Book review: A beautifully written book on Islam that takes us back to basic: the reading of the Holy Quran

“If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran” by Carla Power

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 Holy Quran and show, for instance, why the so-called “verse of the sword” that Osama Bin Laden used to justify his actions was being misinterpreted.

It is a personal book, built around the personae of the Sheikh, following his amazing journey from a simple madrassa student in his village in India, to researcher in Oxford University, and to world renowned expert on Hadith. It is also a personal book for the author, where she can relate a lot of major historical events with her own story – from her childhood in Tehran, Delhi, Kabul, Cairo, to her work in an Islamic Think Tank and as a journalist covering the Middle East.

It is also a beautifully written book, with the highest respect dedicated to Islam and the Holy Quran. The title of the book itself is a testament to this, which is a poetic reference from a Quran verse:

Say, even if the ocean were ink For (writing) the words of my Lord, The ocean would be exhausted Before the words of my Lord were exhausted, Even if We were to add another ocean to it. (Al Kahf 18:109)

Reza Aslan’s No God But God was enlightening, so did Karen Armstrong’s Islam: a short story. But this book is different, it moved me, humbled me and able to connect me to the solemn and peaceful [real] religion of Islam, one verse of Quran interpretation at a time. The Sheikh’s wisdom and teachings about Islam is very calming and reassuring, while the author’s worldly knowledge gave me a new perspective on how to see the so-called “Islamic World” from a different light.

I will read and re-read the book for sure.

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