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

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