The Denton Public Library is one of 840 libraries and state humanities councils across the country selected to receive the Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the American Library Association (ALA). The program aims to familiarize public audiences in the United States with the people, places, history, faith and cultures of Muslims in the United States and around the world.
The Muslim Journeys Bookshelf includes 31 book and DVD titles, organized by theme: American Stories; Connected Histories; Literary Reflections; Pathways of Faith; Points of View; and Art, Architecture and Film.
The books and films comprising the Bookshelf were selected with the advice of librarians and cultural programming experts, as well as distinguished scholars in the fields of anthropology, world history, religious studies, interfaith dialogue, the history of art and architecture, world literature, Middle East studies, Southeast Asian studies, African studies, and Islamic studies.
The following are reviews by library staff members of a few of the items from the Muslim Journeys bookshelf. You can find a complete list of the items here.
Koran By Heart
This documentary was a mix between Spellbound and A State of Mind, both fascinating documentaries themselves. Koran By Heart gives insight into a part of the Muslim world many of us know nothing about. This film closely followed three 10-year-old Muslim children from non-Arab speaking countries on their journey to Cairo to compete in the International Holy Koran Competition. Hailing from Tajikistan, Senegal, and the Maldives, these children leave their rural homelands and are thrust into a bustling city where they are grouped together with over 100 other competitors from 70 different countries, most of whom older teens or young adults. The competition requires participants to recite a piece of the Koran from one given point to another in front of a panel of judges. The competition is fascinating, but also intimidating, for they are judged on the accuracy of the wording as well as the Tilawah (rules of recitation), which proves to be difficult to the youngsters who do not speak Arabic.
This film gracefully takes you into the lives of these participants and provides sprinklings of many others’, giving a peek into the current struggles between moderate and conservative Islam, as well as how some Muslims see their place in this world. You cannot help but care about these children, root for them in the competition, be proud when they succeed and have hope for their future!
House of Stone by Anthony Shadid
After seeing the abandoned, war-damaged, stone house of his great grandparents while on assignment in Lebanon, Anthony Shadid was struck with a desire for a sense of home or the Arabic term, Bayt.
So moved, Anthony took a year off work at the Washington Post to restore the 100-year-old house of his great grandfather, Isber Samara, in the Southern Lebanon city of Jedaidat Marjayoun. His plan was to rehabilitate the house and create a home where he and his family can always return for a sense of peace and belonging, Bayt Samara.
The restoration of Isber’s house was no easy task. Anthony had his work cut out for him, from the local maalim (expert tradesmen) who work on their own time, to the lack of resources, and the current volatility in the Middle East. Throughout the rehab, readers learn about the region’s history as Anthony tells stories about his forefathers, from the days of the Ottoman Empire, to their immigration to America. In addition, he touches on more current issues while sharing personal stories from his work as a Middle East news correspondent. Anthony is no stranger to danger; he was shot by sniper fire covering the 2002 Israeli Incursion in the West Bank. Later in 2011, he and three other reporters were captured in Lybia, beaten and held hostage for four days by Gaddafi’s soldiers.
Neil Shah, the narrator, did a fantastic job bringing Anthony’s story to life. Shah’s eloquent reading of the book gave light to the humor of Anthony’s experiences and allowed for a greater connection with Anthony and the interesting cast of characters that made up his life.
An interesting local tie to this story is the fact that the Shadid and Samara families’ immigration to America brought them to, of all places, Sherman, TX and areas just North of the Red River in Oklahoma. Later many settled and are still living in Oklahoma City.
On a sad note, Anthony Shadid is no longer living. At the young age of 43, five short months after completing this book, he died while on assignment in Syria.
An article by Tyler Hick, New York Times photographer, about Shadid’s last assignment and his death can be read at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/04/world/middleeast/bearing-witness-in-syria-a-war-reporters-last-days.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
The Butterfly Mosque: A Young Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam by G. Willow Wilson
G. Willow Wilson writes about her experience converting to Islam in a post-911 world. When Willow begins reading the Qur’an, she finds it speaks to her and awakens in her a spirituality she has been seeking. She then journeys to Egypt in an attempt to understand herself and Islam better. Living in Egypt is an experience worth reading about – how Willow and her roommate navigate the market, the street of Cairo, and the rules set by the religion and the government of a foreign country. Then, Willow falls in love with Omar, a man from Cairo, and she finds navigating between the American and Egyptian worlds both difficult and rewarding.
I found this story both fascinating and beautiful. Ms. Wilson writes with stark honesty and bravery, confronting what it means to believe in a religion that most Americans don’t understand and fear. Her experiences living in Cairo are both funny and fascinating. When she and her roommate move from their comfortable flat to more conservative neighborhood to save money and live closer to Omar’s family, they practically starve for weeks because they don’t know how to navigate the new marketplace. When Ms. Wilson gains an interview with Ali Gomaa, the grand mufti of Egypt, her deft handling of political situations becomes apparent. Ms. Wilson’s writing is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. Her understanding of the American and Egyptian perspective is unique and I hope she will continue writing and bring better understanding across the cultural and religious divide. I highly recommend The Butterfly Mosque if you wish to learn more about Islam and an American woman’s experience with this religion in a difficult but fascinating foreign country.