Finding Peace in the Holy Land: A British Muslim Memoir by Lauren Booth

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Practising faith is like opening a door and realizing your life so far has been lived in a broom cupboard in the mansion of existence. Reality actually lies beyond and underneath the nuts and bolts, the brooms and cloths of the material world.

Finding Peace in the Holy Land is a memoir by Lauren Booth, who is probably best well-known as Tony Blair’s sister-in-law. Beginning with her hilarious upbringing, and moving through her life as an actress, a political activist, and then a journalist and humanitarian, it is ultimately the story of how she came to Islam.

Booth has a lovely sense of humor, and her writing is as spontaneous and vivacious as she herself is. Her sharp descriptions of the landscape in Palestine (“a building decorated in the local flavor; bullet holes”) and her narrative flair (“It was excellent advice. Advice I would completely ignore”) were a pleasure to read. View Post

The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters

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The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters is an adult contemporary novel by Nadiya Hussain, who won the Great British Bake Off. It’s a story about a Bangladeshi family living in the English countryside told from the alternating points of view of the four daughters.

This book was just okay for me.

  • The characters were almost caricaturish in the way they fit into neat little boxes, each fulfilling a role: the rebellious sister, the nurturing sister, the trendy sister, and the insecure sister.
  • There was way too much going on in the plot.
  • And it tied up too neatly at the end with a really unrealistic resolution to one of the biggest conflicts.

There is another installment about the Amir sisters coming out in the US in January. I might pick it up just to see what happens to these characters next. I might not.

Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini

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No words to describe this stunning new book from Khaled Hosseini. Inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis, this book is a prayer from a father for his son as they wait to board a boat. The writing is as heartbreakingly beautiful as the illustrations are evocative.

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It begins with the father’s memories of the Syria before: “the creek where your uncles and I built a thousand boyhood dams.”

. . . moves into the reality of this generation’s Syria: “You know a bomb crater can be made into a swimming hole.”

. . . and ends with the sea: “how vast, how indifferent. How powerless I am to protect you from it.”

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It’s a book that’s not easy to classify. Perhaps “an illustrated poem inspired by true events and intended for adults” is the closest I can get. In any case, it’s one of my favorite books of the year.

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Part of the proceeds go to UNHCR, so go get your copy now.

Communicating with Allah by Bassem Saeh

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Once upon a time, Bassem Saeh was asked to speak at an event about prayer (salah). When the time came, he rushed up to the podium and hurriedly read a few verses and a couple of hadeeth he had jotted down on a piece of paper, reading so quickly that his words ran together. He then turned and left. The audience was shocked and confused. After a moment, he returned to the podium and explained that his performance was no worse than the way that many of us pray. Rushing in, reciting without expression or understanding, and rushing off again.

Communicating with Allah: Rediscovering Prayer is Saeh’s answer to the problem of disconnecting from our distracting, modern lives and finding tranquility in our connection with Allah. Unique and powerful, this book breathes new life into an action that Muslims repeat constantly. If you are looking to worship smarter, a little bit of consistency in improving the quality of your five daily prayers will go a long way. View Post

The Rohingya Crisis: A People Facing Extinction by Muhammad Abdul Bari

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A concise and informative history of the Rohingya, an evidence-based denunciation of Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing campaign, and an impassioned plea for recognition and human rights for the Rohingya. 

Before reading this book, I knew little more about the Rohingya than that something awful was happening to them and that it had to do with Myanmar, wherever that is. I should be ashamed of myself; I know.

Instead of relieving my shame, this book has increased it. I am ashamed of what some of humanity is capable of doing, and what the rest of humanity is content to allow to happen.

This 69-page book offers a concise and informative introduction to the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya by the state of  Myanmar. Since August of last year, more than 10,000 Rohingya have been killed, and more than half a million people have fled across the border to Bangladesh. Even more disturbing than the scale of the crisis is the lack of awareness about it. View Post