Kristin's Reviews > The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism

The Convert by Deborah Baker
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's review
Feb 11, 2011

did not like it

I finished this book several days ago and needed some time to think on it. My rating on the book is more a reflection on the book's content than the writing of the author. I think the author did a fine job with the topic's content, I am just finding that I'm having a very negative reaction to the subject of the book (Maryam Jameelah). I waited for a long time to receive this book from the library, there was a long waitlist. Which I find interesting, that there are lots of people wanting to read this book. So there must be some fascination with a western woman converting to Islam. After some thought, I'm thinking this must relate more to her leaving the United States and immersing herself in purdah in Pakistan than in her conversion herself, as there are reportedly some 20,000 women converting to Islam in the US every year at present and there seems little American interest in this fact.

So I received the book from the library with much excitement, ready to learn about Maryam Jameelah, about her life, her conversion, and her time in Pakistan. And to be upfront and honest, I am left extremely disappointed and, well, angry. Because I am amazed that the Muslim world embraced a (as I see it from the book) largely uneducated, probably insane woman as an "Islamic scholar" largely because she abondoned the US and the West to live in Pakistan or the Dar ul Islam (the land of Islam). Here is a woman abondoned by her American family, abandoned by 2 Pakistani families because she was SO psychologically disturbed.... writing numerous books on Islam as if she was a scholar on the topic. And Muslim publishers published her books and distributed them to the Muslim world without caring about her qualifications. Which were NOTHING. She was not an expert on the West. Either academically or in life. She had little real world experience. She hadn't traveled, couldn't speak about the diversity of the American experience or the western experience. Then she spoke as if she were a scholar of Islam. And yet she hadn't studied the hadith, didn't know ANY classical Arabic (and therefore couldn't even read the Qur'an). They all respected her ONLY because she was an American who rejected her culture and her country in favor of Islam. What a low bar to set.....

Perhaps things were different in those days and I should be grateful that things have changed. Today, American women converts are overwhelmingly highly educated, a large number having masters degrees, and are highly traveled both in the US and abroad. They also study Islam intensively and therefore end up quite educated in Islamic history, theology, politics, etc. And as such, they wouldn't dare to have the HUBRIS to write tracts instructing other Muslims on Islam. Which I think is what blows me away about Maryam Jameelah. Her sheer hubris.... The book even mentions the theological "ideal Muslim leader." He wouldn't dare offer up himself, because to lead other Muslims astray.... the sheer danger to his soul would be SUCH a heavy burden. That is the same for all religious Muslims. So to see Maryam Jameelah, with so little world/life/religious knowledge try and spread her "Islamic knowledge" is quite shocking..... it's incredibly unislamic for her to do so.

And therefore that is, I think, what I find most upsetting about this book. That people are so fascinated by this woman. In 2011, people STILL want to learn from her. When we have people with SO much more religious knowledge, SO many more men and women with religious experience today from which/whom we can learn. The only true value I see in this book is that it shows who Maryam Jameelah truly is.... A woman who sought her own truth. And I hope, truly, God-willing, she found it. I hope, God-willing, she found peace. But I really hope, as well, that she did not bring along too many unsuspecting, uneducated people down the wrong path (extremism and false understandings of Islam) with her. And hopefully this book will shed light about her to prevent such misunderstandings from continuing to occur. For those who read this book hoping to better understand the actual religion of Islam, I advise seeking out those who have truly studied the theology of Islam for many years (i.e. Fazlur Rahman, Muhammad Asad, Seyyid Hossein Nasr, Jeffrey Lang), not simply those who expound on it without knowledge.
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Reading Progress

February 11, 2011 – Shelved
Started Reading
October 26, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Ellen Well said. I too started out with great interest, wanting to know more about a woman who in 1962 would leave the US, choose a life in a different country, not knowing even the language, having recently converted religions. I also agree that the author did a great job telling the story, but it was the story itself that was disappointing, and so hard to believe that her writings were so widely published.

Noha *excuse my weak language as I'm not that good in english*

I've heard about the other characters in the book but to be honest this is the first time I hear about Maryam. this is I think what made it very interesting and not disappointing at all to me as I didnt have prev. expectations.
What I felt is due to the fact that her views and opinions was "as the book shows" was truly admired and she was considered as a representer of an Islamic Thinking regardless of her mental state, this led to the, not in purpose, to the islamic extremists believes and action which is for the those who are educated and truly understand the truth of islam find it very far and full of contradiction of what islam really means.

*personal and not a serious thought*..aside from that, you cant expelled a writer and her thoughts just because of her mental state as an old saying states:" take the wisdome from the insane mouth" specailly if that wisdome supports your goals ( I mean the extremists here)

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