Top 10 plus one books to read to explore Islamic culture

On the hunt for Islamic books? Perhaps you are looking to expand your horizons. Or you want to deepen your knowledge. Here are my recommendations.

I can hear you objecting, but “Islam is a religion not a culture”.

Yes you are right. However this religion spread mostly in a particular areas on planet earth. And those populations developed culture and a way of thinking influenced by Islam. The goal of this list of books is to explore these cultures, ways of thinking and points of views. Here we go, my top 10 plus one Islamic books I recommend you read if you would like to explore Islamic culture.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

I have chosen a short easy to read book to start off this list. However it’s by no means low in impact. This book has literary changed my life. Although, Paulo Coelho is from Brazil; the fable about following your dreams draws heavily on concepts from Islam. Ideas such as realizing your destiny and transforming yourself into your full potential. This is a book I have read and reread multiple times. I have read it in both English and Arabic translations to enjoy it in different forms. Truly a joy to behold.

The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

Another book that I read in two languages just to extend the amounts of pleasure I could get out of it. It tells the story of a modern day American woman who discovers the works of mystical Sufi poet Rumi. The novel oscillates between the story of Rumi living in the thirteenth century and a woman whose life begins to change as she comes into her own power. This is a book for somebody who has fallen in love then fallen out of love and now is ready to fall in love again. But this time she want to experience something eternal. Something truer than all the declaration of truth. For many years it was my go to present to get to anybody who turned 40. I figured that once you turned 40 you would be ready to receive the lessons this fine novel has to impart. I don’t even know how many copies I have purchased over the years. I highly recommend that you read a book of poetry by Rumi as a companion piece. My favorite would be The Essential Rumi translated by Coleman Barks.

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

A historical novel that takes place in 16th century Istanbul, Turkey. The world of Muslim art is about to be taken by storm as a few of the artists are being influenced by developments in far away Italy. The novel explores the east/west cultural clash in the vibrant language of colors. This is a true beauty of a novel. Written as a murder mystery, it will keep you in a state of suspense trying to guess “who did it?”

The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf

It’s truly eye opening to reflect on events of the Christian crusades and how it parallels current world events.

The Inheritance by Sahar Khalifeh

It tells the funny yet tragic story of Zeina. An American young woman who is estranged from her Palestinian father. She grew up hearing her dad telling stories of nostalgia about the home land, painting an alluring picture. Now in her thirties she decides to visit Palestine in an attempt to connect with her roots. Upon arrival, she discovers layers upon layers of family dysfunction. This is a story of a woman discovering her roots and in the process gaining a stronger sense of herself. One of the things I appreciate about this novel is how well all the characters are fleshed out. Even the most minor person in the story is given space to be fully realized.

Spoonful Chronicles by Elen Ghulam

This is the plus one in the list. A tale of a Muslim emigrant making her way in the west. To unlock the secret to her destiny she must remember everything she has ever eaten. Just felt that it needed to be included in this list of Islamic books.

spoonful chronicles

Bird Summons by Leila Aboulela

Three Muslim women go a road trip together. This novel is an exploration of lives of Muslim women living in the west.

Escape from Baghdad by Saad Hossain

Imagine magical realism with a Middle Eastern twist. A true marvel of imagination.

Books About Iraq- Escape from Baghdad

Islam and Democracy by Fatima Mernissi

Is Islam compatible with democracy, feminism and modern concepts of human rights? This books examines this question. I have always been a fan of Fatema Mernissi. This is yet another fantastic well researched book by a brilliant mind.

No Sex in the City by Randa Abdel Fattah

Because a list of Islamic Books needs a bit of light hearted romance.

I, Who Did Not Die by Zahed Haftlang & Najah Aboud, with Meredith May

This book tells the real life story of two soldiers meeting on the battle field. One Iranian, the other Iraqi. Instead of murdering each other, they help each other out. It’s a profound story of common humanity winning over prejudice. I guarantee that you will never forget this book after you read it. It will stay with you forever.

books about Iraq I Who Did Not Die

Here you have it. My top 10 plus one top Islamic Books. Which one is your favorite in the list? Is there a particular book you wish to add to the list. Let me know in the comment section below.

Islamic Books

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