Bookshelves and airwaves are full of voices that describe Islam as a monolithic religion, and Muslims as a homogenous body. This could not be further from the truth. Muslims are an extremely diverse worldwide religious group, and in the U.S. that diversity is especially pronounced. When we overlook diversity, we render invisible our fellow humans. With the book I Speak for Myself: American women on being Muslim, White Cloud Press highlights and lifts up the voices of individual, diverse Muslim women.
The essay collection is invaluable for furthering public understanding about the diversity of Muslims in the U.S. Editors Maria M. Ebrahimji and Zahra T. Suratwala have done a superb job, selecting writings from forty women under the age of 40. The featured writers include artists, teachers, lawyers, journalists, PhD candidates, recent high school graduates, and CEOs. A few of the writers were familiar to me from their other published work, or their humanitarian achievements.
The emphases of the essays are as diverse as the writers, yet common themes emerge. Several authors describe their experiences of negotiating complex identity. Since each writer was raised in the U.S., encounters with the presumption of Christian identity were not uncommon. The authors typically had to balance religious expectations with cultural norms of contemporary U.S. life, such as high school proms, dating, and media consumption. (It is notable that these cultural expectations also become issues for religiously observant members of other faiths, as well.)
Another theme was the need to discover and embrace one’s faith independently. While these women had religious training either from parents, religious classes, or both, each woman had to live her own life before seeing what role her faith would play. Each woman had to discover on her own what it means to be a person with God-consciousness. Readers of other faiths likely will resonate with this experience.
In one of my favorite essays, a Muslimah shared about her calling to assist families affected by Hurricane Katrina. She writes, “I wanted to go out & help, but I knew I was only one person. Then I remembered the Prophet Muhammad (peace & blessings upon him) was just one person who’d had the guidance of God. I knew if I allowed God to guide me, even little ole me could make a difference.” In many essays, it was clear that strong faith had contributed to a wish to be of service to others.
I Speak for Myself should prove very useful for anyone interested in learning about the practice of Islam, or in sharing the faith with others. I would encourage readers with an interest in interfaith dialogue to read this book and to purchase a copy for the library of their house of worship, as well as their public library. The message of I Speak for Myself deserves a wide audience. It is one of the finest books I have read this year.
Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher. No fee was received for this review.
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