A few months ago, while visiting my public library I happened to find Tahar Ben Jelloun’s superb novel Leaving Tangier. After thoroughly enjoying it, I vowed to read other works by the Moroccan-born author. As luck would have it, last Saturday while taking a quick stroll through the shelves at my public library I found yet another book by Ben Jelloun. Unlike Leaving Tangier which is a novel, the book I found during my recent library visit is a work of non-fiction. Islam Explained is a short yet ambitious attempt by Ben Jelloun in the wake of 9-11 to address the fallacies of Islamic fundamentalism as well as promote a more rational and inclusive interpretation of Islam. He frames this attempt in the form a dialog with his young daughter. Over a period of nine days father and daughter discuss not just the core beliefs and practices of Islam but also the rise and decline of the Islamic world, especially the “golden age” when the Islamic world reigned supreme in philosophy, science and literature. Probably most importantly, Ben Jelloun impresses upon his young daughter the need for Muslims to realize that the seventh and eighth century world which gave birth to Islam no longer exists. Therefore, Muslims must practice a religion that is compatible to our modern and secular world.
While I found nothing new in Ben Jelloun’s book, I still enjoyed it. Employing a direct writing style, he came across with sincerity and honesty. Maybe there’s truth in what our parents taught us: It’s not what your say, it’s how you say it.