An award-winning journalist’s account of the year she spent probing the meaning of the Quran with a conservative Muslim religious scholar.
St. Louis native Power spent many years living in cities like Tehran, Kabul, Delhi and Cairo when she was a child and teenager. Eventually, she went on to study Middle Eastern societies in college and graduate school and file news reports about Islamic culture and politics for magazines like Time and Newsweek. But the more she wrote about the Middle East, the more she realized how little she really knew about “the piety [Muslims] claimed inspired them.” So she went to a friend and Oxford professor of religion, Mohammad Akram Nadwi, and asked him to enlighten her on the Quran. The lively dialogue that ensued between them covered such hot-button Western obsessions as women’s rights, polygamy and Sharia law. At the same time, it also delved into more personal topics, such as which Quranic themes her friend found the most important in his own life. The journalist and her friend debated each other in Oxford cafes, lecture halls and Indian madrassas and bonded over shared human experiences, like the deaths of their respective mothers. While Nadwi made God the center of his world, he also supported basic human rights and the importance of “individual conscience over state-mandated laws.” His religious expansiveness had its limits, however, especially where women’s domestic roles and homosexuality were concerned. Power eventually came to see that her friend’s faith derived from understanding the letter of the Quran as bound to historical context and its spirit to evolving human truths. By the end of their year together, she realized that “opposition between [her] own post-Enlightenment worldview and [Nadwi’s] Muslim one” was a false construction that not only prevented her from seeing her friend’s world clearly, but also her own.
Intelligent and exceptionally informative.