 9/11 these feelings shifted to focus largely on Muslims wherever they lived. Some Americans who had given little thought to Muslims and Islam began to feel deeply threatened by anyone who embraced that faith.
When I saw Ali-Karamali's book in a local bookstore I knew immediately that I wanted to read it. I am not a Muslim but I already knew the fundamentals of that religion, because I have tried to understand the basics of major world religions. I am enormounsly glad that I did read it and have repeatedly recommended it to others.
Her book is very carefully researched and documented. Her experiences as a Muslim growing up in America, the nature and breadth of her education and her talent as a writer have left her wonderfuly qualified for the task she set for herself. She explains to her readers what the Koran endorses and importantly, what it rejects as to how one should live one's life as a Muslim, about warfare, about religious practices and, in her longest chapter, the rights of women. She does this with a light touch and with a wonderful way of reminding you, from time to time, how completely American she is. She acknoledges that there are verses in the Koran that trouble her. I hope that Christian readers of her book will recognize that there are plenty of verses in the Bible that a modern day Christian should find very troubling.
If you want to know what the Koran has to say about issues concerning Muslims as these are talked about in America today, if you want to get closer to the experience of growing up Muslim in a non-Muslim culture, if you are at all open to rethinking fears and hostilities you may hold towerd Muslims and Islam, I strongly urge you to read this book.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2012
This is a book about an important topic that won't be read by the people who need to read it. And for the people who are open to the topic, they'll find it was written by the wrong author.
Ali-Karamali says she was encouraged to write the book because most Americans are complely ignorant on Islam and Muslim viewpoints. I can't disagree with her, but if this is your only introduction to that world, the odds are you'll stop a few chapters in and just give up. I finished it because it was for one of my book clubs, and actually thought the later chapters were more interesting.
Part of the problem is that the basic information she starts with wasn't anything new to me, but the bigger problem is that Ali-Karamali is just as provincial in her viewpoint as the Americans she hopes to educate. The book is full of sweeping generalizations, special pleading, and fallacy upon fallacy. Have you ever heard of the "No True Scotsman" argument? You've probably heard it before: if a person representative of a group does something bad, it's because he's "No True Scotsman," so therefore you can't condemn that group. You'll find that argument and many others more commonly found with Christian apologetics.
And apologetics is the right word, because any problematical issue, event, or behavior is excused on some grounds or other. If there's a phrase in the Qu'ran that a non-Muslim points to, she'll say it's being taken out of context. If a large group of Muslims have a practice others object to, she'll say that wasn't what Mohammed meant and they're misinterpreting his words. And yet Ali-Karamali herself decides she'll skip the Islamic law about giving her son twice as large a share of her estate as her daughter, because, after all, times change.
I would have gotten more out of the book if she'd condensed the first 6 chapters or so into one. And she leaves so little of herself in the book. The few intriguing scenes, such as when her high school history teacher made a claim the Qu'ran said something and she interrupted him to say it wasn't in there, stops with that exchange. What was her relationship with that teacher like the rest of the year? Did he single her out because of his Islamic animus, or did he actually learn something from the student who had read the Qu'ran when he was just repeating some ignorant "fact" he'd heard? We never know, because she never mentions it again.
And for such a highly educated person, Ali-Karmali is rather ignorant of the rest of the world's religions. Look, I have a lot in common with her, growing up in a minority religion when the default is Christianity. I have a reason to pull for her, but her writing a book about religion and assuming all the readers are Christian is the same error that she so chafed against growing up! She doesn't mention any other religions comparatively, and she doesn't have that firm an understanding of all the different variants of Christianity either. Look, you can't write a religious information book for Americans if you don't understand what you're contrasting the new information with! She claims Arabic is unique, yet its qualities are so similar in Hebrew that I often understand the concepts in some Arabic phrases because the words are so similar and work the same with way. Again, she's no language expert, but puts herself out there as if she is.
For some reason this book was chosen as this year's Silicon Valley Reads entry. The topic is important, but there's got to be a better way to get the information out there. It needs an author who knows what she doesn't know, and isn't trying so hard to prevent us from getting to know more about herself.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2012
I have lived and worked in an Islamic country and find this book a refreshing and inspiring discussion of Islam, as it is understood and practiced by most Muslims.
The author's feminine perspective on her religion is also most welcome. And the legislators who strive to "protect" us from shari'a religious law would benefit from her lawyerly explanation of this (very rough) Islamic parallel to Jewish halakhah or Catholic canon law.
Her book, however, presents Islam as most Muslims understand and practice it, i.e., as it is supposed to be. This can lead her to gloss over some real-world minority practices. For example, she discusses veiling very well, and points out that the Qur'an calls only for modesty and does not prescribe the veil. But she has nothing to say about the wretched Afghan burqa and Saudi abaya' and the position of women in those societies.
And she correctly writes that certain appalling pre-Islamic cultural practices, e.g., honor killing and genital mutilation, are no part of Islam. But there are Muslims, however wrongly, who still justify such practices on religious grounds after nearly 1400 years.
So I have to call this book an A minus, or 4 1/2 stars rather than 5. But it's an excellent and authoritative read, and a most useful corrective to the irrational hatred spewed out over the Internet. Read this excellent book and find out what the religion of 1.7 billion people is all about. "The Muslim next door" will be our neighbor for a very long time.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2011
Sumbul Ali-Karamali's The Muslim Next Door is the perfect book to learn about Islam and how this faith is practiced by an American wife, mother, and lawyer. She dispels many misconceptions about Islam today and also thoughtfully demonstrates how these misconceptions have come about. After reading the book myself I read it to my teenage sons because I felt their education as human beings in our world today would have been incomplete without the information and ideas contained in this book. I enjoyed and learned so much from this book that I used it as a book club book where it was very well received and provided a lot of stimulating discussion. Because people often fear what is different or unknown and because of that fear can act inhumanely (Japanese internment camps during WWII for example) The Muslim Next Door does the important work of increasing understanding. My hope is that this book reaches a wide audience so that when we make decisions as human beings and voters about Islam it will be from a place of knowledge and understanding and not fear and ignorance.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2009
Islam has unusual customs when viewed from a Judeo-Christian standpoint, but they are not that dissimilar when you boil it down. "The Muslim Next Door: The Qur'an, the Media, and that Veil Thing" is a guide to understanding the American Muslim in today's chaotic world. Stating how Islam relates to the common American, the origins of Islam, the sects of Islam, why quotes from the Qur'an seem to contradict one another, and so much more. To anyone who wants to casually understand American Muslims and avoid cultural blunders, "The Muslim Next Door" is a fine read offering much enlightenment.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2012
This was a Silicon Valley Reads book for 2012. In this area of CA, they choose 2 books every year and have the authors speak and community meetings to discuss the subject of the books. I just finished it. I learned so much and it's written in a way that is easy to read. The author is a Muslim, whose parents are from India but she was born in this country. This gives her a relatively objective opinion on the subject.