All libraries have a unique opportunity, especially in light of the public voicing of cultural anxieties since the 2016 election, to inform their users of the rich and varied experiences of the Islamic world. Despite statistics to the contrary, many people still persist in the belief that “Arab” is the same as “Muslim,” even though of the 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, nearly two-thirds live in the Asia-Pacific region. In fact, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center study, more Muslims live in Pakistan and India than in the entire Middle East and North Africa region.
In academic circles, if one is interested in talking about the genesis of Western awareness of the Middle East, the conversation usually begins with Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978), a seminal work that demonstrated the myriad ways in which the West has flattened ethnic and cultural distinctions regarding the Middle and Far East. Stereotyping can take the form of distrust or even racial profiling, or a malignant suspicion of women wearing head scarves or anyone dressed in non-Western garb. What Said identified was a pervasive and unexamined cultural imperialism in the West based in large measure upon its own sense of self as the norm against which all other cultures and belief systems should be measured.
Undergirding this was Said’s criticism of the West’s appalling lack of curiosity about the various forms of non-Western culture and its misinformed tropes regarding non-Judeo-Christian faiths, especially with respect to Islam. Taken together, this creates a posture born of fear: of the East, of losing cultural hegemony, and of rendering American exceptionalism obsolete as new non-Westerners play a significant world role. This unease is never more present than in discussions of Islam, which has become the cultural nexus for these fears and anxieties.
The words used to identify followers of Islam have undergone a change in keeping with growing cultural awareness. That is, while T.E. Lawrence could use terms such as Mohammedans and Muhammadanism (or even the much older Mahometan) in his early 20th-century works, such language is now considered archaic. It has not only fallen into disuse but is looked upon as particularly offensive.
While historical perspectives are useful, a wealth of fiction and nonfiction titles highlight topics such as sex and gender in Islam, cultural assimilation, and American Islamic identity politics. In addition, understanding Mohammed, the founder of Islam, allows for a deeper appreciation of what the intent and value of his revelatory experiences were for his newfound religion and the ways in which its practice continues to grow.
Starred titles () are essential for all collections.
Ali, Ayaan Hirsi. Infidel. Free Pr. 2007. 361p. illus. ISBN 9780743295031. $20.50; pap. ISBN 9780743289696. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781416538592.
Ali, Ayaan Hirsi. Nomad: From Islam to America; A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations. Free Pr. 2010. 277p. ISBN 9781439157312. $27; pap. ISBN 9781439157329. $16; ebk. 9781439171820. (LJ 5/15/10)
Ali, Ayaan Hirsi. Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now. Harper. 2015. 272p. illus. ISBN 9780062333933. $27.99; pap. ISBN 9780062333940. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062333957.
The controversial Somali-born Ali actively writes and speaks out against Islamic extremism. A victim of female genital mutilation, she details in her memoir, Infidel, her harrowing escape from the constraints of a traditional Muslim existence and her challenging life in the West as an Islamic provocateur. Nomad traces her migration to America, seeking an amalgam of American and Islamic values, to mixed results. Heretic continues her story as she argues that only a religious reformation will end the bastardization of Islam as a religion of violence and fanaticism.
Armstrong, Karen. Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time. Harper. 2007. 256p. maps. notes. ISBN 9780060598976. $21.95; pap. ISBN 9780061155772. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062316837.
Independent historian Armstrong offers a sober look at Muhammad as a religious outsider. She seeks to make sense of the man who is credited with founding Islam, an Arabic word that literally means “surrender.” (LJ 11/1/06)
Cook, Michael. The Koran: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford Univ. 2000. 176p. illus. maps. ISBN 9780192853448. pap. $11.95.
Written for non-Muslims, Cook’s work makes the Koran accessible and understandable by comparing its place as sacred scripture to Jewish and Christian scripture—that is, the Bible.
Dardess, George. Meeting Islam: A Guide for Christians. Paraclete. 2005. 224p. ISBN 9781557254337. pap. $18.95.
Dardess seeks to overcome the cultural and religious prejudices of American Christianity by sharing his experiences of immersing himself in his local Islamic center. A Catholic, he explores the points of continuity and discontinuity between Christianity and Islam. (LJ 10/15/05)
Esposito, John L. What Everyone Needs To Know About Islam. 2d ed. Oxford Univ. 2011. 268p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780199794133. $21.95; ebk. ISBN 9780199794232.
Called a “must read” by The Muslim World Book Review, this work by Islamic scholar Esposito provides historical, cultural, and theological information in easily digestible bits, with most entries no longer than a page or two.
Hamid, Shadi. Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle over Islam Is Reshaping the World. St. Martin’s. 2016. 320p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781250061010. $26.99; pap. ISBN 9781250135131. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466866720.
Writing in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Hamid unpacks the savagery of the Islamic State as a historic inevitability in light of the power of rising Islamic identity. Hamid questions whether there can ever be a true separation of religion and politics in the Middle East.
Islamic Images and Ideas: Essays on Sacred Symbolism. McFarland. 2014. 277p. ed. by John Andrew Morrow. index. ISBN 9780786458486. pap. $45.
Somewhat scholarly in tone, these essays provide distinctive thinking on concepts, images, and symbols from Islamic thought and literature.
Living Islam Out Loud: American Muslim Women Speak. Beacon. 2005. 209p. ed. by Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur. ISBN 9780807083833. pap. $18; ebk. ISBN 9780807096925.
This collection of poetry, first-person essays, and reportage by American Muslim women under 40 includes writers who identify as ethnically Egyptian, Indian, Iraqi, Pakistani, and Senegalese, among others—but all American. The quality inevitably varies, but they cover topics such as cultural hegemony, queerness, segregation, color, civil rights, and gender politics. (LJ 6/15/05)
Nafisi, Azar. Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. Random. 2003. 350p. ISBN 9781860649813. $23.65; pap. ISBN 9780812979305. $18; ebk. ISBN 9781588360793.
Nafisi’s memoir recounts her years in Iran reading literature in her home with women who were formerly her students at a local university. These meetings morphed into open discussions on the political and cultural realities of being female under the Ayatollah Khomeini’s repressive regime. The discussions of life as well as literature, says the author, provided “little pockets of freedom.” (LJ 4/1/03)
Queen Noor. Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life. Miramax. 2003. 480p. illus. index. ISBN 9780786867172. $25.95; pap. ISBN 9781401359485. $13.95; ebk. ISBN 9781572703520.
In 1978, 26-year-old American Lisa Halaby married King Hussein of Jordan, thereby becoming Queen Noor Al-Hussein. This memoir documents her life as the wife of a progressive Arab leader and her humanitarian pursuits in widowhood. It also provides a subtle insider’s view of the sometimes-tenuous relationship between the United States and Arab nations in the latter part of the 20th century.
Yousafzai, Malala & Christina Lamb. I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. Little, Brown. 2015. 368p. illus. maps. ISBN 9780316322409. $26; pap. ISBN 9780316322423. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780316322416.
It seems unlikely that someone would not know of Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl who, for her audacious efforts to continue her education, was shot while riding the bus home from school. An international cause célèbre, here she details her recovery and reveals the power of a single voice to become a peace broker. (SLJ 2/14)
Dysart, Joshua. Living Level-3: Iraq. World Food Programme. 2016. 46p. Available free via Amazon partner Comixology (ow.ly/6ZRJ309CQOE).
Created in partnership with the World Food Programme, this multipart graphic novel brutally documents the humanitarian crisis created when the Islamic State seized territory in places such as Sinjar Province, Iraq.
Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. Pantheon. 2003. 160p. illus. ISBN 9780375422300. $21.95. (LJ 5/1/03)
Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return. Pantheon. 2004. 192p. illus. ISBN 9780375422881. $17.95. (LJ 9/1/04)
The biographical graphic novel by Satrapi details her coming of age in 1970s Iran during the tumult of the revolution. Persepolis 2 continues with her family’s move to Vienna, Austria, where her status as an outsider compels her to return to Iran and question whether she actually belongs anywhere.
Wilson, G. Willow & M.K. Perker. Cairo. Vertigo: DC. 2007. 160p. illus. ISBN 9781401211400. $24.99; pap. ISBN 9781401217341. $17.99.
This work of magical realism, intertwined with politics and romance, presents an American tourist, an Israeli soldier, and an Egyptian journalist, among others, and their encounter with a jinn. Wilson is also the author of Marvel Comics’ new work featuring Muslim superhero Ms. Marvel. (LJ 9/15/07)
Aboulela, Leila. Minaret. Grove Atlantic. 2005. 288p. ISBN 9780802170149. pap. $14; ebk. ISBN 9780802199249.
Sudanese author Aboulela’s heroine Najwa, a once-wealthy student, survives political upheaval and makes the move from Khartoum to London. Along the way, Najwa reflects on the cultural and religious tensions of being an observant Muslim in the secular West. (LJ 7/05)
Hamid, Mohsin. The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Harvest: Houghton Harcourt. 2008. 208p. ISBN 9780156034029. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9780156033121.
A young Pakistani man is living the American dream at the time of the September 11 attacks. Suddenly and unexpectedly, he finds himself sympathizing with the terrorists. (LJ 8/07)
Hosseini, Khaled. The Kite Runner. Riverhead. 2003. 336p. ISBN 9781573222457. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781594481772. $17; ebk. 9781101217238. (LJ 4/15/03)
Hosseini, Khaled. A Thousand Splendid Suns. Riverhead. 2007. 372p. ISBN 9781594489501. $25.95; pap. ISBN 9781594483851. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101010907. (LJ 3/15/07)
Rural Afghanistan and the rise of the Taliban provide the setting behind both of these works by best-selling author Hosseini. Both present heartbreaking narratives of love and loss and the triumph of the human spirit.
Islamic Writers Alliance. Many Voices, One Faith II: Islamic Fiction Stories. Muslim Writers. 2009. 236p. illus. ISBN 9780981977010. pap. $12.95.
These eclectic short stories by female Muslim authors mix memoir, poetry, and fictional narrative. Although varied in content, all challenge readers to consider what it means to choose Islam in today’s world.
Pamuk, Orhan. My Name Is Red. Knopf. 2001. 448p. tr. from Turkish by Erdag Goknar. ISBN 9780375406959. $24; pap. ISBN 9780375706851. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780307386465.
This murder mystery set in 16th-century Ottoman Turkey involves religious maneuvering wherein a group of artists are tasked with creating a great book for the sultan. (LJ 9/1/01)
Rushdie, Salman. The Satanic Verses. Viking. 1989. 560p. ISBN 9780670825370. $27.95; pap. ISBN 9780812976717. $17; ebk. ISBN 9780307786654. (LJ 12/88)
Rushdie, Salman. Shalimar the Clown. Random. 2006. 416p. ISBN 9780679783480. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781588364845. (LJ 9/1/05)
The publication of The Satanic Verses was likely the first time most Westerners had encountered the concept of fatwa—a religious ruling under Islamic law—in this case Iranian cleric Ayatollah Khomeini’s calling for the death of British-Indian author Rushdie for blasphemies against Islam. What got lost in the uproar was the book itself, a meditation on good and evil via magical realism. Shalimar the Clown depicts life in a rural Kashmiri village as a microcosm of radical Afghani politics, as a failed romance fuels one man’s personal jihadi impulses.
Films for the Humanities & Sciences, www.films.com.
This producer offers some of the best documentaries on current issues. A search on “Islam” returned nearly 300 titles, some available for live streaming, some only in DVD format. Special pricing available for school and public libraries.
Women Make Movies, www.wmm.com.
A multicultural, multiracial nonprofit media arts organization, WMM produces and distributes films by and about women, with roughly 40 titles relating to Islam. Option to purchase or rent, with special library pricing.
Directory of Open Access Journals; doaj.org
A subject search of Islam returned access to 20 full-text journals and more than 2,500 articles on Islamic culture, history, law, literature, and religious practice.
Islamic Society of North America; www.isna.net
The largest national Muslim organization in the United States, this site links to social, cultural, and religious leadership opportunities for North American Muslims.
The Religion of Islam; www.islamreligion.com
This interactive site includes audio and visual aids as well as articles, ebooks, and chat features to promote the understanding of Islam to a nonaffiliated audience.
World Almanac of Islamism (American Foreign Policy Council); almanac.afpc.org
With a heavy emphasis on American foreign policy, this site includes pages relating to radical Islamist movements worldwide, including Al Aqeda, Boko Haram, and the Muslim Brotherhood.
An international search engine for restaurants and markets serving halal (meat prepared according to Islamic law).
Al Quran. Sayed Samad. Available for Apple.
Over 100 translations of the Quran in 30 different languages. Has bookmarking capabilities as well as verse reference search and verse emailing.
Islamic Compass Free. Mobile Software Inst., B.V. Free download for Android & Apple.
This application provides the exact direction of Mecca as well as a call to prayer alert, no matter where one might be.
Muslim Dua Now. Quran Reading. Available for Apple.
Duas (prayers of supplication or invocation) are provided for a range of situations. n
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To submit titles (new and/or backlist), contact Barbara Genco four to six months before issue dates listed above (email: email@example.com)