Friday, July 30, 2021

Sumbul Ali-Karamali's "Demystifying Shariah"

Sumbul Ali-Karamali is a Muslim American who grew up in California, answering questions on Islam ever since she can remember. After becoming a corporate lawyer, she earned an additional degree in Islamic law. She specializes in synthesizing academic material for general audiences and is the author of The Muslim Next Door and Growing Up Muslim. A popular speaker on topics related to Islam and Muslims, she hopes to promote intercultural understanding with her work, at least when she’s not watching Star Trek reruns, listening to opera, or (reluctantly) white-water rafting with her husband.

Ali-Karamali applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Demystifying Shariah: What It Is, How It Works, and Why It's Not Taking Over Our Country, and reported the following:
Opening my newest book to page 99 would put you smack in the midst of a discussion on how colonialism affected Muslim women’s rights. It’s a fascinating story, but not one we learn in school: how European colonization of Muslim lands often stripped Muslim women of rights they had had since the 7th century, such as the right to retain and manage their property upon marriage – a right Muslim women had over a thousand years before Englishwomen would finally get it in the 19th century. Page 99 also discusses how colonial stereotypes of Muslims (often irrational even centuries ago) are still alive and plaguing us today in Europe and America, affecting us all and our ability to understand one another.

Although page 99 is essential to my book and – I hope – riveting, it doesn’t really represent the whole of the book, which is an introduction to Islam and Muslims with a focus on shariah. Although sometimes translated as “Islamic law,” shariah has not fixed meaning and loosely just means “Islam.” Demystifying Shariah is about how the word “shariah” was deliberately made into a scary concept in the West, how it can never take over our country, what it is exactly, and how Muslims engage with it. It’s about the sensational “Islamic” punishments we hear about, like stoning. It’s about how shariah is really a mass of religious guidelines covering personal conduct: how are Muslims obligated to dress, what’s allowable for us to eat, how do we think about women’s rights, and what are Muslim views on LGBTQI rights? What does shariah say about words we hear all the time, like jihad? How are Muslims supposed to treat those who are not Muslim?

Those are the questions I discuss in my book, in a conversational style filled with stories and anecdotes. And the odd Star Trek example. And even some humor. All aimed to give you a picture of what it’s like to be Muslim.

Despite the easy tone of the book, page 99, like the rest of the book, is based on settled academic research – hence the 800-plus citations in the endnotes. But it’s still written for the general reader.

I had two main goals in writing my book. My first was to write a book that was enjoyable to read. My second was to answer the kinds of questions I’ve been asked my whole life, as a Muslim American woman and, later, as someone with a degree in Islamic law. I hope you’ll find that I’ve accomplished both my goals!
Learn more about the book and author at Sumbul Ali-Karamali's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Muslim Next Door.

--Marshal Zeringue