My Accidental Jihad, Krista Bremer

accidentalTo better understand the message of the book, I looked up the definition of jihad and found several; they all had one term in common, struggle. Jihad is a striving toward belief and a striving toward a world governed by Islam.
According to http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/jihad, jihad means:
1:  a holy war waged on behalf of Islam as a religious duty; also:  a personal struggle in devotion to Islam especially involving spiritual discipline
2:  a crusade for a principle or belief.
Another interpretation is that among Muslims, it is a war or struggle against unbelievers, while in Islam, it is the spiritual struggle within oneself against sin.
I thought it would be important to read the book with those ideas present in my mind.
When the book begins, Krista Bremer‘s life is going nowhere in particular. She loves surfing and is living with a boyfriend in California. Both have no real end-game in sight. She works for Planned Parenthood, advising pregnant woman of their options. After watching her friends move on with their lives, she decides to make a change and pursue her education further. She applies for her Master’s Degree and is accepted to a school in New England. She packs up and heads there exchanging surfing for jogging for her exercise and pleasure.
Occasionally, when she jogs, she notices a middle-aged man who runs at the same time as she does. Soon, they happen to meet in a store, and they make plans to jog together. He, Ismail, is a Libyan, working and living in America and is a practicing Muslim. She is in her twenties and practices a moderate form of Buddhism, often meditating. Their relationship evolves and when she finds herself in a compromising situation, they decide to marry.
Theirs is an unusual love affair, but it is deep and sincere. They work hard at finding common ground. Their backgrounds and cultures are diametrically opposed to each other. He comes from a third world country where creature comforts are hard to come by, while she is used to taking most creature comforts for granted. He is satisfied with very little and seems more interested in finding inner peace and serenity while she is often dissatisfied and tense, ill at ease and unsure of herself, even embarrassed by some of his behavior patterns.
Krista seems more interested in things of the material world, while Ismail seems more interested in things of the spiritual world. He is devoted to following the practices of Islam with prayer and observance, while she is devoted to the pursuit of happiness as in buying Christmas gifts and Valentine’s gifts which show her interest, concern and affection for those she cares about. Ismail is more understanding and patient with her regarding her form of worship than she is with his, and she is often petty and disappointed in him. She thinks of his G-d as more demanding, and hers as a more forgiving deity. Ismail makes few demands of her, and truthfully, he seemed like the ideal man, which made me wonder if anyone could be that perfect. He always supports her, always forgives her, and always offers compassion and concern.
As their relationship grows and deepens over the next dozen years, and as their family grows from one to two children, she finds more inner meaning in Islam than she ever expected to discover and watches her daughter soften to its demands, as well, actually expressing a desire to wear a headscarf. Krista sometimes seems to glorify Islam while denigrating herself and her own beliefs as inferior and less worthy. At times, I thought she was accepting and endorsing Islam, even as she found some fault with it. She seems to make a conscious effort to explain away the negative aspects she notices. She believes that Islam makes her more humble; she believes that the demands of the religion seem to make her less selfish.
When she and Ismail and their daughter return to Libya for a visit, her reaction seems too mild considering the lack of creature comforts available to her pregnant body. Her description of the bumpy roads and head scarves, forbidden coffee, and paucity of supplies, coupled with relatives eager to embrace her, is a humbling experience for the reader, as well. She was impressed with the family’s joy at seeing Ismail again and with the welcome they provided her. On the other hand, she was disturbed by the way his younger sister was treated and did not understand why a woman would want to be covered, but soon she discovers it offers her a sense of privacy and peace. Many of her descriptions of her husband and his family are a bit overly sentimental and positive, as if she is trying to justify his lifestyle over hers, and often her comments seem naïve and excessive.
As she searched within herself to gain a better understanding of the world around her and her place in it, she questioned the need for women to be subservient to men. She did not understand how Ismail could be oblivious to his youngest sister’s oppressive way of life. Yet, although, in Libya, the sound of the call to prayer wakes her in the mornings, when she returns home, she finds the prayer a comfort. Women could not be outdoors unaccompanied and she could not exercise, but she begins to place more emphasis on her experience there as one of personal growth, rather than one of personal sacrifice, which makes it enlightening for the reader. As she vacillates between her respect for her own culture and religion and her alternating growing respect and admiration for Ismail’s and for his family’s way of handling their lives with all its requirements and deprivations, she admires the way they handle their daily lives with such grace and marvels at the respect they hold for each other. While in Libya, she finds their style of dress liberating, not confining as one would expect. When she begins to wear a headscarf, she is comforted by it, feeling that it provides her a sense of privacy. In America, she was a woman who helped women choose to either have a child or an abortion, and suddenly, in Libya, she finds the harsh rules and requirements placed on women to be liberating, a position with which I was not sure I could agree.
In this honest expose of her love affair with Ismail, Krista describes many of the challenges she faced and continues to face, even now. As she becomes mesmerized by the melodies and presentation of the Muslim prayers, their plaintiveness and the earnestness with which they are recited, she grows closer to Ismail. As she becomes more and more enamored with Islam, she is more and more able to ignore the disrespect for women that it requires. I think Krista was a blank slate waiting to be written upon, making her more open to disparate views. She morphed into a different kind of adult than she was when she first cohabited with Ismail. Although she claims to draw peace from Muslim prayers, she admits that she has no clue about the meaning of the prayers. She does not speak Arabic. Therefore, in a way, at times I had to often suspend disbelief to go on reading, and if it wasn’t so beautifully written, with pitch perfect expression and cadence, I might not have finished it!
Problematically, I found that she seemed to infer or abstractly link the riots in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East, which occurred because of a video, to the murders of the four Americans in Benghazi. To connect the two events, however minimally, when Benghazi had been proven to be an act of terrorism, not the result of a crude, insulting video, implies a bias on her part that I found disingenuous. She made inferences about the practice of circumcision being heinous, actually citing a study to prove it, although it is a religious practice for Jews, their covenant with their G-d. Also, she makes a point of citing a particular close friend and devout Muslim who just happened to have converted from Judaism to Islam. I found the references to Judaism troublesome, but perhaps I am overly sensitive.
The audio is read well by the reader, with just the right amount of expression; the prose is excellent and I have to say the book is beautifully written and put together. However, I often wondered about the author’s descriptions of her personal feelings and the details of her personal growth with regard to Islam. They seemed a little exaggerated, more designed, perhaps, to impress the reader with her willingness to embrace Islam, rather than to present her own honest, legitimate response to her particular situation. I felt as if she colored her descriptions in order to put a more positive light on what it was like to be a Muslim.
All in all, I believe this book is an expression of Krista’s personal search for meaning in her own life and in the outside world. From the beginning, her writing style will captivate her readers as they take this journey with her, a journey that explores her personal struggle, possibly to live a more pious life, a life considered less sinful and more fulfilling.

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About omasvoice

Who am I? I am you. I am everyone out there who loves to read and discuss and voice an opinion!
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