As a new Muslim, it can be challenging to know where to go for information about Islam, Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (PBUH), and his companions. Sometimes, the resources you find can be based on cultural, rather than Islamic, practices.
Additionally, it’s important to learn the spirit of the religion. This way, when you’re presented with new information weeks or even years into the future, you’ll be able to understand and evaluate the information with the letter and spirit of the law in mind.
That said, here are my top five book picks for both new Muslims and those considering converting to Islam.
Muhammad (Critical Lives) by Yahya Emerick
To get a deeper understanding of Islam as a way of life, it’s important to understand how the message was delivered. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was known before revelation as a person of honesty, integrity, and excellent character.
In the time of his Prophethood, he became both a religious and political leader. Thrust into his new leadership role, he transformed the warring and raiding tribes of the harsh Arabian Peninsula into a flourishing, just, and progressive society. Through the teachings of the Quran, and his own clarifications on many posed questions and points known collectively as ahadith (the sayings and teachings of Prophet Muhammad), he gave guidance to both his contemporary companions and the many generations that came after.
The author writes: “[Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH)] message of monotheism and righteousness motivated an entire people to abandon idolatry and spread the word of God to surrounding nations. Although he was a military genius, his greatest accomplishments came from the religion he preached: Islam, which called its adherents to lead a life of prayer, charity, and contemplation. The second largest religion in the world, both Islam’s prophet and its values are today often misunderstood by adherents and outsiders alike.”
This biography explores everything from the cultural background and childhood of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to his actions and achievements as a family man in his personal life. The book explains things like; what the Quran is and how it was revealed, Prophet Muhammad’s mission to guide mankind back to monotheism, his philosophy on interfaith relations, the concept of jihad, and how Muslim view Islam as informing their everyday life and actions.
Muhammad as if you can see Him by Aaidh ibn Abdullah al-Qarni
This book is another title that helps a new Muslim understand the man behind the message. It’s designed to help readers grow their love for the greatest of all Prophets: Muhammad (PBUH).
When I was first learning about Islam, the Quran was confusing but familiar at the same time. A lot of the Quranic messaging mimics those found in the Bible and Torah, but with key detail changes (or omissions). Reading Seerah (stories from the life of the Prophet and his companions) helped me put together the narrative of the Quran and to truly get a feel for what the religion was all about. Using stories and incidents in the Prophet’s life helps readers get to know the man behind Islam to gain a very detailed and personal picture of the man who shared Allah’s message with the world.
While the book should not be considered a biography, intently studied, or over-analyzed, the focus on the personality of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in this title makes it a valuable resource. It’s perfect for new Muslims wanting to better understand the spirit of Islam as embodied in Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) actions and dealings with his friends, enemies, followers, wives, and children.
Reading a biography about the Prophet (PBUH) provides the necessary context to Quranic verses, and humanizes the early Muslims. Rich details of their lives are available in seerah, and early Muslims can benefit from seeing the interactions. This book will leave new Muslims eager to learn about and love him even more.
A New Muslim’s Field Guide By Theresa Corbin and Kaighla Um Dayo
This book is so much more than your average book on Islam. It’s a fresh, sarcastic, and brutally honest look at the struggles and challenges that new converts face as they grow into strong, active, practicing, Muslims. The authors write that the goal of this book is to, “help [converts] grow as Muslims while maintaining their identity and love for God.”
New Muslim experiences are as diverse as new Muslims themselves. Not everyone will have the same struggles and triumphs. Therefore, it helps to read and hear a variety of experiences to get a feeling for what to expect. Muslims born into Muslim families most likely will not have the experiences, or understandings, of the issues converts face as new Muslims. This book is a crucial “field guide” from fellow converts who have lived through their conversion experience to tell the tale.
Co-authors Theresa and Kaighla draw on their combined decades of experience as converts to, “Walk the new Muslim through the hills and the valleys they’ll encounter on their journey, helping the newcomer navigate the sometimes slippery cliffs of culture, politics, and interpersonal relationships.”
If you were going to travel abroad, you would read about fellow traveler experiences to get an idea of what you’ll face in the new land. Since changing your religion is a much more monumental occasion, it makes sense to do even more research before embarking on your journey. This book is a humorous yet serious look at Islamic culture. It also touches on some of the deeper meanings behind ritual, belief, triumph, and failure, on one’s journey in Islam.
The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam by G. Willow Wilson
A lot of converts, especially women, are exposed to Islam through new love interests. G. Willow Wilson’s memoir explores a number of relatable relationship experiences.
After taking a Boston-based Islamic studies course, G. Willow Wilson found herself quietly adopting many Islamic practices as her own. However, the exercise presented a unique challenge; how would she reconcile her secular upbringing with the conservative lifestyle Islam required? Serendipitously, Wilson was accepted to an English-teaching position in Cairo, Egypt where she was introduced to the local moderate nationalist movement by a young student of astrophysics named Omar. While exploring their differences and similarities, an unlikely romance blossomed.
There are a lot of cultural nuances and religious differences that can cause issues within an intercultural relationship. G. Willow Wilson shares her personal experiences in this riveting memoir. It includes insights about her travels through the Muslim world, her journey into Islam, and how she navigated the boundaries and blurred lines between culture and religion.
Great Women of Islam: Who Were Given the Good News of Paradise by Mahmood Ahmad Ghadanfar
I highly recommend this title because Muslim women are not made with a cookie cutter and one size does not fit all. This title shows new Muslims how women were engaged in the movement and spread of our religion in a variety of ways.
Unfortunately, it is a very common misnomer that Islam oppresses women. Only by learning about the earliest women of Islam, and those closest to the Prophet (PBUH), does it become crystal clear that women played a vital role within society during those early days of Islam.
They were definitely not oppressed. Muslim women were warriors, teachers, leaders, public speakers, doctors, businesswomen, and more! Divorcees, widows, as well as infertile women, were all given the same honor of becoming wives of the Prophet (PBUH). These kinds of marriages are something that even in today’s “modern” society many women are refused.
Both female and male new Muslims should read about the earliest women of Islam to recognize how cultural misogyny has colored the interpretation and practice of Islam.
Have you read any of these titles? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!