By C.B. Hanif A monthly book discussion group at the Delray Beach Public Library has been getting good reviews for addressing engaging topics. The latest theme: “ ‘The Other’ — Other Cultures and How We View Others,” was intriguing. So when I heard the title of December’s featured book, and Googled the author, I knew I didn’t want to miss the discussion of The Muslim Next Door — The Qur’an, the Media and That Veil Thing, by Sumbul Ali-Karamali.

Carl Wetzstein, one of the discussion leaders, opened up Dec. 17 by asking, “If you think of an Islamic woman, how do you picture her?” He elicited such responses as: “I picture her covered, burka,” and “a fourth-class citizen in her own ethnic group.” Wetzstein proceeded to display Ali-Karamali’s smiling, soccer mom-looking book cover photo. “I think the cover is a metaphor for the book,” he said. “Because what she’s saying is what we see of Islam in the media is not what Islam is really like.” Her Web site describes Ali-Karamali as “a Stanford-educated mom and corporate lawyer, with degrees in Islamic law and English,” who shares a warm, funny, yet scholarly and surprisingly down-to-earth conversation about life in America from an observant Muslim American woman’s point of view. “She says what we see in fundamentalist Saudi Arabia and what we see in the Taliban and other terrorists represent just a tiny fraction of the billion or so Muslims in the world, and these people have twisted Islam into something it isn’t,” Wetzstein said of the Southern California-raised daughter of Indian immigrants. “She says what we observe, such as women’s dress, are a matter of culture, not of religion as expressed in the Quran.” The 16 discussion participants arrived with definite points of view, yet were open-minded, indicated by such caveats as, “as far as I know.” Refreshingly, the group shared experiences on Muslim culture from India to Canada to London to here, and no one seemed so stuck in his or her views as to be closed to new information. The previous month’s book was T.C. Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain, commenting on the immigration controversy. Next month’s is The Faith Club, whose three authors, Jewish, Christian and Muslim women, spoke to 400 people in Delray during their tour several years ago. That’s Jan. 21, 10:30 a.m. The discussion is free. For more information, contact the Delray Beach Public Library, 100 W. Atlantic Ave., 266-9490. C.B. Hanif is a writer, editor and media and inter-religious affairs consultant. Find him at www.interfaith21.com.
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