سوار الذهب (or “Gold Ring” in English) is an Emirati manga written by Qais Sedki. It follows Sultan, a 15-year-old boy who lives with his mother in the old town (of Dubai, I assume, but the book doesn’t specify). Although his father passed away a few years earlier, he is a constant presence in Sultan’s decisions and everyday life and leads him to discover his passion and talent. The story starts with the finals of an international falconry tournament, Gold Ring, where Sultan and his friend Ziyad are attempting to sneak in to watch the competition without getting caught, despite the pangs of Sultan’s conscience. This sets off a sequence of events that see Sultan befriend a wild falcon, meet a mysterious and legendary desert-dwelling friend of his father’s and learn to train his new falcon friend, Majd, so he can take part in the next season of Gold Ring. The author’s intentions with this book are made very clear both in his introduction and in the story itself. He wants to use his books to encourage reading among Arab children and impart good morals and character in an "inspiring and stimulating” story. I think this down-to-earth, straightforward intention and execution is part of the appeal for me. His choice of manga to achieve this is significant in the Emirati context where anime, and Japanese culture in general, has been a staple of childhood for several decades, much like many other countries in the Arab world.
In imparting moral messages I think the book is overall successful. There are a couple of places where it is quite explicit, such as when Sultan tells his friend “الخطأ خطأ… و لو لم يُكتشف" (“wrong is wrong, even if you’re not caught”), but I don’t think this is a disadvantage and a child wouldn’t find this distracting. Aside from integrity, the story encourages respect for parents, upholding family ties, hard work and persistence, trustworthiness and the good treatment of animals. This is intimately intertwined with a strong sense of faith and trust in Allah, which is visible in the book and in Sedki’s interviews. I would have enjoyed finding out more about the women and girls in Sultan’s life, as his mother was the only significant female character, but I appreciate that a lot of the story took place in contexts where there would likely be more men and there aren’t many characters in the story anyway. Along with the moral messages, I also sensed a strong nostalgia for the traditional Emirati life, which I was happy to indulge in, in the choice of the old town for Sultan’s home, the pull of the desert and the man-of-few-words character of the desert-dwelling Suroor. The newer developments of the country are only present in passing reference to “the city centre”, which Sultan and his mother have no interest in being part of, and are never seen on the page, except in the modern falconry stadium. This is not to say that this is a story stuck in the past; it is still very much rooted in the present with mobile phones, dune buggies and the stadium, but these are just a small part of an active, organic and meaningful lifestyle. Perhaps in doing this Sedki also hoped to tempt his young readers away from their phones and shopping malls to explore the natural world around them.
A major contributor to creating this atmosphere in a manga is of course the illustrations. Drawn by the well-established Japanese illustrating duo, Akira Himekawa, the Emirati character of the book is taken to new heights and I loved every page of it! Although I haven’t given manga or graphic novels much attention until recently, I could immediately see the enrichment these illustrations brought to the book. Through Akira Himekawa’s drawings we could experience the beautiful simplicity of Sultan’s traditional home and neighbourhood, the majesty of the desert and the impressive Gold Ring stadium, all while maintaining their distinct Japanese manga style. A personal favourite in these drawings has to be the clothes: the Emirati men’s dishdash and ghotra in various styles, the women’s burqa’ and even an Afghani competitor wearing a Pakol hat, which was a lovely surprise! Sultan’s outfit was not always entirely accurate, in my experience (I’ve never seen a ghotra tied like a bandana), but it still somehow portrayed the essence of how a boy playing in the streets dresses. A frame that sticks in my memory most, though, is the simple scene of Sultan greeting his uncle with the Emirati touch of the nose, which is the type of evocative detail that creates truly authentic stories its readers can relate to.
All in all, I think this book would be a valuable addition to a child’s library, whether Emirati or otherwise. It portrays strong examples of characters with integrity, dignity and compassion and encourages a passion for learning and persistence in achieving a goal. Although I felt the end was a little rushed, the story was engaging and otherwise well-paced. While the UAE, and Dubai in particular, is quite popular with Muslim tourists, I felt that this book provided an authentic view of a traditional Emirati lifestyle that most tourists would not be exposed to. It also gives children insight into the traditions and way of life in another Muslim-majority country, which I feel is hugely valuable in inspiring in Muslim children a sense of unity in the Ummah that goes beyond borders and nationality. My dream Muslim child’s library consists of books from across the world portraying the real, everyday lives of children and adults in all its complexity, not just the pretty and not just the struggles, but always with faith and integrity!
Unfortunately, after all that, I have to add that this book is very difficult to find in its original Arabic and so far impossible to find in the English translation. There have been two books written (in Arabic) in this series, but after that it seems to have come to a halt.
Muhammad: Character and Conduct aims, as the title suggests, to explore the personality, attributes and behaviour of the last Messenger and Prophet of Allah, Muhammad, peace be upon him. In his introduction, Salahi adds that he will also address some of the criticisms that have been levelled against the Prophet, although he is quick to note that this is not out of any need to defend the him as he needs no defence. Adil Salahi has written a number of other books, including an 850-page book on the life of the Prophet, Muhammad: Man and Prophet, and a translation of the Qur’an entitled The Qur’an: A Translation for the 21st Century, which aims to offer a clear, accessible text for the English speaker. In this article, I will not be addressing the factual content of the book as, in my ignorance, I have no way of assessing it, but will instead explore my reading experience.
Knowing about his other works when I started reading the present book made clear to me Salahi’s style, which focuses on accessibility of language, and this is evident throughout the 300-page book. The language he uses is very simple and his sentences are generally quite simple too. He even goes to the extent of explaining the meaning of words that most people familiar with the story of early Islam would already understand, such as “hypocrites”. I found that some of the language was a little too casual at times and that there was also some repetition of descriptions of events that could probably be eliminated with a little reorganisation; in a word, Salahi’s work would be done great justice with another check by a proofreader. This didn’t take away from my overall pleasure in reading the book, however, and I think one of the reasons for this was Salahi’s tone.
The introduction establishes an open and honest relationship between reader and writer and the book doesn’t betray that relationship at any point. In his almost conversational tone, he takes us through a summary of the life of the Prophet, then proceeds to focus on the different roles the Prophet played in his life before and after revelation, shedding particular light on the way his character ennobled these roles and his relationships with the many different people and communities he interacted with. He provides footnotes with his sources and occasional extra notes at the end of each chapter and when he presents an idea that is different to the dominant interpretation, he humbly and methodically explains his reasoning. This not only serves to provide the reader with the sources they would need to investigate the matter themselves, but also instills in the reader a respect for critical thinking and logical argument for the sake of upholding the truth of the Prophet’s honourable character and ensuring that we are able to apply justice and good conduct in our own lives. A particularly honest footnote that struck me was one in which he pointed out an argument he had made in his previous book that he had later discovered was incorrect and this only led me to a greater respect for him as a researcher and sincere seeker of truth. The final element of Salahi’s tone that, I feel, makes all the difference in this book is his clear reverence and love for the Prophet, which is apparent on every page.
Before picking this book up, it had been quite a long time since I had read a book on the life of the Prophet, peace be upon him. In the past few years, I have been more inclined towards taking courses or seminars or listening to podcasts on subjects related to Islamic Sciences, which are beneficial in themselves. I also realise that I have been a little distracted by books that explore the way people have applied Islam, whether correctly or incorrectly, in specific contexts (and particularly more recently), and therefore not given due attention to books on more fundamental fields that I need to understand in order to be able look at its application with a more discerning eye. While I read this, I was also reading books exploring oppression and suffering and striving for justice, which only served to further highlight the need for me to return to the basics. Reading this book reminded me of the great value of dedicating ourselves to just sitting down and reading about the Prophet. In the way he lived his life we can find so many of the answers we are seeking today for our own selves, for our families and societies and for the world. May Allah reward the writer, Adil Salahi, and his family for his hard work and the Kube Publishing team for their contribution to English-language Islamic and Muslim literature. May Allah send his peace and blessings on the mercy for all the worlds, the Prophet Muhammad, and his family, companions and followers.
Many thanks to Kube Publishing for the complimentary copy of this book.
I didn’t plan to write about this book until I had finished reading it, but with Ramadan coming up I thought it would be helpful for me to mention it a bit sooner. The Heart of the Qur’an is a commentary on Surah Yasin with a difference. At 111 pages, it is relatively short and in addition to textual explanations, incorporates the use of diagrams and bright colours to explore the meanings of this key chapter in the Qur’an. It is published by Kube Publishing, an established publisher of Islamic fiction and non-fiction in the UK, and written by imam and Islamic studies instructor Asim Khan. It also has a stamp of approval in the form of a foreword from prominent UK-based scholar Dr Haitham al-Haddad.
Tafsir, or commentary on the Qur’an, is an important field of study for a Muslim to have at least a basic grasp of. However, for the layperson it may seem like the books of tafsir are a big commitment, while the footnotes in your mushaf (Qur’an in book form) feel insufficient for your understanding or difficult for you to put into the wider context. I think this book is a very good example of an in-between solution and perhaps a launchpad into more serious study later on. The writing style is clear; it is easy to understand and gives enough context to connect it to other parts of the chapter or of the Qur’an. Khan has also used well-established sources of tafsir and referenced them clearly. He has divided the surah into thematic sections and addresses each section in a separate chapter, allowing the reader to understand how the surah progresses and the focus of each part. He also regularly takes time in between explaining individual ayat to connect the meanings discussed to our lives today and answers questions that may pop into people’s minds as they are reading. The questions he has chosen to answer clearly indicate that he has taken the time to think about the types of thoughts people might have as they are reading through the ayat and hasn’t shied away from addressing what some may consider more controversial questions. This clearly demonstrates Khan’s sincerity and focus on making the text as accessible and beneficial as possible to the everyday Muslim reader.
The use of visual aids in this book is one of the primary features that distinguish it from others in this category and I think it is generally very successful. I say “generally” because I think it could have gone further with incorporating more graphic representations of certain types of information that lend themselves to visual over textual demonstration (perhaps there were printing constraints that prohibited this). Colour is used to delineate the different sections and the same colours are used in diagrams exploring the entire surah, which helps the reader to understand how the sections fit together. Another effective use of colour is the word banks where a number of key words in the section are highlighted with definitions. Diagrams are used for a number of purposes, but one that struck me particularly as I started this book was a timeline of revelation and where Surah Yasin fit into it. We often come across textual explanations of when and why particular surahs were revealed, but I found this visual representation made its significance immediately clear to me and I was able to refer back to it quickly whenever I needed to.
When I first saw this book I knew I wanted to read it because I am quite a visual learner, but once I found myself with the book in my hands, I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. I felt like reading it cover-to-cover like a normal book wouldn’t necessarily allow me to process all the information inside or to connect it to how I interact with the surah in general. After some thought, I decided to try reading a section every Friday (or another day if you can’t fit it in alongside reading Surat ul-Kahf) and then memorising that section of the chapter during the week. This way, I would get an understanding of a few ayat (verses) and then have that in mind as I memorised them. I find that I am able to memorise a lot easier if I understand the nuances of the ayat and how they connect with each other. I also think the word bank feature of this book lends itself to being read alongside memorisation. It’s worth keeping in mind that the sections are of varying lengths with the longest dedicated to 20 ayahs and the shortest to just two, so if you do decide to approach the book in this way, it’s worth planning ahead and perhaps spending two weeks on the longer section and using the shortest section as a review week. Of course, we all have a different pace when it comes to memorisation of the Qur’an, so make sure you choose a realistic timeline for yourself. I wouldn’t advise going any faster than one section a week, though, if you really want to internalise the meanings of the ayat outlined in The Heart of the Qur'an at the same time.
Since Ramadan is almost here, this could be a very rewarding project for the month; if you dedicate a section to each week you could have memorised all of Surah Yasin - with understanding - by the middle of Shawwal. What an achievement that would be! If you have this book, how have you approached it? Have you found the visual representations helpful? I imagine people have found many ways to engage with this book and I would love to know what has worked for you.
This book is currently available to buy on the Kube Publishing website and they are running a Ramadan sale of 25% off with the code Ramadan2020, so this looks like a great time to buy it, if you are ready!
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee was recommended to me over a year ago and has remained at the forefront of my reading mind thanks to regular reminders from Instagram and the book's general popularity. Finally, I decided to jump in and see if it warranted all the attention. Part of my interest in reading this book was because I know very little about Korea and have never read a Korean book before (this one is by a Korean-born American writer). I think this was a good book to choose to change that, and the fact that it is set in Japan was a bonus since I'm not very familiar with Japan either.
The story spans 80 years, starting in the south of Korea in 1910 and taking us through the Japanese occupation of Korea, then to Japan during and following World War II. We experience this journey through the eyes of five generations of a Korean family as they deal with poverty and discrimination in Japan. A review on Goodreads said they found it hard to follow the story as it sometimes jumps from one time and place to another quite abruptly. This is always a risk with multi-generational sagas as there are a lot of characters involved, but I actually felt that Lee did a good job in this regard. I found it easy to keep up with what had happened in the interim. There are other books in this genre that I have struggled with much more in terms of remembering who's who.
Naturally, in a book that covers two (and a half) countries, many characters and large sections of history, there are a lot of aspects to this book that could be discussed. However, I would like to focus on two that I found myself appreciating and thinking about the most: its historical context and questions of national/ethnic identity.
Given my ignorance of the region, I found the insight into Korea and Japan and their historical relationship enlightening. Lee was very successful in incorporating key historical moments into the story and highlighting how these events affected the lives of the most vulnerable. In fact, she mentioned in an interview at the back of the book that this was indeed one of her aims: "Although the history of kings and rulers is unequivocally fascinating, I think that we are also hungry for the narrative history of ordinary people, who lack connections and material resources. [...] I wanted to explore and better understand how common people live through these events." We learn about how the Japanese annexation of Korea led to poverty and starvation for many poorer Koreans, and the way the Japanese leadership used taxation to claim land from the richer population. We also witness the tense relationship between the Japanese and Korean immigrants in Japan, the way World War II affected Japan and its residents and even a little of the perceptions of the establishment of a Communist leadership in North Korea. Of course, this book is a novel, not a history book, so it's just a starting point and there are naturally many other perspectives on these events. All the same, I think it's particularly unusual to see the experience of Koreans living in Japan and the particular struggles that they faced in terms of survival, but also how it impacted ideas around identity in the following generations, which brings me to the next aspect of the book that jumped out at me.
I really appreciated the way Lee explored national or ethnic identity in this book. As the story passes from one generation to the next, we witness slight shifts in the way the characters perceive their own identities and those of their peers and relatives and the questions they have to ask themselves. For me, I think the most striking character in terms of his struggle with identity was probably one of the sons from the first Japanese-born generation, Noa. [If you don't want spoilers, move to the next paragraph] Growing up, he tries to be "the perfect Korean" by studying hard, staying away from trouble and ignoring the taunts and discrimination he faces from his Japanese classmates. He spends all of his childhood believing that if he is "good enough" he will be accepted and the discrimination will stop. When he realises eventually that in the eyes of racist systems and individuals, his Koreanness will always trump his "goodness", he decides to cut himself off from everything that makes him Korean and starts a new life pretending to be Japanese. Of course, this choice is one that causes him constant emotional suffering and he is never fully at peace again. Reading his story, I often found myself thinking of all the other places where people make the same choice as Noa and the ways that their pain can manifest itself, whether it's them acting out the racism that they once suffered themselves or erasing themselves until they are living meaningless lives. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is an American woman of Korean descent who moves to Japan and can't understand how the Koreans can accept such treatment. I think this is another interesting personality of which we can find many examples in the West (and I found myself asking myself if I am one of them), who has lived a comfortable and relatively secure life and struggles to appreciate the enormity of the emotional and structural barriers in place that keep people down (I do think there can be value in such people for bringing positive change, but that's a whole article in itself). In between these two characters, Lee presents a whole range of others, each with their own way of living with and resisting the dehumanisation that they face in their everyday lives. In terms of exploring the impact of oppressive occupation and colonialism on the colonised and the generations that follow, I think this book does an excellent job of showing us many different faces without passing judgement on any of them.
Lee covers many other themes in Pachinko, including concepts of beauty, the roles and experiences of women in times of struggle, religion and belief, the marital relationship in its many forms, death and choices made in hardship, and I think she covers them all admirably well. I'm now excited to read her earlier work, Free Food for Millionaires, and to find more novels based in Korea during that time and during the Korean War. If you have any recommendations, let me know!
Have you read Pachinko? What was your favourite aspect of this book? What questions did it raise for you?
In this themed episode, Alia and I take a (nostalgic) tour of children's books from our own childhoods and more recently.
Other books mentioned
Islamic publishers mentioned
Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell was released in early September 2019 and I didn't know a great deal about it when I bought it on a whim after seeing it on the Audible homepage. I assumed from the title that it would be something to do with the way we interact with people we don't know and perhaps some of the psychology behind it. The book starts by describing the case of a Black American woman who was arrested for a very minor traffic offence and ended her life in prison a few days later. Gladwell then tells us that through an exploration of various case studies involving interaction between strangers, we will be able to understand why this sequence of events took place.
Anyone who has read Gladwell's work will probably be aware that his books are not the type to offer concrete action points to take away at the end; rather they are intended to give the reader food for thought and perhaps reframe the way they look at certain problems. With this in mind and having read and enjoyed David and Goliath, I started listening to his latest book, Talking to Strangers, with the expectation that it would be interesting and thought-provoking, even if it was not immediately applicable in my daily life.
What follows the introduction is a series of in-depth stories, some describing people who were able to hide an aspect of themselves for a long time, others about strategies that people have used when faced with behaviours that are difficult to judge or understand. There were some interesting - albeit not always new - ideas in there. He explores the human tendency to assume something is true until we no longer have a choice and emphasises that, while this can lead to occasionally misjudging people with bad intentions, it is an essential part of being human. He also talks about a theory called "coupling" which suggests that a person's actions are directly dependent on where they are. One point I had no clue about was the theory and decisions that have lead to an aggressive type of policing in parts of the US now; this I found quite insightful.
While these tidbits were somewhat diverting, though, I was consistently searching for the link between them. I hoped it would be made clear at the end, but considering how long we had taken to get there and how many different factors had been explored along the way, the conclusion felt very rushed. It returned to the original scene of the crime: Sandra Bland's interaction with the policeman, added more detail about the subsequent investigation, and incorporated some of the ideas discussed in the book. His final argument felt very flimsy and there was a lot left unexplained, which only emphasised the feeling that the different chapters had no solid connection. There was no narrative thread, no clearly stated initial thesis to refer to as each story was explored; there were just stories - sometimes entertaining, sometimes educational, sometimes very disturbing and explicit, which brings me to my main problem with this book.
As I mentioned, the beginning of the book was quite entertaining in a "did you know" kind of way; it talked about Cuban spies who had hidden themselves for years in American intelligence departments and an investment advisor who had schemed many people out of their money. Then, we reached chapter five and next thing I knew I was sitting on the bus listening to graphic accounts of rape. I kept going, assuming it would be short and there was a justified reason why I needed to know about these assaults in such explicit detail. The reason didn't become apparent, but eventually it ended and I breathed a sigh of relief. We returned to rather less graphic topics and I thought all was safe. Until it wasn't: I was subjected to matter of fact, step-by-step descriptions of waterboarding, how torture can drive its victims to amnesia, a minute-by-minute recounting of Sylvia Plath's last moments and suicide and the similar attempts and eventual success by her friend and fellow poet, Anne Sexton. This is not a social worker's guide to dealing with trauma or a textbook for the study of psychology or healthcare or PTSD. It's not even a general interest book about rape or torture or suicide. It is shelved with books on management or popular psychology in bookshops and marketed as a book for the masses. Yet, for all this, there is not one warning, neither in the author's note and introduction, nor preceding the descriptions themselves, that would prepare the reader for what is to come. I read this book as someone who, alhamdu Lillah, does not suffer from any kind of trauma that would make this content triggering. I still found it disturbing, distasteful and completely unnecessary. How then would someone with a difficult history respond to such descriptions?
While this put Gladwell's sensitivity in question, a couple of sentences in his chapter on torture also significantly damaged his credibility as a researcher. Near the beginning of the chapter, he introduces the prisoner on whom the torture was carried out. He gives his full name and then says that this man was known as "Mukhtar". This will be a very familiar name to some of you; it means "chosen one" and comes from the root word related to the concept of choice. You don't need to know this to find out the meaning though - search "mukhtar name meaning" on Google now and you'll see. Find it? I told you; it's a common name. So I was surprised when Gladwell told us it meant "the brain". He then embellished it by saying it meant this man was "the brain" behind the attacks he was suspected of. How did he get to "the brain" from "chosen one"? My guess is that he picked up the first few letters of the word - "mukh", or brain - and used that for his Google search instead. Is that an acceptable mistake for a writer of his repute?
All in all, Gladwell's writing and narrating style, along with his reputation, were able to keep my attention, but were not enough to make up for the lack of a clear connecting thread to guide the reader through. There were some interesting ideas in there, but nothing particular really stuck and the final points were rather unconvincing, in part because there didn't seem to be a clear thesis to start with. It didn't help, either, that the conclusion was over almost as soon as it started and felt very rushed. Ultimately, though, my respect for the process was lost at the gratuitous drawn-out descriptions of several forms of violence and I don't know if any ending would have been convincing enough for me to come out of this book thinking I could recommend it.
This book has been extremely popular since it came out. Hari Kunzru declares on the front cover that it is "a book that will make a lot of young Britons feel more powerful and less alone." I know people for whom this was the case and I can see why; it wasn't for me. Rather than writing a review to tell you why it wasn't, I'm going to share some passages that struck me and some questions that came to mind (I don't necessarily have the answers). As you read them, you can think about my questions or share your own.
"I chose these writers for simple reasons: I know them, I rate them, I want to read more from them. I'm happy to admit that nepotism and networks played a part in my selection. And I'm happy to create a brand new old boys' network that circumvents the institutionalised ones we have to deal with on a daily basis." (Editor's Note, Nikesh Shukla)
Why do all the chapters seem to be different yet the same?
"I'm reeling harder than the time Dad was doing Ramadan so it meant we had to wait until the evening for our Christmas dinner... I know, our household was nothing if not multicultural." (The Wife of a Terrorist, Miss L)
When did religion become "culture"?
"I decided to leave the United Kingdom. [...] It wasn't lost on me that the very advice that racists in the UK had long spat at foreigners - 'if you don't like it, then go ahead and leave' - was that which I took. I suppose, in that sense, they won." (The Ungrateful Country, Musa Okwonga)
Why have you given hostile people a voice in your life decisions?
"Whenever we beg for nuances, for our differences to be articulated, for more diversity and accuracy in how our communities are described, in the characters written for 'black' actors on stage, on television, or in film, our voices are either silenced or ignored." (Cutting Through, Inua Ellams)
When did you decide to become a beggar?
"We are all citizens of the world. Whatever shade you are, bring your light, bring your colour, bring your music and your books, your stories and your histories, and climb aboard. United as a people we are a million majestic colours, together we are a glorious stained-glass window. We are building a cathedral of otherness, brick by brick and book by book. Raise your glass of rum, let's toast to the minorities who are the majority." (Shade, Salena Godden)
Who is "we"? (Who is not "we"?)
"What's it like to live in a country that doesn't trust you and doesn't want you unless you win an Olympic gold medal or a national baking competition?" (Back cover blurb)
What if we don't forge our identity in contrast to (and dependence on) hostile, imperfect entities?
What if we don't take our value from a state (or person or demographic group)?
What if we root our value and identity in a Higher, Perfect source?
I can't remember how I first came across Jolly Animals, but when I did their product immediately grabbed my attention. Jolly Animals is a small company run by a couple, Lama and Kais, based in Australia. The Yellow Cow is their first product and it has now been translated into Arabic. Although there are many Arabic-language books about Islam out there, I have found that the quality is often lacking, so I was interested to see how this one would measure up. I bought it as part of their crowdfunding campaign, but it is now available to buy online from the website: jollyanimals.com.
Upon opening the package, I could immediately tell that my hopes for the production quality of this book were not going to be disappointed. According to the website, the book is printed using ethical printing companies and paper sources. The cover is solid with a soft finish, the board pages are sturdy and the colours pop beautifully on the page. It has even passed my Arabic-publishing pet peeve of boring fonts with a soft, curved style that matches the age group and is still clear to read. As I flicked through the pages, I could immediately see how the quirky, bright images would ignite a child's imagination - leading to many stories beyond the one on the page! I think my favourite image is of a cow playing with a butterfly!
The story is told from the perspective of the yellow cow and follows two young children as they try to find her. One by one, other animals and types of cow are eliminated until at last the correct yellow cow is found. The connections with the true story of the yellow cow, as told in the Qur'an, are immediately clear: Musa informs his people that Allah has asked them to slaughter a cow, but they keep asking for more and more details until there is only one option left. The language of the book is simple and, I would say, appropriate for the young age group targeted by board books.
Once I had read the story properly from start to finish, a question naturally posed itself: where would this book fit into the Islamic education of a child? There is no direct reference to the Qur'anic story in the book, or indeed any explicitly Islamic references at all. The idea that struck me turned out to be the one that Lama and Kais had too, and which they have explained on their website (and in a generous message response to my question - I should have checked the website properly first!):
"In The Holy Quran, Allah uses animals to teach us valuable life lessons. With Jolly Animals, we have decided to do just that with our children through stories inspired by those very animals.
I can see how an initial introduction to the yellow cow through this book could then be the foundation for a child to access the Qur'anic story when they are a little older.
Having said that, I'm not sure how the child would transition between these stories, given that the yellow cow in the Qur'an, once identified, is slaughtered. This is, perhaps, the risk of personifying animals that are not personified in the Qur'an (there are some that are, such as the hoopoe and ant of Sulayman) and maybe even personifying animals, in general.
All in all, this book has clearly been through many iterations and is the product of much hard work and a genuine desire to produce positive, Islamic children's books that will help shape Muslim children into kind and educated worshippers. The book is of a high standard and the images are gorgeous (can you tell they're my favourite part?). I haven't read the English version, but I would imagine it is very similar. A second book is in the works and I'm looking forward to seeing which animal has been chosen and the story it will tell! May Allah accept it from everyone involved and bless their work.
I'm curious to know how you would fit this type of book into a wider Islamic education. Let me know in the comments!
This book has been a constant feature of my social media experience for over six months. Anyone who has come across it online has probably seen the associated rave reviews and my experience was no different. I wasn't particularly interested in reading it at first, as I don't generally pay much attention to celebrity memoirs - I don't feel like they offer me much value, personally. However, the more I saw people talking about it, the more I thought perhaps there was something of interest in it after all. I added it to my mental "to-read" list (albeit pretty far down that list) and carried on. Then, I came to be looking for a new audiobook a few weeks ago and when I asked for recommendations on Instagram, this book was consistently chosen (and with great passion, I might add), so I went for it!
As far as the writing and narrative quality goes, I think it has been executed very well. The conversational style pulls the reader in immediately, but it is still told in a way that is clear and informative, particularly when it comes to the information around society at that time. The book is generally organised well and is easy to follow. There were a couple of times when I was a bit confused about what had happened first as it is not told entirely chronologically, but I got the general idea.
I'm glad I ended up listening to this one as an audiobook. Trevor Noah did an excellent job of narrating; his tone was engaging and fluid and at no point did it sound like he was reading (which is not always the case with authors who narrate their own books). The real value for me, though, was in his reading of the many, many instances of non-English words and phrases! I feel like so much would have been lost if I hadn't had the pleasure of hearing them rather than just reading them on the page. This is compounded by the fact that his multilingual abilities played a central role in his story. His different voices for different characters and types of character were also quite amusing and added to my enjoyment.
As I mentioned, I'm not one to read memoirs by celebrities just because they are celebrities. So my purpose in reading this book was not really to find out about his life for the sake of it. I occasionally watch clips from The Daily Show and sometimes I find them amusing, but I'm not a particular fan of his (and I much preferred Jon Stewart's style - we all have our preferences!). Having said that, the story of his life with his mother - this was the core of this book - was emotionally engaging and educational. I liked the images he conjured of his various living situations, the relationships with his different relatives, and the way his mother navigated a hostile society and made her way through it all. I think one of most striking parts, for me, was the way his mother dealt with her husband's abuse and especially how the police responded (or didn't) to her reporting it. The isolation and betrayal she felt in those moments must have been excruciating.
The most educational and interesting part for me, though, was gaining a personal perspective on life in apartheid South Africa and how it worked at both a systematic and day-to-day level. I haven't read much about this topic so when I decided to read Born a Crime this was the main topic I hoped to learn from it - and it didn't disappoint! The structures in place in society at the time are described in an accessible and clear way and contextualised in his lived experiences. I found the part explaining the various groups that the apartheid government had created to separate society especially fascinating - he effectively demonstrated how calculated and artificial the whole system was. The best example was when he talked about how Japanese residents were allocated to the "White" category, while the Chinese were "Coloured" - how would a normal policeman who sees a man sitting on a "Whites only" bench possibly be able to distinguish whether a person was Japanese or Chinese, he asks!
Another major theme of the book, thanks to Noah's mother's deep faith and committed practice of it, was religion. Noah describes the various churches they would attend every Sunday, the trouble they went through to get there and the way his mother's faith was a central part of her everyday life. At times, he talks about his child self's questioning of this faith, due to the perceived inconvenience it caused him on a Sunday, and it sounds like something a child might think and say. However, apart from these moments, I felt like there was occasionally a slightly sarcastic undertone to the way he narrated these parts of the story that was not particularly pleasant. He is Christian himself, but I assume he doesn't practise in the same way his mother did.
On a side note, I just looked him up and discovered that his mother converted to Judaism and this is said to be mentioned in the book. I definitely didn't hear that so now I'm wondering whether the audiobook missed some parts of the original or if my audiobook player malfunctioned!
All in all, although I didn't find it as funny as many did, I thought this book was easy and enjoyable (for the most part) to listen to and an educational inside view of life under an apartheid government as a half-Black, half-White man with a mother whose goal was to make sure they didn't hold him back.
At 89 pages, this book certainly doesn't dominate the bookshelf, but looks can be deceiving. The full title, Textes sur la Lutte Idéologique: Pour mieux comprendre la guerre invisible [Texts on the Ideological Fight: To better understand the invisible war], is pretty self-explanatory and I think the book delivers on its promise.
Malek Bennabi was surely one of Algeria's (and the Arab world's) most prominent modern Muslim thinkers, known for dealing with topics related to civilisation and societal development with particular focus on modern Muslim society. Born in 1905, he grew up under the French occupation of Algeria and lived through the war of independence to see post-colonial Algeria's first steps as an independent nation. He wrote at least 25 books in his lifetime, although most of them are difficult to get hold of (outside Algeria, at least) and almost none are available in English, which explains why he is not better known in the Anglophone world (he would surely say this is due in part to the efforts of "Mr So-and-so" to silence him - a topic he covers in this book). He wrote in French, the language of his education.
Textes sur la Lutte Idéologique is a small collection of Bennabi's writing and conference proceedings that serve as an introduction to the concept of ideological warfare. He starts by defining ideology in the context of a society, outlining the various factors that contribute to its formation, then moves on to explore ideological warfare, how it works and the tools used, and begins to consider how such attacks can be defended against. The last section of the book gives the reader insight into Bennabi's very personal encounters with ideological attacks. One simple and tangible example, given in the preface, describes nightly disturbances from cars beeping outside his flat to prevent him writing, which eventually lead his flatmate to spend time in a psychiatric hospital. The particular context of this book, newly-independent Algeria, means he focuses on the Algerian state and French and American ideological attacks, but the principles can be applied in many contexts and not just to the ex-colony-colonised dynamic.
For me, there were two main benefits of reading this book:
As someone who had not read Bennabi before, I also appreciated this book as an introduction to his style and work. It is clear from the start that he doesn't take any previous knowledge for granted and builds his ideas and theories up right from the foundations. It is refreshing to see a modern Muslim academic who is very conscious of the frames of reference that can influence discussions of such topics as these and who is transparent about it in his writing, including referencing his sources of intellectual inspiration, such as socialist writers, very popular at that time.
I struggled with understanding some of this book, partly due to the fact that I read it in French and partly due to my ignorance on the topic, so I think I need to give it a second read, in sha Allah, and then proceed to another of his books to further deepen my understanding.
This book certainly doesn't go into great depth on the question of ideological warfare; that would be an impossible task, given its size. However, I think it is a useful introduction to the topic, to the kind of issues a new state faces and to Bennabi's work, in general. Reading this book now, I could see immediate parallels between the questions and pitfalls post-colonial Algeria faced and those faced by some nations in political transition today, which only reinforced its universal benefit.
Textes sur la Lutte Idéologique is not currently available in English, however some of Bennabi's other works have been translated. I have written another post here where you can find some extracts with my own translations.
Reader. Occasional writer. Muslim.