The best books on Islam

The Books I Picked & Why

The Moor's Account

By Laila Lalami

The Moor's Account

Why this book?

This fictional account of the first Muslim to set foot in the Americas, Mustafa al-Zamori (d. c. 1534), is based on and closely follows the Spanish primary sources. The author takes us into the subjective experiences of a Moroccan enslaved by conquistadors, who has to live among them and whose facility with languages quickly turns him into an asset in their dealings with Native Americans. This reminder that Islam is no newcomer to North America is a rollicking read that nevertheless brings us to meditate on the profound issues in meaning and identity.


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No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam

By Reza Aslan

No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam

Why this book?

Aslan writes engagingly and urgently about Islamic history from a contemporary Muslim-American perspective. He grounds his account in academic scholarship but does not let it overshadow the excitement of the rise of a new world civilization. Aslan attends to the potential within Islam for democracy and for greater rights for women and rejects the bigotted “clash of civilizations” model that sees Muslims as always outsiders in Western society.


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Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam

By Fred M. Donner

Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam

Why this book?

Donner’s account of Muhammad and of the early Muslim empires is breathtaking in its scope, always original in its insights, and a challenge to hidebound traditions of writing on these subjects. Donner sees early Islam as ecumenical and the first Muslim empire as a multicultural enterprise of Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians. He challenges the black legend of the spread of Islam by the sword.


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Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate

By Leila Ahmed

Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate

Why this book?

This pioneering volume was the first major single-author work to survey this important subject, and it remains an essential read. Ahmad examines the major issues in the treatment of women in a clear-eyed way. She theorizes that urbanizing families in early Islam constrained women’s freedom beyond what had been common among pagan rural and Bedouin society, but admits that the picture is mixed, and that at the core of the Muslim religious tradition are accounts and insights of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad.


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Sufism: An Introduction to the Mystical Tradition of Islam

By Carl W. Ernst

Sufism: An Introduction to the Mystical Tradition of Islam

Why this book?

Ernst writes about the Muslim Sufi tradition for the general public with passion and verve, making sometimes complex ideas intimately accessible and conveying the excitement and passion of male and female Muslim seekers after union with their divine beloved. He covers Sufi forms of worship, the role of saints and intercession, and ecstatic poetry, dance, and song. It is a fascinating exploration of a widespread and essential Muslim spiritual tradition that contrasts with the sober, puritanical Salafi strain with which many readers may be more familiar.


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