Just finished reading “My Year Inside Radical Islam” by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a book I didn’t expect to take as long to read. Perhaps it was due to the writing style which, to be honest, I didn’t care for that much. Granted, the author had no literary aspirations when he set out to write this memoir. Instead, he wanted to tell his story of the relatively short time he spent inside fundamentalist Islam which, as it turned out, was probably not the best time to be associated with the religion: just a few years before 9/11.
The book is about Daveed’s search for God. Though he is of Jewish background his search brings him to Islam. He doesn’t encounter the fundamental side of Islam right away. Rather, he spends some time working for the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation and it was mostly there that he discovers the many different things which are “haram”, or forbidden by Islamic law. Things such as, shaking hands with women (or being alone with them in a room), owning or being near a dog, paying interest, listening to music… Some of the things he came in contact with were somewhat extreme, even refuted by other, more lax Muslims.
But he wrote the book to tell his story as an employee at Haramain since the very branch he worked for was later designated a terrorist entity by the Treasury Department in the wake of 9/11. By that time he had already embraced Christianity. So, the book doesn’t have as its goal the spread of Islam; nor Christianity for that matter. It’s the story of one man’s personal religious experience. As such, I admit it wasn’t that exciting.
A few days ago I posted a news piece about a pastor who prayed for his “hot wife”. I was still reading this book while I made that post and considered the contrast of the two faiths: on the one hand I was reading about Daveed battling with Islamic rules which pretty much covered all facets of life: from strict prayer rules to which hand to wipe with. While on the other hand you had a preacher who is so opposed to “cookie-cutter prayers” that he’ll say just about anything. Daveed doesn’t go much into the Christian faith other than to mention a few sermons he heard that changed his view on Christianity and the understanding of God. For instance, he recalls a pastor who spoke about how we are not worthy of God’s love but He still loves us.
I suppose the book would be more interesting (for me, at least) if he had converted to Orthodox Christianity. We also preach that very same Christian message of God’s unconditional love, yet our Church is also rich with a wide assortment of rules, regulations and canons. Granted, they don’t go into every single detail of everyday life. I understand why this memoir was written, what with all Muslims all of the sudden being instantly treated as terrorists, but if the story as read as one man’s journey from Islam to Christianity it seems as though not much is said for the fullness and authenticity of the Christian faith other than it being a church where everyone is loved.
Just my two cents.