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The Muslim Next Door
The Qur’an, the Media, and that Veil Thing

by Sumbul Ali-Karamali

      I’ve never been an expert on Islam, but I didn’t realize how very little I know about this ancient religion until I read Sumbul Ali-Karamali’s The Muslim Next Door. A practicing Muslim herself, the author’s ancestry is Indian, but she grew up in California, so she is well acquainted with the perception — or rather, misperceptions — that have taken hold in the United States and most of the Western world. Like many, perhaps most, Muslims in the U.S., Ali-Karamali and her family have experienced threats, ridicule, and discrimination simply because of their faith. The Muslim Next Door describes some of those experiences and explains how and why Islam provides them with the resources to stand up to such treatment.

The book covers broader issues (the historical context in which the Qur’an developed) as well as the minute details (I don’t have a copy of the Qur’an; I have an interpretation of it), and gives thorough, straightforward answers to some questions most of us think we have already answered. For example:

What is a fatwa? (not a death sentence) and who can issue one? (not Osama bin laden)

What is the Nation of Islam? (not an Islamic nation)

What is a jihad? (not a holy war)

What’s the difference between an imam and an Imam?

What’s the difference between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims? What’s a Whirling Dervish? What is Rumi really writing about in his poems?

Are Muslim women oppressed? (The Prophet Muhammad was an advocate for women’s rights as early as the 7th century CE)

Ali-Karamali is an attorney with a J.D. from the University of California at Davis, and she also holds a graduate degree in Islamic law. Her education in addition to her life experience make her, in my opinion, as much an expert in Islam as anyone, so I’m inclined to trust the information she’s given in this book. While almost every question I could think of is answered, Ali-Karamali spends a large portion of her words to address two issues about which she is clearly passionate: the rights of women in Islam, and the mistaken notion of Islam as a violent religion. Her lucid clarification is backed up by numerous real-life examples and references, and the book includes an excellent Suggested Reading list for those who want to know more. In addition, she’s provided a brief list of questions that will be helpful to book discussion groups, but that are also helpful to the individual reader for assimilating and evaluating the facts presented in the book.

At times Ali-Karamali repeats herself, but the repetition is in keeping with the topic being covered and spares the reader the trouble of flipping through the book to refresh memory about a particular historical individual or event. She also tends to go on a bit (not quite ranting) about the myth of oppressed Muslim women, but this is understandable, and perhaps necessary, in order to counter long-standing but erroneous beliefs about that particular area. The Muslim Next Door is packed with information and yet is a compelling read, sprinkled with humor and some charmingly honest asides from the author. This one will definitely be on my Top Ten Books list for the year, and will remain at hand so that I can check the accuracy of those television journalists who’ve handed out so much incorrect information about Islam and its followers in the past.

The Book

White Cloud Press
September 1, 2008
Nonfiction /  Religion / History
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The Reviewer

Deborah Adams
Reviewed 2008
NOTE: Reviewer Deborah Adams is the Flair and Macavity Award winning author of the Jesus Creek Mystery Series: All The Great Pretenders, All The Crazy Winters, All The Dark Disguises, All The Hungry Mothers, All The Deadly Beloved, All The Blood Relations, and All The Dirty Cowards. She was also an Agatha Award nominee for Best First Novel.
© 2008