A look at Islam through the lens of the cultures that influenced it.
Marafi, in her debut, draws on her experience of growing up in Kuwait to unpack many of the West’s perceptions of Islam. She shows how conceptions of Islam’s values—particularly those dealing with race, jihad, property and the role of women—are actually based on the trappings and customs of other, previous cultures. She begins with the base line assumption that culture can be a means of communication, before going on to look at more contentious perceptions of Islam, and then demonstrating how the religion itself doesn’t support certain ideas and behaviors. She devotes necessary attention to the nature of jihad, explaining how it isn’t about a violent attack on non-Muslims; instead, it relates to the Islamic pilgrimage called hajj, as well as education, travel and other aspects of everyday Muslim life. A similar exploration of the role of women in Islam usefully undoes common assumptions about head-covering, modesty and women’s rights and responsibilities. Marafi demonstrates a broad knowledge of both Kuwaiti culture and Islamic theology, which goes a long way toward her stated goal of tearing down harmful stereotypes and increasing understanding. Although the book seems aimed at a Western audience, the author often discusses her own opinions and beliefs about Kuwaiti culture, which some readers may find less relevant. The book also struggles somewhat with its lack of organization, shifting suddenly between topics, and the author’s occasionally awkward English sometimes muddies her points. Overall, however, the book is an approachable, useful contribution to helping bridge the gap between Muslims and non-Muslim Westerners, and a fine book for curious, open-minded readers.
A well-informed and broad-minded, if somewhat disorganized, survey of Islam.