A Pulitzer Prize finalist delves into the fascinating life and letters of a young Jewish woman who converted to radical Islam and moved from suburban New York to Pakistan.
In 1962, 28-year-old Margaret Marcus left her parents' secular Jewish home to live in Lahore in the Muslim household of idealogue and Islamic political leader Maulana Mawdudi. In Pakistan, Marcus changed her name to Maryam Jameelah and penned expressive letters to her parents describing, during the next three decades, her newfound identity, community and the motivations behind her conversion and all-consuming embrace of Islam. Jameelah went on to write not only letters—the archives of which Baker (A Blue Hand: The Beats in India, 2008, etc.) came across in the New York Public Library—but an enormously popular set of books criticizing Western materialism and exalting life lived according to the laws of the Koran. Baker's account unfolds chronologically through Jameelah's letters, included in the book, as well as various articles she published in American magazines. Despite Jameelah's unwavering, outspoken disdain for Western secularism, she faced mounting obstacles in her new life, all of which the author examines as a platform to explore the broader subject of how radical idealism manifests itself. Jameelah eschewed what she viewed as the miserably misguided popular values of her native country, but this opposition did not tamp out her love for and connection to her parents. On this note, Baker, who corresponded and finally met with Jameelah in her home, opens the door to the vital questions of how radical Islam has impacted the world, and what part converts such as Jameelah have played.
An important, searing, highly readable and timely narrative.