When I first heard about this book I wasn't particularly inclined to read it. In recent years, we have heard so many explanations from Muslims trying to communicate their beliefs to the world that I'm not inclined to repeat it all again. I'm also not interested in living my life on the defensive.
However, I was recently offered the opportunity to read it and decided to have a look at it with an open mind. Dialogue is a comic book written and illustrated by Norédine Allam, one of the creators of The Muslim Show, a French comic published by BDouin Editions. The goal, as stated on the back, is to clear up misconceptions that non-Muslims may have about Islam, with a focus on particular, often controversial, topics. He certainly stuck to his word with this, as the first issue jumps straight into a discussion about terrorism.
As soon as I saw the topic, I cringed. Do I really want to see another Muslim explaining that "Islam is a religion of peace" and "war is bad" (I'm paraphrasing here)? I said I would read it with an open mind though, didn't I? Fine, let's carry on. What I found was a pleasant surprise. The use of clear, precise language and engaging illustrations makes for enjoyable and, more importantly, accessible reading for anyone who doesn't have background knowledge on the topic or Islam in general. It also presents the topic in more detail than other explanations I have come across, without it becoming heavy or overwhelming. It is clear that Allam did his research and thought carefully about how he was going to present the information.
The second part of the book takes the reader around a mosque, with a demonstration of how Muslims prepare for prayer, mosque etiquette, and the various functions a mosque and imam perform in the community. I particularly liked the two-page spread displaying the different parts of the mosque, even if it is perhaps a little more spacious and well-equipped than some mosques you might walk into in the UK or France. I also enjoyed the scene introducing the imam's young son doing cartwheels around the prayer space! The book ends with some pertinent verses from the Qur'an and sayings of the Prophet, peace be upon him.
Overall, I was impressed with this book. I think it brought to light some key assumptions that I am carrying around in my subconscious about having these discussions. The first is that my knee-jerk reaction to dismiss those claiming to explain misunderstandings about Islam comes largely from the fact that often such explanations are too simplistic, or are presented with an apologetic tone, sometimes doing more harm than good. The second is that, although I'm still hesitant to feel like I should have to explain myself or Islam on a regular basis, there is no doubt an important place for discussions and media that clarify Islam for those who are sincerely interested in learning. Such projects should be part of a wider educational infrastructure that doesn't just focus on those surface issues highlighted in mainstream media, but also addresses the foundational beliefs and principles that put all other details into context and challenges the narrow ideological lens that is often imposed on these discussions in a Western setting. With all this in mind, I appreciate those who put the time, effort and research into producing high quality materials that address these issues and I think Dialogue is on the right track.
I recently watched a couple of Japanese and Chinese series because, after reading books from these two countries, I was curious to see what their other media was like. Immediately, I picked up on something that made me smile. It wasn't a heartwarming reunion or a delightful plot twist; it was the sight of a woman entering her house, looking down and removing her shoes.
Some of you may already have realised why this made me smile. For the same reason reading that description probably made you smile too. Because in it you recognise a practice from your own home. This is even more powerful when you so often don't see it. I can't be the only person who has cringed at the sight of someone jumping into bed with their boots on (seriously, how can they do that?)!
Representation takes many forms, but I think these little, almost invisible, actions that we take for granted in our daily lives are my favourite. They may seem like insignificant details, but they add up and stand up against those forces that would erase us.
What little details have you noticed in books or other media that have created that warm feeling of recognition in you?
Reader. Occasional writer. Muslim.