Book Review: Scattered Pictures, Reflections Of An American Muslim
Scattered Pictures: Reflections of An American Muslim, an anthology of essays written by renowned African American Scholar and Imam, Zaid Shakir, co-founder of Zaytuna College located in Berkeley, California, is a book filled with thought-provoking insights and adorned with jewels of knowledge that take the reader for a walk through topics relevant to understanding Islam as experienced within and without the United States. Published in 2005, Scattered Pictures has been described as a book that invites the reader to a meaningful dialogue, to communal reflection, and to social and spiritual change. As a revert to Islam, I’ve especially benefited from this reading and have found that this book has provided an enlightening understanding of many topics while laying out the correct response that a Muslim may adopt towards them, and he has done this all in a way that is easy for non-Arabic speakers to comprehend. Imam Zaid references classical texts, modern works and current events with a fluidity that has helped to increase my faith and to re-ignite my passion for learning.
According to the author, “Scattered Pictures originated from a desire to share with a wider audience a traditional Muslim perspective on many of the critical issues that are part of the evolving socio-political discourse shaping our world. I [the author] felt that in many instances people who were unqualified to comment on current affairs were being given an audience that they were undeserving of–both Muslim and non-Muslim. As a result in many instances more harm than benefit resulted from their articulations.”
In this book, the author addresses the sometimes controversial subjects of Nationalism, the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and Blackness, Jihad, Human Rights and the issue of female prayer leadership to name just a few, and further writes in his description of Scattered Pictures:
“In these turbulent times, these are issues that if left unaddressed, could continue to spiral downwards into serious political, social and religious discord.”
One topic presented that especially struck a cord was that of scholarship and learning. While endorsing the familiar saying “Knowledge is Power,” Imam Zaid stresses the importance of emulating the historical tradition of Islamic scholarship for implementation today in our daily lives. He does this with a refreshing and easy-to-understand perspective that is able to point out the wrongs while simultaneously presenting possible solutions. He includes support from the Quran and Sunnah throughout the book to illustrate his views, as well as quotes and citations from several other works that I have since added to a growing reading list.
In an essay written about the Prophet Abraham, may peace and blessings be upon him, Imam Shakir writes, “The challenge of exemplifying the prophetic virtues, coupled with the challenge of calling humanity to those virtues, requires that we rise to the challenge of leadership. Meeting the challenge will require a vastly enhanced base of both religious and worldly knowledge in our communities. Collectively, our entire community – men, women and youth – has to aspire to heightened levels of educational attainment.”
Imam Shakir poses how we have in our tradition the likes of Imam al-Ghazali who was not only able to master and refute arguments of advanced philosophers but who was also able to communicate complex theological ideas in terms that were easy for ordinary Muslims to understand. It is the duty of a Muslim to share all that is good with others, especially knowledge that can help to guard against evil. As stated in Al Quran in Surah 3:104:
Let there arise from you a community calling to all that is good.
In my opinion, this book not only does a great job in calling to all that is good, but it does so in a way that is inviting and refreshing, bringing to mind the Quranic reminder that truth stands out clearly from falsehood. I wholeheartedly recommend this book! Inshaa’Allah, should you choose to read it, you will not be disappointed.
About Imam Zaid Shakir
Imam Zaid Shakir is a co-founder, chairman of the board, and senior faculty member of Zaytuna College located in Berkeley, CA. He is amongst the most respected and influential Islamic scholars in the West and he has brought both sensitivity about race and poverty issues and scholarly discipline to his faith-based work. He co-founded Masjid Al-Islam, the Tri-State Muslim Education Initiative, and the Connecticut Muslim Coordinating Committee, and in 2001 his translation from Arabic into English of The Heirs of the Prophets was published by Starlatch Press. He is a frequent speaker at local and national Muslim events and has emerged as one of the nation’s top Islamic scholars and a voice of conscience for American Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Imam Zaid has served as an advisor to many organizations, and influential leaders. Recently, Imam Zaid was ranked as “one of America’s most influential Scholars” in the West; by The 500 Most Influential Muslims, edited by John Esposito and Ibrahim Kalin, (2009).