The Secret Book

A couple months ago I got a book out of the library. I was looking for books about Islam. When I first became Muslim, the entire library system had hardly any books about Islam. Now there are over 1,000, but most of them are either the same kind of informational text: “There are five pillars of Islam…” or they are political: Why Muslims are our enemies. There’s not a lot there actually written for Muslims.

So I selected a promising title: Standing Alone in Mecca. The description said that it was about a woman going on hajj with her infant son. The first day I brought it home, my husband said, “From where did you get this book.” I said, “The library. I haven’t started reading it yet. Don’t know if it’s any good.”

My husband said (and I quote), “She’s one of those numb-nuts who thinks that men and women should pray together.” I placidly replied that maybe it wasn’t very good then, but secretly I wanted to read the book even more because I wanted to know what she had to say. I didn’t just want to hear my husband’s opinion on her. Besides, maybe she was just “guilty by association.”

So what happened was I hid the book and read it at night in secret, and, I have to say, that I feel in some way that this secret book reading proves some of her points. I mean, why should I feel the need to read a book in secret?

So far as it goes, it seems like she probably does believe that men and woman should pray together, and maybe she has done other things since the book was published, but what she actually fought for? That was sunnah, that was women’s basic rights. It’s hard to believe it’s even controversial.She argued for the right of woman to attend the masjids, use the main sanctuary, etc. She made a lot of comments about Wahhabis and salafis, but even people I know of who other people consider to be in those categories wouldn’t say otherwise. I listened to a lecture given by Dr. Bilal Philips, in which he explained that having a separate woman’s section in the masjid was contrary to sunnah (in fact a bida), and that the women had to be able to see the prayer. One of the local masjids has actually built their facilities without a separate prayer hall for women, and they reserve space in the masjid for woman. It is a newer building, so this was intentional. At the same time, there are other masjids that won’t even allow women because they don’t have a separate prayer room for them.

I’m not saying everyone has to agree, but I think judging people before you even listen to them is a dangerous thing. We need to listen more, not just be ready to fight our position.





Girl At War

A couple of weeks ago I read the novel Girl at War by Sara Novic, and it made me realize that I was wrong about the Holocaust. It was not uniquely chilling as I thought. Only the scale of it perhaps. When I got to the description of Ana’s parents being killed, the prisoners standing around a pit and being shot one by one by soldiers so that they fell into their own grave, and they knew what was happening, I thought to myself that it was exactly the same. I could have been reading a description of something that happened in the Holocaust. Only the time and the people involved were different. This wasn’t that long ago, within my lifetime, so does that mean this is just part of human nature?

I almost didn’t finish reading the book that scene was so horrific to me, but it was a good book, and these sort of things deserve to be read and remembered, so I continued. That was actually the worst scene in the book. It wasn’t really about the horrors of war; it was about how you go on living after.

What strikes me the most is how ordinary their lives were. I feel like most Americans think things like that happen in foreign, far off places, that are inherently more dangerous, but they were living ordinary lives, so much like our own. There may have been small indications that things were going wrong, but how could anyone imagine?

Also, it’s not some foreign threat. It’s your own people who turn on you, who decide that you are the wrong ethnicity, or race, or religion, that you are no longer one of them, that you need to be exterminated.

And yet, as the book shows, somehow the survivors go on living. This is the world we live in.