The #MuslimBan Reading List

Although the Muslim Ban is temporarily suspended, the fact that it happened still means that we are unsafe. In this political climate where our phones are shaking with panic with news of a terrorist for president-cum-dictator, arming yourself with knowledge is perhaps not a bad idea. Don’t come at brown people with your ignorance, please.

For many, the announcement of the Muslim Ban was a call to protest. For us as the resident Muslim diaspora community, it was a call to get to work. This reading list is a personalized introduction to the dilemma — and celebration — of modern Muslim identity. Read on to read recommendations from my personal library on titles of special relevance.

These are in no particular order, and cover social and cultural conflict mainly around South Asian Muslim identity.


This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror — Moustafa Bayoumi

Although written a few years ago in reference to fifteen years ago, it is absolute required reading for today’s tensions between white America and Muslim men. Dispels myths and offers reality checks to the deception of the inherent inner Jihadi of the elusive Muslim male. Update: I came across this awesome podcast from KPFA Arabiyaat radio from Berkeley, CA, featuring a healthy interview with Moustafa Bayoumi for your auditorial pleasure.

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here

Enduring anthology of short non-fiction and poetry in response to the 2007 bombing of famed literary lane Al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad, which has endured millennia of attempts at stifling knowledge. An ode to resistance.

Covering Islam: How the Media and Experts Determine how we see the Rest of the World — Edward Said

Said lives up to his name in this work decoding Western media representation and attempted ownership of the modern Muslim. Meditations on “objective journalism” and its methods of displacing Muslim identity.

Separate and Dominate: Feminism and Racism after the War on Terror — Christine Delphy

A look at how anti-Muslim sentiment is crafted via policy to isolate and render submissive Muslim women. An interesting perspective on Eastern post-orientalist feminism from the viewpoint of French second wave scholar and ally.

Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples — V.S. Naipaul

Truth #1: Naipaul is a sociologist before he is a storyteller. Truth #2: Not all Muslim majority nations are at peace with hosting a Muslim majority.

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim — Mahmood Mamdani

Is political Islam different from spiritual or theological Islam? This question explored along with how and why terror preys on such an unsuspecting populace: Muslims.

Reluctant Fundamentalist — Mohsin Hamid

A swirling tale to dive right into. This is a story of tolerance and how fragile it is, and makes you think twice about who really is the reluctant fundamentalist.

The Yacoubian Building — Alaa Al-Aswany

ME literary classic. Explores neighbors and strangers in a bustling downtown Cairo residential quarter, prying loose such themes as disillusionment, forbidden love, and corruption.

Instant City — Steve Inskeep

A people’s history of the mega city of Karachi, Pakistan. I have included this one because Inskeep pays particular attention to how policy, brinkmanship, and ethnic landscape have contributed to the complex multiple modes of existence.

Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East — Reza Aslan

An anthology of modern Middle Eastern writing ranging from short fiction to report writing and poetry. Gives context and color to an enriched portrait of the social landscape of the Middle East.

Snow — Orhan Pamuk

Moves like a hypnotizing dream; loss and heartbreak layer and grow over one another like the dilapidated crossings and lanes of the old Turkish city of Kars.

Reading Lolita in Tehran — Azar Nafisi

As captivating as the stories the writer professor is prohibited from teaching. Ponders deeply about the power of ideas and dangerous women.

I am Malala — Malala Yousafzai

A beautiful social history of the overlooked tribal regions of northern Pakistan, rich in religion, language, and ethnicity. Malala precociously checks her own pop culture relevance against the crumbled toes of giant ancient Buddha sculptures blasted by Taliban.

Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny — Amartya Sen

A philosophical work on manifest destiny and the deadly consequences of reductionism.

The Great Game East — Bertil Lintner

A hand guide for the intricate chess game of intelligence agencies, nations, and rebels of the Eastern world. Unpacks the relationships and generational misunderstandings of the West in relation to the East.

Persepolis — Marjane Satrapi

Thrilling graphic novel series that journeys through Satrapi’s development amidst the Irani revolution. A beautiful, swirling tale of abandonment and self-reliance.

Descent into Chaos: The United States & the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan & Central Asia — Ahmed Rashid

Intrepid Pakistani reporter Ahmed Rashid illuminates the culture of chaos born by the West with regard to the East, and perpetuated by opportunists with little regard for the war-torn and rugged, yet rich, landscapes of the more dangerous regions of the world.

Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition— Nisid Hajari

What does Partition have to do with the Muslim world? Everything. Hajari’s work contextualizes a cycle of ruthless violence targeting Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, that spun out of control politically. As the summer of 1947 approached, all three groups were heavily armed and on edge, and the British rushed to leave. Some of the most brutal and widespread religious segregation in modern history — and not to mention the greatest migration in human history — erupted on both sides of the new border, searing a divide between India and Pakistan that remains a root cause of many evils. From jihadi terrorism to nuclear proliferation, the searing tale told in Midnight’s Furies explains all too many of the headlines we read today.

The Cairo Trilogy — Naguib Mahfouz

The BBC radio 4 dramatized series of the classic Naguib Mahfouz trilogy features Omar Sharif and is a treat to listen to (and a relief not to power through the many meaty volumes of!). Colonialism, betrayal, and marital bliss are some of the themes called into question through the perspective of one Muslim family living under the British occupation of Egypt.

American Muslim Women: Negotiating Race, Class, and Gender Within the Ummah — Jamillah Karim

In order for Islam to work, it must be intersectional. Sound familiar? This ethnographic study of African American and South Asian immigrant Muslims in the American city explores how Islamic ideals of racial harmony and equality create hopeful possibilities in an American society that remains challenged by race and class inequalities. The work focuses on women who seek self-determination outside of their ethnic Muslim spaces in search of gender justice.

The Golden Cage: Three Brothers, Three Choices, One Destiny — Shirin Ebadi

This novel written by Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi traces the destinies of three men of the faith navigating the Shah Pahlavi dynasty up until Khomeini’s revolution which rocked Iran and led to a massive diaspora. Ebadi shows why the events of 1979 shaped Islamic Iran’s PR problem and history of diplomatic troubles with the US today.

Feminists, Islam, and Nation : Gender and the Making of Modern Egypt— Margot Badran

And speaking of the making of the modern nation, Margot Badran has a very well-honed feminist perspective on the topic. Her work unsettles a common claim that “feminism is Western” and puts to rest the alleged opposition between feminism and Islam. The text draws upon various pieces of women’s writing to tell the story of how Egyptian women assumed agency and subverted the conventional patriarchal order.

A Suitable Boy — Vikram Seth

This is one of my most beloved stories ever, about a woman trying to find a viable suitor for her daughter in 1950s India. Defending the title of the longest novel in the world, BBC Radio 7, never one to miss an opportunity to render venerable literary works into snacking size, conveniently dramatized it into a beautiful tale of multiethnic, post-Partition Indian society. Courtship and prejudice swap masks upon love interests of differing faiths. Watch for the sequel, A Suitable Girl, coming soon!

Curfewed Night — Basharat Peer

This work by renowned Kashmiri Journalist Basharat Peer is his powerful memoir of growing up in war-torn Kashmir. Peer lays out scenes of the delicate beauty of Dal Lake, the vulnerable peace of the mountains, and the terrifying violence of the city square to contextualize one of many terrorized minority groups in the South Asian subcontinent.

Age of Anger: A History of the Present — Pankaj Mishra

Indian scholarly writer Pankaj Mishra explores the origins of the great wave of paranoiac hatred that has grasped our modern society. Topic range from American “lone wolf shooters” and ISIS to Trump, Modi, and racism and misogyny on social media.

The Satanic Verses — Salman Rushdie

You can’t study Muslim literary works without including the seminal Rushdie novel that prompted Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini to declare a fatwa on him. It is a controversial work of fantasy that merges evil with faith, falling together and struggling mid-flight.

Bastard of Istanbul — Elif Shafak

This beautifully written novel by famed Turkish writer Elif Shafak Elif Shafak confronts her country’s violent past in a vivid and colorful tale set in both Turkey and the United States. Family sagas entwine against genocide, mass deportation, and existentialism.

Walking Through Fire: A Life of Nawal El Saadawi — Nawal el-Saadawi, Sherif Hetata

I wanted to finish this list off strong with the one woman who inspires me most with her tenacity and persistence that intersectional feminism is the way. This semi-autobiographical work chronicles el Saadawi’s upbringing and encounters with child brides, female genital mutilation, patriarchy. She deconstructs the tendency toward oppressive sexual expression on the part of faith systems with an intellectual eye.

Thanks for reading my recommended reading list. I’d love to see what you’ve got in your personal libraries as well!

Encourage your inquisitive mind with the wealth of knowledge that is out there, and don’t let ignorance, shame, or inertia hold you back.

-- by Sabeen Khan. Content editor at Maga Design. Editor for SHEzaadi. Veteran shameless brown girl. Lover of salt ‘n vinegar anything, and a shady remark.

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