The Muslim Next Door – a review

Suppose you are in the bookstore, or the library, and you are looking for information on Islam. You head toward the Religion section, find Islam, and immediately, you are stumped. There are several Qur’ans, and various books claiming to have the “true” portrait of Muslims contained within its pages. But, wait, what it this? Do you want to learn about the Shi’a revival, the Sunni law making procedures, or the Sufi meditation practices?

Confused yet?

Sumbul Ali-Karamali has written a solution to the initial confusion. Titled “The Muslim Next Door: The Qur’an, the Media, and that Veil Thing”, this is one book that gives a very informed introduction to some of the most pressing questions about Islam in the 21st century. Beginning with an explanation of the 5 pillars of Islam, Ali-Karamali takes the reader on a brief journey through history and ends with an overview of being an American Muslim in a post 9/11 world.

Initially, I wanted to give this  book 3.5 stars (out of 5). The author began well enough, but at times seemed to be contradictory and overly apologetic. Her emphasis that certain widely known (and misunderstood)  practices were the result of culture and not religion quickly became repetitious. However, as I continued to read, I gained more respect for Sumbul Ali-Karamali’s simplistic writing style, as well as her candid way of sharing her personal experiences as a South Asian-American Muslim woman.

With ease, she describes the differences between sects, the alien concept of “clergy” to most Muslims, and analyzes several problematic verses in the Qur’an. The longest chapter in the book is chapter 7, “Women In Islam.” Here she goes into detail, citing historical and anecdotal evidence that Muslim women are not the sheltered, oppressed women that they are thought to be.

Overall, this book is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to quickly learn more about “real” Islam. I give it 4 stars (out of 5) and recommend it to people who crave knowledge of “what’s really going on.”

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