“We humans may be barbaric and brutal, but we can get up every morning and strive for peace. And the first step in striving for peace is understanding the Other. In 21st-century America, the Other is Muslim.” —Sumbul Ali- Karamali
“Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of God, not one belonging to this or that race or nation.” —Qur’an (surah 49, verse 13)
Recent events in the U.S. news have me grieving, once again, the hate that people sometimes show toward other people. The need for friendships and community building across lines of difference becomes more urgent each day, as racism and discrimination continue to cause inexcusable violence. If we hope to create a future where such crimes cannot happen, we need to affirm our common humanity, and get to know one another respectfully. In the spirit of opening a door to learning about someone of a different background, I urge you to read The Muslim Next Door: The Qur’an, the Media, and that Veil Thing. This book effectively dispels myths and examines sources of stereotypes and misconceptions about Muslims. If you are Muslim, read it, then share with a colleague, neighbor, or friend. If you are not Muslim, you will find it answers many questions you carry in your heart.
Author Sumbul Ali-Karamali was born in California to parents from India. She has been educated in Islamic law and offers a well-grounded primer on Islam (with references for further reading, which I always appreciate). Throughout the book she shares stories from her own experience of growing up Muslim in southern California, and the ways in which her faith and her choices inform one another.
For those who may not have close Muslim friends or family members, Ali-Karamali’s perspective as an ordinary Muslim-American woman is invaluable. Fear has caused many people to wrongly conflate “Muslim” and “terrorist” (or “Muslim women” and “oppressed”) and this needs to be undone. Ali-Karamali rightly points out that we do not typically judge all Christians on the basis of the actions of terrorist Timothy McVeigh, or on the atrocities committed by the Ku Klux Klan. Likewise, all Muslims should not be judged on the basis of a small number of criminals who claim Islam as their religion. She provides a thorough discussion, too, of the countless ways in which terrorism goes against the teachings of the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam.
Media coverage of Islam and of Muslims often fails to provide context or historical background for a given issue. As with other news topics, sensationalism and fear-mongering can take priority over sharing facts and details, exacerbating ignorance. With The Muslim Next Door, Ali-Karamali provides a remedy by giving readers detailed background for many of the issues that appear in the headlines, including women’s rights, the content of the Qur’an, and the dangers of fundamentalism.
One critical point that Ali-Karamali clarifies is the confusion about the meaning of “Allah.” Allah simply is the Arabic word for God. Muslims of all nationalities make their five required daily prayers in Arabic, and therefore often refer to “Allah.” Islam is monotheistic, and Muslims believe in only one God, the same God that was worshiped by Abraham and Jesus. Arabic speakers who are Christian would also pray to Allah. With all the coverage of Islam in the media, it surprises me that this is not yet settled; however, the media often present stories about Islam through a lens that makes Muslims seem alien or other. A seemingly simple difference in vocabulary can be abused to exacerbate this problem.
Media attention often is given to the modest attire required of Muslims during prayer. However, other religions also observe this requirement. Growing up in the Catholic church, my mother expected me to dress neatly and modestly to attend church. For a wedding at a church, a woman would be expected to wear a shawl or other covering if her shoulders were bare. As Ali-Karamali writes about modesty in Islam, “It is the same concept with different parameters.”
After you read The Muslim Next Door, I encourage you to provide a copy to your place of worship or your public library. The more we can learn about one another, in a spirit of love rather than fear or defensiveness, the more beautiful we will make our world.
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher, White Cloud Press, for review purposes. No fee was received for writing this review.