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If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  1,186 ratings  ·  222 reviews
"Carla Power's intimate portrait of the Quran captures the extraordinary, living debate over the Muslim holy book's very essence. A spirited, compelling read."-Azadeh Moaveni, author of Lipstick Jihad

If the Oceans Were Ink is Carla Power's eye-opening story of how she and her longtime friend Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi found a way to confront ugly stereotypes and persiste
Paperback, 352 pages
Published April 7th 2015 by Holt Paperbacks (first published January 1st 2015)
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4.04  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,186 ratings  ·  222 reviews

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Apr 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I will admit that, coming into this book, I was extremely naive about Islam and the Quran. My sole hard-core belief was the same belief I ascribe to any serious religion - that there will always be those who pick and choose parts of their belief to harm others, whether it is gays in Christianity or "Westerners" in Islam. I'm not sure if my ignorance on this topic helped or hindered the reading of this book, but it certainly gave me a sense of peace about what could be possible between the 3 reli ...more
Mar 25, 2015 rated it it was ok
"If the Oceans were Ink” weaves together two narrative threads, either of which could have made for an interesting read. Unfortunately, neither narrative proves very satisfying. Carla Power, the author, decides to seek to understand the Quran. Given our world, one can hardly imagine a more useful intellectual pursuit. She forms a close relationship with an Islamic scholar, Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi, with whom she can study the text. Here then are those two threads: one, the friendship between ...more
Salam Ch
Jun 10, 2015 rated it liked it
"وَلَوْ أَنَّمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ مِن شَجَرَةٍ أَقْلَامٌ وَالْبَحْرُ يَمُدُّهُ مِن بَعْدِهِ سَبْعَةُ أَبْحُرٍ مَّا نَفِدَتْ كَلِمَاتُ اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ "- سورة لقمان
" And if whatever trees upon the earth were pens and the sea [was ink], replenished thereafter by seven [more] seas, the words of Allah would not be exhausted. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise." -Surat Lukman.

Carla Power presents in "if the oceans were ink" a memoir for her encounter to study the Quran wit
Roger DeBlanck
Dec 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
In her yearlong study under the guidance of renowned Islamic scholar Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi, journalist Clara Power gained profound insight and clarity of the Quran’s humane message of peace and inclusiveness. Her memoir is a remarkably moving tribute to the great knowledge and compassion that echo forth from the true teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. Through her experiences, we can gain a deep appreciation for the beauty, complexity, and humanity of the Quranic verses. Power highlights ho ...more
Feb 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
A very thoughtful book. A secular journalist befriends a traditional Islamic scholar, Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi. For a year she meets with him to learn about the Quran and his faith. Surprisingly, his view is very broad in places where a Westerner might expect it to be narrow; women, education, reason, etc...His thoughts on veiling of women was fascinating. It should only be the woman's choice. Veiled, a woman becomes more than just her body or a sexual object for someone else. It seems surpri ...more
Mar 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
There was much that was relatable in both Carla and Sheikh Akram. In Carla, I recognized the desire to understand, and even the desire for immersion that she inherited from her father when she observes that “I saw the transformative effect that crossing cultures had on him: it went beyond a value to become a survival strategy.” (location 567) Later, she alludes to the focus and clarity that is possible in displacement, not only in the obvious benefits of seeing something “foreign” up close, but ...more
John Kaufmann
Very mixed about this book. I could have given it 2-stars or 4-stars. I enjoyed reading it, and it challenged some of my preconceptions/prejudices. That's what a good book is supposed to do, right?

But at the same time, I found it hard to accept much of what the protagonist (the Muslim cleric the author befriended) said about Islam - I was questioning and critiquing a lot of what he said and what the author accepted, at least on the surface. I couldn't help wondering at times whether the author w
Edwin Setiadi
May 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is a perfect book for Ramadan reading, written by Carla Power, a secular Jewish journalist whom has 20 years+ unique friendship with a renowned Muslim scholar in Britain, Sheikh Mohammed Akram Nadwi.

It is an enlightening book, written with the mission to 1. Debunk the [negative] myths and stereotypes surrounding Islam and Muslims 2. To differentiate between local customs (like burqa-wearing Taliban) and the religion 3. And more centrally for the book, to interpret the verses in the Hol
It took me one whole month to read this because it is a sitting and thinking book, though not in an inscrutable way...just so much food for thought. And I chose to pick it up in time for holiday/life madness.

As a non-believer who happens to love Islam (as well as hailing from St. Louis), I enjoyed much of Carla Power's perspective going into a year long study with her friend and colleague, Sheik Mohammad Akram Nadwi. She had a foundation and was curious, and she often calls herself out on her ow
May 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Carla Power writes with a novelist's elegant eye, taking readers on an intimate, personal journey into the heart of a religion that has been an enigma to most Western readers. Refreshingly open and honest, Power neither seeks to defend Islam nor to malign it; rather, she unpacks elements of the religion that we may have heard reference to but with little context. And she does it with the help of a companion, Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi who grew up steeped in it. Together they peel away layers of ...more
Ina Cawl
Dec 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
i honestly enjoyed this book although it will be diffcult for non muslims to fully understand many words in the book
Apr 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Those with a very minimal exposure to Islam
Recommended to Quo by: League of Women Voters selection at local library
Shelves: reviewed
There are essentially two books within If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran by Carla Power, a curious blending of Islamic scholar Sheik Akram's interpretation of the Qur'an (Koran) and an embedded autobiographical sketch of the author's childhood & family, with the profile of the sheik being much more compelling. In fact, I wished that Carla Power had been much less personally involved in the book itself and simply had let Sheik Akram act as ...more
R Nair
May 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Islam is a beautiful religion in itself, unfortunately it also may be the most misinterpreted one at the present times. Not only westerners but also many easterners still remain largely ignorant of what Islam truly is. I don't claim to be an expert, but having grown up in a country where one can peacefully study in a catholic school that stands about 5 meters away from a Hindu temple while most of your friends in the said school are Sikh and Muslim kids reciting morning prayers from the Bible, g ...more
Jul 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a smart, funny, and touching book. It provides a marvelous dip into Islam that is more than an introduction, but less than a deep study, by a narrator who lets you into her heart and mind. The author is smart, funny, self deprecating and quite endearing. Her conversations, over the course of more than a year, with a widely respected Imam who lives in Britain, are truly a peek into the mind of a knowledgeable believer. He tells wonderful stories about Mohammed and about Islam in general. ...more
May 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
(4.5) Definitely worth the read. Power walks the reader through her year-long journey with a Sheikh and their collaborative navigation through the Quran. While it reads, at times, like a history textbook, I found it necessary for the reader to understand the context in which Power and the Sheikh were arriving at their conversations. The commitment it took Power and the Sheikh to complete this work is undeniable. I walked away with important knowledge; hijab, for example, has two meanings; it is ...more
Affad Shaikh
Feb 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed reading along this journey by Carla to practice what she preaches- recognizing diversity by understanding and appreciating the differences, not rejecting them or living a life skirting those issues. I think that is a powerful lesson to draw upon, however, as a Muslim I was particularly drawn to the lessons Carla was drawing from reading the Quran. I admit, I found myself quite challenged by some of the lessons Sheikh Akram was advancing, and I found myself equally interested in Carla's ...more
Jun 21, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Far from an in depth study, more like a memoir but nice to see the views of a genuinely interested non Muslim. Lovely insights into the Sheikh as a son, father, husband as well as the scholar and teacher he is so renowned as.
Jun 22, 2016 rated it it was ok
In truth I wanted to like it more than I did, indeed in the earlier part of the book all the promise was there with the following quote from the book: "I wanted to learn more about the Quran, but also wanted to work as a sort of cultural cartographer, carting where our worldviews overlapped and where they clashed. I wanted to map out what divide us, and what united us." Now perhaps I'm not the best of map readers and I'm not the best at geography, far from it in a lot of ways, however, with this ...more
Aishah Zawawi
Apr 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What better way to understand Islam through the eyes of a balanced and positive Westerner. Would recommend this book to Muslims out there who wants to sharpen their understanding and have inquisitive minds with the Quran. A good read indeed!
Sean Farrell
Dec 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's become all too easy for people in this country to blame an entire religion for many of the terrible incidents occurring at home and abroad of late. Nevermind just how many of these tragedies have to be ignored in order to do so, but more importantly, these people have no actual knowledge of what the religion actually says about anything. And it is with that in mind that I wanted to read this book about the Muslim faith in the modern world. It does delve a bit into the history, but largely a ...more
Maggie Duval
Apr 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
The reading was a little difficult at times, not because of the topic, but because of several story lines that never felt fully completed to me.

However, I loved the exploration of the Quran via the author's own research as well as lessons from and dialogue with Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi. The Sheikh is not the liberal cleric nor the conservative one might expect, but a fascinating blend of both. (

The author notes that even with the lessons and numerous r
Matt Nyman
Apr 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: religion
I thought this book looked quite good from its cover and the descriptions, because it was presented as a summary of a year long debate and discussion between a muslim sheikh and an American journalist in London. But it was disappointing. It's not often you seen an American journalist agree to write book as a mouthpiece for a conservative islamic thinker, but that's essentially what happened. The discrepancy in ages between the young american author and the sheikh was highly evident, and frankly ...more
Caitlin Lieder
It’s just what one expects—a book written by a self-proclaimed non-religious woman who shadows a Muslim Sheikh. I found the Sheikh’s views interesting and the author wrote in such a way as to keep one’s attention.
Jun 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book, for a mix of reasons that surprised me. One was instrumental - I can't be the only person out there whose ignorance about Islam is no barrier to sharing opinions about it at dinner parties. Now I feel a little less ignorant. I lacked the opportunity or perhaps inclination to learn about the Quran in other ways - directly from believers or through reading it - but Carla's filter was one that I could understand and relate to, and so I learned. I learned a lot! One tires of heari ...more
Margaret Sankey
Apr 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Carla Power, an Oxford-educated journalist with expertise in the Middle East (and who grew up with globetrotting parents) realized that she had never read the entirety of the Quran. Recruiting another Oxford alumni, Mohammad Akram Nadwi, who is both a researcher of women scholars in Islam (and he's up to 40 volumes), father of six daughters and working alim (practical legal arbiter) in the British Islamic community, Power resolves to study the Quaran with him over the course of the year. What re ...more
Apr 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Honest, humble exploration of Islam and Western secular thought

Too often we think of Islam and the West as separate, distinct, and opposing. This book layers a secular American liberal point of view with an honest and respectful exploration and a gentle, yet firm view of the Quran in Muslim life. The narrator willingly acknowledges her own limits and blind spots, a rare glimpse of humility from an American point of view. She is matched by the graceful, clear-speaking, and thoughtful scholar. Rat
Jan 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
In light of what is happening in the world today, everyone should read this book. Carla Power takes you on a year's study with Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi that helps the lay person understand the Qu'ran in a perspective outside of ISIS. He is the foremost scholar on women in the history of Islam and that history is not what you necessarily think. We need the balance of voices like his that keep us from fearing all Muslim people for what a few are committing in atrocities against the world. I rea ...more
May 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I have found few books about the Islamic world to be as honest, smart, and moving as this one. I have always told myself I should learn more about Islamic culture, but didn't know where to start. I'm delighted I found a narrator I trusted and liked as much as Carla Power. She paints a portrait of the Sheikh that makes him come alive as a complicated, human, and fascinating person. He now haunts my thoughts, in a good. This book has opened a world to me, and done it in a way that was a pleasure t ...more
Shelley Schanfield
Aug 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: morocco, non-fiction
The gentle, appealing Sheikh Mohammed Akram Nadwi,an Oxford scholar specializing on the contribution of Muslim women to Islamic religious thought, guides Power and us on this journey.There are many surprises in the book, including the Sheikh's discovery that there are literally thousands of female scholars that contributed to Islamic law and philosophy.

A fascinating story of a friendship and Power's education, with an excellent bibliography for further reading.

Oct 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Going through the year of study with Shiekh Akram and Carla Power was interesting and informative. the book illustrated the reasonable range of views of "conservative" and "liberal" Muslims while also being entertaining. It is a good way to get an overview of Islam without dwelling in conflict. Shiekh Akram is a gift to the world and is helping humanity to search for and become closer to its better self, to become one with itself and to worship God in the process.
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Carla Power writes for Time and was a foreign correspondent for Newsweek. Her writing has appeared in Vogue, Glamour, The New York Times Magazine, and Foreign Policy. Her work has been recognized with an Overseas Press Club award, a Women in Media Award, and the National Women’s Political Caucus’s EMMA Award. She holds a graduate degree in Middle Eastern Studies from Oxford, as well as degrees fro ...more
“Anybody who forces people to change their beliefs, they are not a teacher. Learning should come from understanding properly, not from being forced.” 11 likes
“Too often the meaning of the hijab is taken as clear and unequivocal, like an on-off switch, a neat binary code. A Muslim woman is “traditional” if she wears one, “modern” if she doesn’t. “Oppressed” if she wears one, “liberated” if not. Scarf on: “devout.” Scarfless: “moderate,” or, who knows? Perhaps even “secular.” 3 likes
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