If one counts all the denominations of Christianity as a single religion (an assumption that could foster its own article!), then Islam is the second-largest religion in the world. As such, having basic knowledge of one of the fastest-growing forces on the international stage is important on a number of levels, from fostering appreciation of the Muslim spiritual experience to imparting a more sophisticated understanding of how differing interpretations of Islam can be manipulated for various cultural or political ends. With the amount of political strife in many Muslim countries and their strained relations with the United States over the last four decades, certain preconceptions or misunderstandings about Islam may exist for some non-Muslim readers. Separating the cultural from the religious in Islam is one challenge, and taking the further step of separating both of these from current politics is yet another, but these efforts are well worth undertaking.
In many American libraries, a significant portion of the service population may know very little about Islam. The nonfiction resources here are selected with an eye toward promoting cultural understanding and emphasizing the diversity of Islam, rather than highlighting the fundamentalist or extremist factions that receive the most media attention. Instead of focusing on foreign wars or other highly political topics, these titles explore historical, cultural, personal, and spiritual aspects of Islam in the modern world.
Libraries should offer a rounded collection of resources for their patrons, including basic introductions to the prophet Muhammad and the pillars of Islam, historical materials presenting balanced views of Islam and Islamic countries, and sensitive cultural studies that touch on important issues, such as Muslims in America and the roles of women in Islam. Cross-cultural understanding is a two-way street, so perspectives from both Muslims and non-Muslims should be represented.
A changing landscape
The need to counteract Western biases or fears related to Islam has increased in importance since the attacks of 9/11, and all of the materials included here have been published or updated since that time. Older books are fine to keep—even the original versions of Karen Armstrong’s works on Muhammad and Islam are still relevant and useful—but it may be worthwhile to replace items that don’t speak to the challenges facing Islam in the 21st century.
Starred () titles are essential for most collections.
Revelation: The Qur’an
The quality of Qur’an translations can vary, and many interpretations may involve sectarian biases. The recommendations below cover only some of the myriad possible options, and libraries should be aware that many religious institutions will be happy to donate copies of the Qur’an (although these may be slanted toward a particular interpretation of Islam).
The Koran. Oxford Univ. 2008. 688p. tr. by A.J. Arberry. ISBN 9780199537327. pap. $17.65.
Arthur Arberry’s classic translation pays deference to the orthodox Muslim view that the Qur’an cannot truly be translated but only interpreted into other languages.
Mattson, Ingrid. The Story of the Qur’an: Its History and Place in Muslim Life. 2d ed. Wiley-Blackwell. 2013. 265p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780470673492. pap. $29.95.
An excellent companion resource for study and understanding of the Qur’an.
The Message of the Qur’an: The Full Account of the Revealed Arabic Text Accompanied by Parallel Transliteration. Book Fdn. 2008. 1175p. tr. by Muhammad Asad. index. ISBN 9781904510352. $47.50.
Although rather massive (a whopping six pounds!), this translation is thought by many to be the best for English-speaking readers. Sold through Amazon.
Nasr, Seyyed Hossein (text) & Reem Al Faisal (photos.). Hajj. Garnet. 2009. 154p. photos. ISBN 9781859642177. $49.95.
The Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are asked to complete once in their life. In this coffee-table book, full-page black-and-white photos breathtakingly convey the intensity of this religious gathering.
An Introduction to Islam in the 21st Century. Wiley-Blackwell. 2013. 328p. ed. by Aminah Beverly McCloud & others. illus. maps. index. ISBN 9781405193610. $94.95; pap. ISBN 9781405193603. $44.95.
With a focus on the 21st century, this introductory text gives a brief history of Islam, examining the ways that it has manifested both regionally and globally.
Esposito, John L. Islam: The Straight Path. 4th ed. Oxford Univ. 2011. 295p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780195396003. pap. $55.95.
One of the most widely known introductions to Islam, this edition includes a section specifically focusing on the 21st century.
Hazleton, Lesley. The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad. Riverhead. 2013. 336p. index. ISBN 9781594487286. $27.95; pap. ISBN 9781594632303. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781101602003.
Weaving psychological interpretation with history, this readable biography of Muhammad offers a balanced portrait of a complex man and his journey to becoming a religious figure.
Parallels: Islamic History
Akyol, Mustafa. Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty. Norton. 2011. 290p. index. ISBN 9780393070866. $25.95; pap. ISBN 9780393347241. $16.95.
A probing examination of how certain cultural and political interpretations of the Qur’an have translated into Islamic extremism in the modern world.
Anderson, Scott. Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly, and the Making of the Modern Middle East. Doubleday. 2013. 577p. photos. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780385532921. $28.95.
This multilayered account of the Middle East from the beginning of the 20th century through World War I depicts the overthrow of the Ottoman Empire. (LJ 6/15/13)
Ansary, Tamim. Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes. Public Affairs. 2010. 416p. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781586488130. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9780786741502.
Questioning the idea that postindustrial democracy is the endpoint of social evolution, Ansary offers an alternative history that is “neither a textbook nor a thesis” but “more like what I’d tell you if we met in a coffeehouse.”
Aslan, Reza. No God but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam. rev. ed. Random. 2011. 292p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780812982442. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9780375898266.
A history of Islam told through an interpretive lens that fully acknowledges the impact 9/11 has had on American perceptions of Muslim faith.
Fuller, Graham E. A World Without Islam. Little, Brown. 2011. 336p. index. ISBN 9780316041201. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316072014.
If Muhammad’s revelations had never happened, would the United States and the Muslim world still feel such animosity? Fuller contends that culture, not religion, is the central issue in this conflict.
1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization. 3d ed. National Geographic. 2012. 376p. ed. by Salim T.S. Al-Hassani. illus. index. ISBN 9781426209345. pap. $28.
With striking full-color illustrations, this book eloquently serves as a celebration of Muslim contributions to human knowledge and innovation. (LJ 5/1/12)
Safi, Omid. Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters. HarperOne. 2010. 305p. illus. index. ISBN 9780061231353. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780061959714.
This tribute to the life of Muhammad offers a graceful corrective to misapprehensions about Islam. Safi balances his own faith with a compelling portrait of a dynamic and powerful religion.
Islam in America
Barrett, Paul M. American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion. Picador. 2007. 320p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780312427450. pap. $19; ebk. ISBN 9780374708306.
In an urgent plea for reform and moderation of extremism, Barrett depicts seven American Muslims from different walks of life, offering a diverse portrait of the ways Islamic faith can manifest in America. (LJ 6/15/06)
Daniel, Ben. The Search for Truth About Islam: A Christian Pastor Separates Fact from Fiction. Westminster. 2013. 202p. index. ISBN 9780664237059. $20.
This mix of travelog and a comparative study of religion features genial humor and a gentle corrective to misperceptions surrounding Islam.
Idliby, Ranya Tabari. Burqas, Baseball, and Apple Pie: Being Muslim in America. Palgrave Macmillan. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9780230341845. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781137413482.
This impassioned, accessible book combines memoir with a critical survey of issues facing modern Muslim Americans.
Patel, Eboo. Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America. Beacon. 2012. 192p. index. ISBN 9780807077481. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9780807077528. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780807077498.
Beginning with the controversy over building a Muslim community center near ground zero after 9/11, this inspiring book encourages Americans to increase interfaith cooperation, tolerance, and inclusiveness.
Through the Veil: Women & Islam
Is it legitimate to ask whether Islam is an inherently sexist or misogynistic religion? Is the veil a symbol of oppression, or can it be viewed differently? Is the Western definition of women’s rights the standard to which other countries should be held, and, if not, what other visions of freedom are viable? These questions and more are explored in the resources below.
Abu-Lughod, Lila. Do Muslim Women Need Saving? Harvard Univ. 2013. 227p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780674725164. $35.
Although offering no clear solutions, this inquiry into the West’s motivations to “liberate” women in Muslim countries challenges readers to question common assumptions.
Ahmed, Leila. A Quiet Revolution: The Veil’s Resurgence, from the Middle East to America. Yale Univ. 2012. 360p. index. ISBN 9780300181432. pap. $22.
The veil may be the most evocative symbol of Islam for many non-Muslim readers, and Ahmed’s treatment of the subject is wide-ranging, discursive, and utterly fascinating.
Coleman, Isobel. Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women Are Transforming the Middle East. Random. 2010. 275p. index. ISBN 9781400066957. $26; pap. ISBN 9780812978551. $17; ebk. ISBN 9780679603696.
Profiling women in Muslim countries, Coleman offers a counterpoint to secular Western feminism, arguing that for change to take hold it must happen through Islam, rather than outside of it.
El Feki, Shereen. Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World. Pantheon. 2013. 296p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780307377395. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307907431.
From the subtly provocative cover to the fascinating (yet respectful) content, this survey of changing attitudes toward sex in Egypt and other Muslim countries is groundbreaking and indispensable.
Friend, Theodore. Woman, Man, and God in Modern Islam. Eerdmans. 2012. 350p. photos. index. ISBN 9780802866738. $39; ebk. ISBN 9781467436366.
Exploring the roles of women in Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey, this volume includes interviews, personal stories, and gorgeous color photos, all of which combine to bring out the different flavors of Islam in these countries.
Al-Berry, Khaled. Life Is More Beautiful Than Paradise: A Jihadist’s Own Story. American Univ. in Cairo. 2009. 184p. tr. by Humphrey Davies. ISBN 9789774162947. $22.95.
Al-Berry came to Islamic extremism not through a traumatic childhood or orthodox family but through his increasing involvement with a conservative mosque.
Knight, Michael Muhammad. Impossible Man. Soft Skull. 2009. 346p. ISBN 9781593762261. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781593763602.
With self-deprecating irony, spiritual fervor, and chapter headings like “prostrations and ejaculations,” this account of a young American man’s conversion to Islam is unlike anything else you are likely to read on the topic—although there is no doubt that the author has ruffled some feathers.
Nasr, Amir Ahmad. My Isl@m: How Fundamentalism Stole my Mind—and Doubt Freed My Soul. St. Martin’s. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9781250016799. $26.99; ebk ISBN 9781250016485.
An endearing memoir from a Sudanese blogger active during the Arab Spring uprisings, readers follow as he wrestles with his faith and politics.
Nomani, Asra Q. Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam. HarperOne. 2006. 330p. ISBN 9780060832971. pap. $14.99.
Single mother and journalist Nomani takes readers from her home in West Virginia on her pilgrimage to Mecca, as she struggles to reconcile feminist principles with her faith.
Wilson, G. Willow. The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam. Atlantic Monthly. 2010. 320p. ISBN 9780802118875. $24.
A mystical memoir of a young woman’s call to Islam, journey to Cairo, and embrace of the culture she finds there. An unusual perspective, although some readers may wish that she spoke more directly to women’s issues.
Mystical Islam: Sufism & the West
Barks, Coleman. Rumi: The Big Red Book; The Great Masterpiece Celebrating Mystical Love & Friendship. Harper. 2010. 512p. index. ISBN 9780061905827. $29.99; pap. ISBN 9780061905834. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062020789.
Any collection of 13th-century Sufi poet Rumi is a good one, but this translation of Rumi’s poems to friend and wandering mystic Shams Tabrizi is especially lovely.
Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. The Garden of Truth: The Vision and Promise of Sufism, Islam’s Mystical Tradition. HarperOne. 2007. 249p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780060797225. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9780061625992. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780061744389.
Graceful, probing, and challenging, this exploration of Sufism strikes a balance between the informative and the spiritual. (LJ 8/07)
Around the Web: Resources
Focusing on Muslims in North America and Europe, news coverage is browsable by both topic and country.
Launched in 1995, IslamiCity provides a nonsectarian overview of Islam to a global audience. Covering Islam, Islamic history, and the Qur’an, it aims to promote “peace, justice, and harmony for all people.”
Islamopedia Online; islamopediaonline.com
Committed to providing access to news on Muslim countries and Islamic topics, Islamopedia Online offers translated news stories on hot-button issues.
Views of Islam: Movies
Islam: Empire of Faith. color. 160 min. PBS, www.pbs.org. 2005. DVD UPC 841887050166. $19.99.
Following the muezzin’s call to prayer echoing through a crowded market at the beginning of the documentary, this rich visual and intellectual history of Islam is ably narrated by Ben Kingsley.
Persepolis. b/w. 96 min. Vincent Paronnaud, dist. by Sony Pictures, www.sonyclassics.com. 2007. DVD UPC 043396225251. $14.99.
This mostly black-and-white adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s very popular graphic novels is animated in much the same fashion as the books—a rather flat and simple style—which makes for an interesting viewing experience.
The Taqwacores. color. 83 min. Eyad Zahra, dist. by Strand Releasing, www.strandreleasing.com. 2011. DVD UPC 712267300327. $24.99.
Based on the novel by Michael Muhammad Knight, this indie film depicts a group of young American Muslims exploring their faith in different ways, from the burqa-clad feminist who excises the “misogynistic” portions of her Qur’an to punk rockers to the gay Muslim subculture. The depictions of drugs and sexuality may be offensive to some viewers, but these issues as related to Islam are not often explored in popular media.
Message of the Quran: Muhammad Asad’s Monumental Translation and Commentary. Book Fdn. $6.99. iOS app available for iPhone and iPad.