In this post – 2 books, 2 videos, and one story.
A few lessons many of us often learn in childhood or early in life-
- Always look at those who haven't been given what you have so that you are thankful
- Try to imagine what someone else goes through before criticizing them
- Things are not always what they seem
I recently read two books, and while they don't necessarily have any intrinsic Islamic benefit, per se, I did find them to be quite interesting. They orient around the idea of submerging yourself into a lifestyle or culture that is not your own, in order to better understand it.
If nothing else, it really made me thankful for the blessing of Islam. I feel that many Muslims often live in an insulated reality. Even though we may be 'integrated' into society, we still often don't have a full grasp of the problems that many segments of society face.
There are a large (and growing with the recession) number of Americans who not only live paycheck to paycheck, but do so while working odd-jobs. Many of these people have no stable family, or even a place to live. Rather, they work whatever jobs they can find (Wal-Mart, janitorial positions, fast-food, and so on) while being relatively homeless – staying in motels and weekly stay inns when enough money is saved.
Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich tells the story of how she attempted to live this lifestyle for a number of months – joining the 30% of Americans who live on less than $8/hour. The book itself has received mixed reviews from readers, but I definitely felt it was a worthwhile read – if nothing else than to open our eyes a bit more at some of the problems many people around us face.
Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh was a really amazing read. I first heard about Venkatesh from reading Freakonomics when they discussed how much crack dealers really make. The book details an Indian guys descent into the housing projects of Chicago and learns how the drug trade works, and how this community supports itself while the outside world has more or less turned a blind eye to them. Again, there is no real tangible Islamic benefit that I can outline for this book, other than that I simply wished so hard while reading the whole book that the message of Islam properly reaches them. [Side note - watch this video if you are a Freakonomics fan - Why do Crack Dealers Still Live with their Moms?]
One issue that came up a bit indirectly was a slightly better understanding of some of the immigrant Muslim conflict with indigenous Muslims. Being on the 'immigrant' side of it, I can say with confidence that the issues discussed in these two books area not really issues that are focused on. Simply put, many immigrant Muslim families have never had to deal with drug abuse or poverty. Or if they have dealt with poverty 'back home' they have quickly forgotten about it here.
For Muslims to make a positive impact where we live, we all have to start taking a vested interest in all the societal problems around us, and show how Islam can help fix them. I'm reminded of the stories I have heard about imām Siraj Wahaj's masjid, and how they took drugs out of their neighborhoods.
I also wanted to share this video from the author of The Year of Living Biblically. The author spent a year of his life basically trying to implement every single commandment that is in the Bible – including flogging. To put it another way, it was a year of being a dhahiri Christian. I haven't read the book yet, however, it does look interesting. The author, AJ Jacobs, discussed some of his experience at TED:[HTML1]
Lastly, this is a story that cannot be passed up – and it is a captivating Muslim story of a man who … actually, I can't really summarize it properly. I simply suggest you go read it - http://www.suhaibwebb.com/blog/general/a-day-ill-never-forget-giving-the-khutbah-on-96th-in-nyc-and-meeting-an-amazing-brother/