In Sandcastles and Snowmen, Sahar El-Nadi tells the story of how she grew up in Muslim countries but truly found her religion as an adult through her travels, life experiences and subsequent deep reflection.
The book starts with an accessible introduction to the key tenets of Islam which is straightforward enough to make sense to non-Muslims. It then asks some of the really big questions – Why am I in this world? Why is there suffering in this world? As well as some questions that will pique people’s interest: What is shariah law? What is the ultimate goal of a Muslim? The rest of the book covers Islam’s place in the modern world regarding just about everything: art, science, trade, diversity, gender inequality, human rights and politics
I enjoyed El-Nadi’s way of explaining some Islamic concepts. When faced with a liberal audience who could not understand why some things were halal or haram and how they could be assigned labels of good or bad, she replaces the terms good ad bad with healthy and unhealthy – concepts that her Swedish friends were more familiar with.
I was a little uncomfortable with her way of explaining how we get reward points for good deeds, it almost felt a little as if the faith is being explained very methodically without the spirituality behind it, however the Chapter on Reward and Punishment (Chapter 4) does take this further and explains rewards for good deeds, rewards for the intention as well as the deed and the reward for encouraging others to do good deeds. The explanation is taken further with the understanding that heaven is for those who consistently make good intentions, try to act on them and try to make the world a better place.
I was moved by the section which described the authors experience of visiting the Kaaba in Makkah and I think many people would be able to relate to the powerful effect this has on her. For those who are curious about the pilgrimage Muslims make to Makkah, the authors description of the transformational nature of this journey should be of interest.
The chapter on manners and ethics included some good reminders and reasons on why Islam is a religion of peace, with emphasis on encouraging good and preventing evil, showing compassion to others and particularly the importance of good manners in faith.
The chapter on Islam and human rights is essential reading for all of those people horrified by the cruel things happening in the name of Islam. The religions actual commands regarding the rights of women, children, parents and even animals are laid out, using short stories that Muslims will be familiar with as examples.
The book also offers some opinion and insight into a number of political issues such as identity and prompts us to consider how often we questions concepts such as middle east and third world? There is an explanation of the true meaning of Jihad, a term much bandied about at the moment and some thoughts on the role of religion in the Arab Spring.
The chapter on gender roles and equality I found particularly insightful, especially the section on polygamy, as well as the authors beautiful description of hijab and her husbands reaction to her hair on their wedding night of all things.
The book did jump around a little from one topic to another, partly because of the sheer breadth of what the author tries to cover. My first reading of the book was a slow and careful reading which took me plenty of time, just so that I could digest and weigh up what I was reading. Definitely a book I would keep hold of and come back to, although probably more to dip in and out of and to provide food for thought.
With recent events in Pakistan, Paris, Syria and Nigeria making headlines and capturing the world’s attention, this book is a good one to help people who have become curious about Muslims and Islam to answer important questions. It is also a useful guide for Muslims who want to help non-Muslims understand them better. An ambitious, interesting and accessible book that I will be recommending to friends.
You can find out more at: Amazon, Goodreads, the website for the book, the Facebook page for the book and the authors YouTube channel.
“I discovered another analogy in the legacy of Prophet Muhammad that immediately clicked with me: that the angels put down their wings in humility for a person who seeks knowledge, and that all living things, even the ants in their anthill and the fish in the sea, pray for a person who teaches people good things.
When I read this, I literally felt the goodness flow out of my heart for all creatures. The beautiful mental image it evoked resonated with my concept of the universe as one unit, and of all living things seeking to live together in peace and harmony, and being grateful when humans tried to fit into the circle of life, instead of working so hard to disrupt its equilibrium” ― Sahar El-Nadi, Sandcastles & Snowmen