10 Books to Help You Reflect During Ramadan

These suggestions honor the importance of literature in Islam

A photo of a Muslim mother reading a book to her two young boys.

Historically, Ramadan indicates when God revealed the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Allah sent an angel to tell the Prophet to “Read!” It’s also believed Shaytaan, the devil, is locked away. As Muslims, the month allows a heightened sense of awareness. We’re inclined to commit good deeds, pray more, and improve our mind and body.

Though we’re in isolation due to Covid-19, a beneficial way to honor this month is to gain more knowledge. Here are some books to serve as a gentle guide during this time.

1. The Qur’an by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem

It’s a given to read the Quran in Arabic during and outside of Ramadan, even if it’s just one verse. But, it’s difficult to find an English version that effortlessly captures what the holy book says; however, this translation by Haleem is especially meditative. It simplifies what Islam asks of us without scholarly verbiage that can be difficult to grasp.

2. How to Cure a Ghost by Fariha Róisín

Róisín is a queer Australian-Canadian writer based in Brooklyn. She wrote a beautiful piece in the New York Times on Ramadan and self-care. It was an attractive introduction to her writing, which is why I was drawn to her first book of poems. Róisín showcases a vulnerability that leads you to understand the struggles of self, with ancestral trauma and in an era of White supremacy. It brings you to tears, but she, almost motherly, heals those cracks with her words. Róisín writes for Muslim women and leaves others to figure it out.

3. Those Who Know Don’t Say by Garrett Felber

Felber, an assistant professor at the University of Mississippi, states the facts of his research on Islamophobia in the ’60s and incarceration — detailing it sharply, through the beginnings of Black surveillance. It’s a must-read if you want to understand the Nation of Islam, the carceral state, and what killed Malcolm X. A vital introduction to this novel is the autobiographies of Malcolm X and Assata Shakur.

4. The Tao of Wu by The RZA

The Wu-Tang Clan founder and member, RZA, interlaces hip-hop with Islam. He shows a gradual development of the soul through his words and drops gems in the compelling book. The rapper credits wisdom that he gained on the streets. RZA explains his regretted actions due to history and environment, and by owning up to mistakes, he found peace.

5. Inner Dimensions of the Prayer by Imām ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah

This book is significant for people who struggle to connect with Allah during prayer. It’s a need for both beginners and people who have been praying for years. Al-Jawziyyah breaks down the value behind every movement and Quran verse in salat (prayer), even down to wudu, an act of cleansing before prayer. The scholar implores how God always gives Muslims a chance to purify their mind through what may seem mundane.

6. Instant Insights: The Muslim Mind Guide by Dr. T.K. Harris

Mufti Ismail Menk, a South-African Muslim cleric, tweets wholesome reminders on Twitter. He recommended this book for people worried about the coronavirus, which is a test in this dunya (life). The book explores how a Muslim can balance their nafs (emotion), intellect, and heart. Harris promptly describes how to accomplish a purpose in this life mindfully, learning to trust and process the moment.

7. The Shadow of the Crescent Moon by Fatima Bhutto

Bhutto, a Pakistani writer, hooks you in with her words. Her selection of phrases for a first-time novelist is astonishing. Bhutto details the lives of three Pakistanis living in a region bordering Afghanistan: Mir Ali, a war-stricken town. It’s not a soft novel but moving and necessary. Bhutto includes corrupt hajj travel packages, mistreatment by the Pakistani military, and oppression laced through delicate characters. This novel breaks down the psychological abuse of the souls living in ruined tribal areas.

8. A Battle for Home: The Vision of a Young Architect in Syria by Marwa al-Sabouni

Al-Sabouni offers an optimistic take on architecture in the wake of war in Syria. Through her experiences as a young architect, she provides the idea that Islamic archetypes can rebuild the Syrian community and to disengage moves to the West and Europe while also rejecting Western and European design and thought. Her book analyzes the idea of “home” in the war-torn Middle East. With sketches peppered throughout the book, she emphasizes architecture’s humanizing role — a role that, with proper care and intellect, can teach new generations to put their faith into action.

9. Crosslight for Youngbird by Asiya Wadud

Wadud’s poems explore slavery, migration, borders, and ancestral trauma. It also provides a whimsical layer of hope for displaced people through words of survival against a brutal world. She mentions the 71 deaths of migrants from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria–the youngest barely a year old. Wadud uses specific names for victims and their captives. The poems are personalized, which makes an unforgettable statement in her work.

10. Mural by Mahmoud Darwish

As a Palestinian, Darwish describes an anguishment of dispossession and exile from his homeland, but he finds solace through hope. Jidariyya (Mural) contains poems that seep into your mind and linger for an extended amount of time. He wrote the book after he underwent a serious heart operation and meant for this to be his last poetic work. It’s translated from Arabic to English by Rema Hammami and John Berger.

writer and painter based in dallas, tx. www.aminakhn.com

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