What is Islam?


February 16, 2017 by femvestige

What is Islam? This is the question Carla Power starts to answer in her book If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran. This book is a beautiful story of the author, Carla, and her lessons and friendship with Mohammad Akram Nadwi, a sheikh who teaches Islam. 


So far, this book has been extremely enjoyable and enlightening. Carla approaches her friend and colleague, whom she refers to often as the sheikh or just Akram, and asks him to teach her about Islam and the Quran over the course of a year. Akram is a unique sheikh, in that he was raised in an extremely traditional Muslim family, and yet as a sheikh he is considered both traditional and progressive.

Mohammad Akram Nadwi is best known for his muhaddithat, a 53 volume biographical of Muslim women scholars of the hadith. Hadith is a collection of words or deeds of the prophet Muhammad, and is the second source of Islam practices after the Quran. This is another reason Akram is so unique, in that he advocates very strongly for women’s rights to be educated and an authority in Islam. Expecting to only find maybe 20 women religious scholars, he has found over 8,000 going as far back as the time of the prophet. He draws his practices and fatwa’s directly from the Quran and the Prophet.


In doing so, his way is very peaceful and not radicalized like Islam has become in many parts of the country. A Fatwa is ‘a nonbinding legal opinion issued by a religious scholar.’ Fatwas can be followed by any practicing Muslim as an authority for behavior, without going against religious customs or Allah.

Religious scholars are extremely important in Islam – as religious scholars become Sheikh’s and mufti’s, and can provide lectures and lessons in the way of Islam – much like a preacher, priest, or pastor does in Christian religions. Mufti’s/Sheikh’s can then study the hadith and the Quran, and make their own fatwas based on their interpretations of the sacred text and their authority within Islam practices. This is how radicalized Islam can come to play. Sheikh Akram’s belief in following the Quran and living by the prophet Muhammad’s example is called sunna. He believes it is important to note that many common customs associated with Islam are simply untrue. For example, the laws forbidding women to drive or become educated are strictly cultural custom and laws in specific countries and there is nothing within the Quran or hadith that forbids women from these things.

Carla Power breaks the book into several parts. In the introduction, she discusses how she began her journey with her friend and colleague. The book then goes into the first part: “The Origins” in which she discusses the origins of Islam with the prophet, and the origins of her beginnings as well as the Sheikh’s. The second part discusses Islam in the home – education, sex, marriage to minors, and veiling is discussed in this section.

So far, I have been moved and truly inspired by this book. Islam is in many ways more feministic than Catholicism or Christianity. It has truly opened my eyes to the differences between Islam the religion, and Islam that is perceived by the outside world. I look forward to finishing this book and educating others.


Rating out of 5: ✮✮✮✮✮
 Religion/ Non-Fiction
Type: Audio/Print combination
Best Feature: Refreshing honest voice
Worst Feature: At times, a bit repetitive or long-winded.


One thought on “What is Islam?

  1. […] My previous post on this book can be found here: What is Islam? […]


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