With almost a quarter of the world’s population embracing Islam, Ali Shakir’s work provides a timely insight into the dilemmas facing contemporary Muslims caught between the desire for modernity and respect for tradition. Having set out to determine whether other religions might be “better, worse, or just like Islam,” his journey is also an articulate exploration of the rivalry between monotheistic faiths that has always existed and, along with politics, kept the flames of hatred in the Middle East burning for so long. He particularly examines the Koran, whose teachings are wide open to interpretation, being written in a language that is different from the ordinary Arabic of today, and focuses on the “most-quoted verse on Muslim bigotry world-wide,” which states that they should avoid dealings and friendships with non-believers in every possible way. The Prophet Mohammed acknowledged both Judaism and Christianity on several occasions, he says; the command¬ment said nothing about friendships, being merely an instruction not to take non-believers as protectors or leaders. It is hard to disagree with his conclusion that between Muslims, Jews, and Christians it is extremely difficult to determine who are the promised descen¬dants of Abraham. This book is a well-written collection of sensitive musings weaving personal experiences in a diary/narrative form. He touches on subjects as great as the meaning of Arabic culture in general, the Arab Spring, and what that has brought to those who sought a more secular way of life. Tackling the question of men’s rights over women, illicit love, feminism, polygamy, homosexuality, as well as the wearing of the abaya, he also finds room for the dying art of coffee-making. All told, it is a very good read.
— Mira and Tony Roca, authors of Memories of Eden
A Muslim on the Bridge doesn’t only reflect the voices of moderate middle-class Arab Muslims, it also echoes the voices of many Arab Christians as well as the other minorities in the region. The book’s touching stories dynamically weave threads for an honest account hardly found in the mainstream media.
— Fadi Zaghmout, Jordanian blogger and author of Arous Amman (Amman Bride)
A fascinating, poignant look at a life straddling two different worlds, Iraq and the modern, Western world. Ali’s story also tells us what life in Iraq was like long before the U.S. invasion, from his childhood education, his time in the military, and how he watched the divide among secular and religious Muslims growing in inten¬sity. A decade of news-watching could never provide the insight in the pages of this book.
— Michael Luongo, editor, Gay Travels in the Muslim World
Ali Shakir has written a very personal book. He shares with his readers puzzling encounters with religion in the contemporary historical context. A Muslim on the Bridge is a fascinating mosaic of lived Islam that goes beyond the stereotypical representations of the Muslim reli¬gion. This testimony of a Muslim in the “grey zone” is a must-read for all those who strive for a more nuanced understanding of Islam in the modern world.
— Dietrich Jung, Prof. in Contemporary Middle East Studies, University of Southern Denmark
A Muslim on the Bridge is a timely reflection on the impact of religion, community and family ties on one man’s life. Shakir, who was born in Baghdad in 1969 to a middle-class Shia and Sunni family and now lives in New Zealand, confronts the reader with the diversity, tensions and disparities confronting Muslims today. Written with quiet dignity, his description of the cultural and religious collision between the Muslim world and Western liberalism becomes a lucid plea for greater understanding and tolerance.
— Christopher Moore. “Books & Culture.”
New Zealand Listener, March 1-7, 2014
Very heartfelt and revelatory. A Muslim on the Bridge tackles all the big questions with examples drawn from the author’s own circle about marriages or childhood friendships or dealing with views of other believers and life in Iraq at war. Page 53 makes a stinging summation of religious history and modern disasters.
— Julie Haines, author of Swimming with Big Fish
A highly personal exploration of the author’s thoughts and experiences as a self-proclaimed liberal Iraqi-Arab Muslim. He articulates on a vast array of issues, such as Saddam’s rise to power, polygamy, poverty, patriarchal systems, and terrorism, and the dying art of coffee-making, to name but a few. Intertwined within these topics is his reflection on the role of Islam in Arab societies (each chapter begins with a passage of the Qur’an, which he then critically considers) and his own Islam and life experiences—namely, as the son of a Shia father and a Sunni mother, raised in the largely secular middle-class world of the 1970s and 80s Baghdad.
The book takes the form of intimate musings arranged in a series of ostensibly unconnected “scenes”. Shakir is honest and personal throughout, explaining the confusion he has experienced whilst negotiating his own relationship with Islam, Iraq, and the world at large, in a diary format both enjoyable and touching to read. Though an intimate exploration of one person’s grappling with many issues and their intersections in daily life, religion, society, and contemporary history, this articulate investigation will likely resonate much further.
— Banipal, Magazine of Modern Arab Literature, Issue 51, November 2014. UK