Monday, April 30, 2018

Book Review: The New Muslim's Field Guide

As a “born Muslim,” it feels odd to be reviewing a book titled “The New Muslim’s Field Guide” - but at the same time, I deeply appreciate being given the chance to do so. While I may not necessarily be the target audience, I do believe that it is important for “born Muslims” to read material aimed at converts and reverts (and, as the intro helpfully mentions, those who are just beginning to live their lives as practicing Muslims, even if they were born within a Muslim family). We need to understand what kind of literature is being handed out to them, and especially in this case, to hear from actual converts and reverts about their experiences as new Muslims. 

The authors of The Field Guide are Theresa Corbin and Kaighla Um Dayo, two American Muslim women who have lived the highs and lows of life after accepting Islam. The first thing that stands out about The Field Guide is its tone - real talk sprinkled with humour, which helps lighten the heavy information that’s shared. 

The Field Guide holds no punches and does not shy away from tackling the issues that so many new Muslims face - whether it has to do with recognizing the difference between cultural interpretations of Islam and actual Islamic beliefs, maintaining one’s own personality after conversion, or the pressure to abandon one’s nonMuslim family and friends. 

Even in discussions on the pillars of faith and the pillars of Islam, The Field Guide is set apart from the average aimed-at-converts book. Rather than being a dense, often complex collection of religious texts that can be quite confusing for the average new Muslim, Corbin and White simplify the basic tenets of Islam in a way that makes it easy to understand for a layperson. Their explanations on the meanings of technical Islamic terms are simplified while still comprehensive, and do not overwhelm the reader. 

Corbin and Um Dayo do a wonderful job of virtually guiding new Muslims through commonly experienced minefields, challenges, and accidental faux pas. They aren’t afraid to talk about the scary stuff (extremism and Islamophobia), awkward stuff (sex), and important stuff (all of it, but especially spiritual self-development as a Muslim). 

The New Muslim’s Field Guide is a valuable resource for new Muslims, particularly in a Western (specifically North American) context. It is easy to digest, is not preachy or heavy-handed with too many unexplained Arabic terms or Islamic technicalities, and reads like some solid advice from good friends with life experience - which is, essentially, what it is. As a starting point that can help new Muslims better navigate their journey to understanding Islam, and life as a practising Muslim, I highly recommend The New Muslim’s Field Guide. It should certainly be part of any masjid or Islamic centre’s staple stash of resources for both non-Muslims and new Muslims. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Certain Type of Bro

Verily, a Certain Type of Bro can be identified in the following ways:
His profile pictures are of him carefully posing his flexed biceps in a casual and yet thoughtful manner as he gazes into the distance, pondering upon the Divine Wisdoms of the Universe (he will of course share his deep pontifications in the captions of said pictures).
His social media is filled with Islamic reminders about modesty and humility, while reminding his dear sisters in Islam to protect their modesty from the attacks of those who seek to destroy the hijab... while he flexes those biceps to show the Ummah that the Muslim brothers will always defend their Muslim sisters.
He is deeply invested in all conversations regarding the dangers of the opposite gender, while frequenting the social media feeds of well known Muslim women so as to know what they are up to at any given time, that he may give them sincere naseeha... repeatedly.
He laments the Muslim marriage crisis and occasionally reminds us all of the great hikmah behind polygamy in Islam. He helpfully provides us with pictures of himself at various weddings so as to emphasize the importance of the rishta process.
His da'wah is Very Important and Very Meaningful and this is evident in all the pictures that he takes with the victims - errr, saved souls - of his Ten Minute Shahada ambushes (I mean, da'wah sessions).
My dear sisters in Islam, do not be lured by the false Facebook promises of these Certain Types of Bros.
Know that the truly pious Muslim man will guard his modesty (and selfies) and will not put himself on display for every sister to enjoy with a prolonged, no-blinking first gaze.
If his da'wah is sincere, it will be evident in the truthfulness and beauty of his words and his emaan... not the carefully chosen polo shirt that conveniently highlights his most attractive features.
Never marry the wanton males that parade themselves openly in the streets for every Fatimah, Christina and Anjali to check out.
Dear sisters, remember that the pious Muslim man is like a pearl in its shell: a treasure to be uncovered only by the one who has a halal relationship with him. Such a man will be your male hoor of this Dunya and Aakhirah - so do not sacrifice your standards for the male whores of this world!

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Ali Huda TV - a review

Touted as the new “Netflix for Muslim kids,” I was quite excited when I heard about the launch of Ali Huda TV. I’m pretty thoroughly sick of Paw Patrol and random weird cut-and-paste YouTube Kids videos, and so I logged into my new Ali Huda account in anticipation of having my three-year-old son captivated by something other than bizarre remakes of children’s nursery rhymes.

Unfortunately… my three year old, a connoisseur of Netflix, PBS Kids, and YouTube Kids alike, was epically unimpressed. And so was I. While I appreciate the good intentions behind the website, I was disappointed to notice the lack of both variety and quality programming. Of the animated programs available, few were up to par in comparison to mainstream cartoons. While Christian producers have done exceedingly well in producing high-quality children’s shows and movies that impart religious values as well as engaging entertainment, Muslims sadly struggle to develop the same.

Divided into age groups (age 2-3, 4-5, and 9-12) and categories (Travel and Outdoors, Science and Craft, Songs and Nasheed, and more), Ali Huda does try to imitate the Netflix layout, which makes for easier navigation - but only on desktop. Unfortunately, trying to access it on a mobile device is nigh-impossible due to the inability to navigate it without being logged out or simply taken back to the home screen without a way to actually navigate the shows.

One thing that Ali Huda could do to improve their service is to include classic Muslim children’s shows and movies - the Adam’s World Series, Zaki, Muslim Scouts, Hurray for Baba Ali, and so many more pioneering examples of Muslim entertainment. There are entire collections of famous nasheed artists such as Native Deen, Dawud Wharnsby Ali, Talib al-Habeeb and others, and to have their work collected on one streaming service would be extremely helpful to those of us who otherwise rely on YouTube playlists that our kids can easily click out of.

Of course, I do appreciate that the first effort has been made to provide this kind of halal streaming option for Muslim children. My daughters enjoyed the “Science Made Cool” show, although they wished there was a hijabi girl also involved in the experiments, instead of being relegated to the “Kids in the Kitchen” show. While the “Saladin” and “Ibn Battuta: Prince of Explorers” cartoons try to bring famous Islamic figures to kids’ attention, unfortunately, the quality of the animation was so poor that it rather failed at its purpose.
I also appreciate that Ali Huda donates to a charity for orphans, and that there is a special discount for schools - this is quite beneficial for those who run full-time Muslim schools, or even part-time community Madrasas.

Something for people to keep in mind is that exposure has a lot to do with how well Muslim children will handle “Muslim TV” - when my daughter was quite young, I restricted her entertainment heavily and only allowed her to watch select Muslim entertainment. Since she had very few options, she enjoyed whatever it was that I let her watch. My three year old son, however, is your average toddler whose screentime indulgences include Daniel Tiger, Paw Patrol, and Pokemon - hence his much high standards.

I look forward to seeing Ali Huda develop further, and hope that the people behind it are able to fulfill its full potential by reaching out to other Muslim media and entertainment creators. I also hope that they are able to reach the level that Netflix has in being able to work with other Muslim developers to create new entertainment that is high quality, creative, and appeals to Muslim kids who already have a higher expectation of what will capture their attention.

The Muslim community is in dire need of greater media and entertainment that is not only produced by our own writers and artists, but also meets a higher standard that can compete with mainstream non-Muslim options. Ali Huda has the potential to be a great resource for Muslim kids, and I truly hope that they are able to develop themselves further to meet a major need in the Muslim community.

Rating: 2/5