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If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran Paperback – April 7, 2015
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PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST
NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST
Named A Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post and The Denver Post
“A vibrant tale of a friendship.... If the Oceans Were Ink is a welcome and nuanced look at Islam [and] goes a long way toward combating the dehumanizing stereotypes of Muslims that are all too common.... If the Oceans Were Ink should be mandatory reading for the 52 percent of Americans who admit to not knowing enough about Muslims.” ―The Washington Post
“Journalist Power writes about her year studying the Quran with a Muslim scholar she befriended while working at a think tank in London. For some, this will be a strong introduction to Islam. To others, it's fodder for discussion on the Sheikh's views, how Westerners (such as Power) interpret those views and the interplay of culture and religion.” ―The Denver Post
“For all those who wonder what Islam says about war and peace, men and women, Jews and gentiles, this is the book to read. It is a conversation among well-meaning friends--intelligent, compassionate, and revealing--the kind that needs to be taking place around the world.” ―Fareed Zakaria, author of The Post-American World
“With a journalist’s mind for the story, a born traveler’s heart for the adventure of crossing borders, and a seeker’s yen for the poetry and mysticism of belief, Power creates an exceptional record of a timeless quest.”― Merritt Tierce, a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree and author of Love Me Back
“An inspiring story of two [people] from different worlds who refuse to let religious and cultural differences, prejudice, and ignorance get in the way of their friendship, If the Oceans Were Ink is as thought-provoking as it is elegantly written. It takes a difficult, highly charged topic and puts it into terms that are not only understandable and eye-opening, but beautiful.”―Bustle (11 Beautifully Written Memoirs by Women)
“[Carla Power and Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi's] conversations break down stereotypes.... Power displays the diversity and intellectual richness of the practicing Muslim world, and shows how much we have to gain from mutual understanding.” ―Shelf Awareness
“Carla Power's intimate portrait of the Quran, told with nuance and great elegance, captures the extraordinary, living debate over the Muslim holy book's very essence. A spirited, compelling read.” ―Azadeh Moaveni, author of Lipstick Jihad
“Engaging … Together [Carla Power and the Sheikh] explore … the significance of veiling and unveiling, the struggle against unjust rulers and jihad, and contemporary wars. Power's narrative offers an accessible and enlightening route into a topic fraught with misunderstanding.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Unique, masterful, and deeply engaging. Carla Power takes the reader on an extraordinary journey in interfaith understanding as she debates and discovers the Quran's message, meaning, and values on peace and violence, gender and veiling, religious pluralism and tolerance.” ―John L. Esposito, University Professor and Professor of Islamic Studies, Georgetown University, and author of The Future of Islam
“Lively … Intelligent and exceptionally informative.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“A thoughtful, provocative, intelligent book.” ―Diana Abu-Jaber, author of Birds Of Paradise and The Language of Baklava
“Their yearlong debates on issues ranging from the veiling of women to calls for fatwas challenged their own understandings of religion, culture, politics, and friendship and offer powerful new insights into Islam.” ―Booklist
“If the Oceans Were Ink opens a door to the power of the Quran's lyrical and complex prose to inspire, comfort, and ignite hearts everywhere. A must read for anyone wishing to understand a global community's central spiritual source.” ―Dalia Mogahed, Director of Research, The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, and co-author of Who Speaks for Islam?
“A former foreign correspondent for Newsweek raised partly in the Middle East and boasting a graduate degree in Middle Eastern studies from Oxford, Power spent a year reading the Quran with a longtime friend, Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi. Their experience led them beyond stereotypes to a constructive understanding for the text's call for peace and equality. Great for book clubs.” ―Library Journal
“There are many intriguing books that trace the encounter of Westerners with Muslims from traditional backgrounds. Some of these books are love stories, others are clashes. Carla Power's If the Oceans Were Ink is something more radical, magical, and much more relevant: a religious encounter mediated through a gentle friendship, one that is committed to a dialogue and a search for truth. In a world characterized by so much tension and polemic, Power offers what might be our best hope for a better tomorrow: an intelligent friendship. Most enthusiastically recommended.” ―Omid Safi, Director, Duke Islamic Studies Center
About the Author
Carla Power writes for TIME and was a foreign correspondent for Newsweek. Her writing has appeared in Vogue, Glamour, The New York Times Magazine, and Foreign Policy. Her work has been recognized with an Overseas Press Club award, a Women in Media Award, and the National Women's Political Caucus's EMMA Award. She holds a graduate degree in Middle Eastern Studies from Oxford, as well as degrees from Yale and Columbia.
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Because of the myths this book sets straight, and because of the time it dedicates to a religion and culture that many make assumptions about, If the Oceans were Ink is of humanitarian scope and importance. Through her work, Power encourages her readers to expand their minds in order to understand the complexity of a reality that has been repeatedly reduced to a “us versus them” narrative. In doing so, not only does she inform and educate, but she also gives her audience the tools with which to restructure their own, perhaps biased and otherwise unchallenged beliefs.
If the Oceans were Ink is easy to follow regardless of one’s background or knowledge in Islam teachings. It is largely structured by means of an extended interview wih Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi, who by his title of Sheikh is entitled to teach and guide others in Islamic faith. The Sheikh provides a range of views on various relevant issues, including child marriage, women’s rights, and other religions. Sheikh Akram is both progressive and conservative in different ways—making clear the fact that Western labels are inadequate for categorizing groups of people in the Middle East. Instead, political affiliations and views are more nuanced, requiring a specific understanding of individuals’ opinions.
I particularly enjoyed this book for the fact that its writer, Power, was consistently aware of her own biases and privileges given her position in this journalistic project. While her dedication to this issue clearly exemplified her questionings of the media and search for the truth, Power still acknowledged that there were ways in which her perspective could be increasingly understanding, and she sought to pursue this personal, positive change. Her motivations for interviewing the Sheikh and developing more direct contact with Islam were quite noble in my eyes, and I believe she also used this opportunity to help others see beyond assumption. In this sense, I believe that Power has used her platform to create positive change and plant a seed through which greater empathy and consideration might be developed.
I must add, furthermore, that going into this book I had my own biases, as most of what I knew of the religion of Islam was merely what I’d heard about from others in passing, or in the media. Largely, my knowledge composed of the prejudices and forms of oppression against Muslims that exist today, a great part of which comes from members of the United States. I was not an active participant in this prejudice but I did also disagree with many political differences existent in several Islamic countries, such as for example laws against women’s rights. If the Oceans were Ink sheds some light on the intricacies hidden behind these wide-sweeping laws, suggesting that there is much dissent within the culture itself, and that these elements are often separate entities from those of religion. Overall, this book encouraged me to question what I hear in the media and, in some cases, popular discourse, and to consider that what might be today construed as one truth is not what originally existed in the text, in the Quran.