Monday, June 17, 2013

Two Books About the Experience of Islam

I've been reading a few books about Islam recently, and over the last few days have concentrated on two memoirs by Western female converts.

Welcome to Islam: a convert's tale is brisk, amusing and intelligent.  Lucy Bushill-Matthews met her first Muslim at school.  He was a boy called Julian, and a few years later she married him.  By then she had, independently, made a commitment to the faith having made her own intellectual investigation - discovering at the end of it she was a Muslim at heart.

She then describes her declaration of faith (shahadah) in front of witnesses, and her efforts to live the Islamic life in modern Britain.  She marries, graduates, goes out to work, goes on the Hajj (interestingly I have read three different accounts of this and each one comes over as quite a different experience) and has three children.  She describes how she copes with the reaction of her relatives, colleagues and neighbours, and also exhibits a refreshingly independent attitude to mosque life.  I very much enjoyed reading it, and feel it gave me an excellent insight into what it means to become a Muslim in today's world.

Lucy Bushill-Matthews does not dwell on the types of different Islam, preferring to concentrate on the purity of the ideas.  Kristiane Backer, in contrast, embraces the Sufi style of Islam.  This is the mystical branch of the faith and is popular with western converts.

Kristiane, a former MTV presenter, leads a particularly glamorous life.  She becomes interested in Islam after being courted by and falling in love with Imran Khan.  In From MTV to Mecca she describes her life with this former Pakistani cricketer, their break-up, the hurt and then two short-lived marriages to other Muslim men.  They both expected her to lead restricted lives, and her description of the struggle she feels as she endeavours to live up to their expectations for her is heart-felt and touching.  Her faith in Islam remains strong, however, and finds that it eventually guides her to a new inner peace.  She gives an interesting account of her spiritual experiences in embracing Islam, and how her need for something more fulfilling than presenting rock videos led her to a new life-style.


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