No God But God by Reza Aslan – Book Review

By The Gorgeous Palah Chingu

This is such an excellent book. It was well elaborated and provoking in the same time.

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My Rating : 5/5

I was raised in the environment of strictly religious sunni muslim background. Not that i wanted to label myself as Sunni Muslim (i’d like to think we are all Muslims regardless of how the individuals practices and approaches their own religion). However, reading about other branches of Islam like Shiite and Sufi definitely is a treat to myself. I have been longing to know about it but i just cant find the right book that is not heavily one sided. Usually, it will be one sided and most of the arguments stressed on how their side of religion overrule one another.

To be honest, the book is quite thrilling and challenging to me. There are terms and words that forced me to open online dictionary to understand it’s meaning. There are moment that i have to look at it’s own glossary to really comprehend what is Reza Aslan try to share with his readers. Sometimes, i have to stop for a while and absorb all the facts from his book.Trust me, this book provided me more information about my own religion than what my 5 years combined in Islamic Boarding School. In my school, all they (Ustaz and Ustazah) talked about is ritual. Ritual (in a very conservative society such as mine) somehow influenced and judged heavily on being a good Muslim. If you are reading Quran everyday, then you are considered a good Muslim. the downfall for this is reading and understand is not the same. That’s what Reza Aslan try to point out in his writing. He was very bold on writing over the controversial sub topic. He criticized how some Islamic Scholars misinterprets Islamic law for their own purpose.

I was forced to enroll in Islamic boarding school when i was thirteen. Those 5 years living in that boarding school can be sum it up as hell to me. I didnt fit in and i kind of questioned everything especially when the culture of women seclusion seems normal in that school. Having read this book, it seriously opened my eyes especially Women rights in Islam. It is undeniably underrated in Islam. When reza pointed out his arguments of veil and the symbolization of Muslim women chastity in this book, i couldn’t be more happier. Anyway, the only added advantage that i got having an Islamic educational background is i am familiar with some of Arabic terms in this book. When Reza  Aslan argued on whether Hadith is legitimate sources because of their Isnad, or on the rationality of using Ijtihad than Hadith, I understood what is meant by  Hadith, Isnad or Ijtihad. I learned it before in school.

Overall, this is an excellent reading. Everything is written in elaborated style but in the same time you can understand it. From Prophet Muhammad history to 9/11 post effect, all of it has been covered in this. Yes, this book might challenged and provoked your thinking and idea about Islam ( especially the one you thought you knew) but thats the whole point of reading it. You may agree to disagree with Reza Aslan’s points but that means you are doing some thinking of your own. Rather than accepting it wholly without questioning it, i would prefer this approach better. Yes, Reza Aslan may go a bit overboard with his writing over how shiite was formed but that’s something i can accept considering he himself is a shiite Muslim.

This book can refresh the new idea of Islam and maybe in the same time, we can embrace this long-awaited Islamic Reformation. This book is highly recommended to any non-muslims who wanted to know more about Islam.

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[Book Review] – A Fort of Nine Towers (2013) By Qais Akbar Omar

By The Gorgeous Palah Chingu

“I have long carried this load of griefs in the cage of my heart. Now I have given them to you. I hope you are strong enough to hold them.”- Qais Akbar Omar

My Rating: 5/5 (Thats because I have not been so moved by a book in a long while).
My Rating: 5/5 (Thats because I have not been so moved by a book in a long while).

If you ask me is it that GOOD to give 5 stars for this book, i would say 5 is not good enough. I cried, I laughed, I cheered and I felt all sort of emotions that the author told me via his story. This book consisted of 3 parts of author and his family story in it. The first part, you felt warmhearted imagining at the back of your head how he told his childhood story. The way he presented his point of view about his culture is just an honest expression of how he felt due to the way he was raised. He was born in the Pashtun Family and he lived together in a big house with his uncles, aunties and his grandfather is in their culture. He talked about it and enlightened those who find it such a strange culture. He described his childhood to be bright and colorful as he was surrounded by playful cousins and loving relatives. He pointed out that though his family are from Pashtun ethnic but he never spoke Pashto in the house. All of his family members are comfortable using Dari (another language that are widely used in Afghanistan aside Pashto). It is not a big deal for him because he learned Pashto and knew how to use it but he stated that he preferred Dari More. The Kite competition during his past childhood is one of the fiercest battle he ever encountered when he was a kid. He bragged about how his cousin Wakeel can easily defeated other opponent and has been named as ‘The Cruel Kite Cutter’ in their neighborhood. He cherished the moment of one of his family’s servants, Bahar helped him to win the competition by cutting Wakeel’s kite. For the author, The childhood in the big house with all of his cousins is one of the best memories he had.

The second part, you started feeling sad and wanted to help them to get through that awful war ( from Russian, Mujahideen, Taliban and American army). When the war (The Mujahideen Army) is approaching Afghanistan, The Author’s family felt that they are the savior. They had came to chase the Russian and Communism. They felt optimistic about this Army and wished that they will build back their destroyed nation. They are indeed wrong. Not long after Mujahideen’s arrival, The power struggle between factions occurred. Many died because of that. The author’s family felt they are no longer safe staying at their big house. The battle between factions of Mujahideen had turned most of them from being a ‘God’s Man’ to ‘Low-class criminal’. They robbed other’s properties and killed those who defied them. Fearing that their life will not be saved, the author’s family decided to take a refuge in his father’s friend house. They stayed there until American Army came to hunt every single Taliban army that resides in the country. The whole feeling when i read the second part is helplessness. I cant bloody do anything, I just keep moving on to the next pages, hoping the author’s family survived the calamity fell upon them. There was one scene that i deeply remembered because i truly feared that the author and his grandfather will not survived. First scene is when his grandfather stubbornly wanted to take a look at his house that he left a long time ago since Mujahideen Army came. He wanted to bring Author’s uncle originally but his uncle pleaded to wait until a few days for ceasefire between factions to happen. However, His grandfather could not wait any longer and ordered the author to go with him. When his father did not object his grandfather’s decision, he knew he had to accompany him no matter what. When they are on their way, They has been captured by Hazara’s faction of Mujahideen. It was truly a terrifying moment. They had been locked in a room where the walls are full of writing of those who ever lived in it. His grandfather knew that they are going to be killed. He told the author to be strong and in case if he’s got a chance to live, try his hardest to escape. He also told the author that those men might ‘used’ him but he insisted him to endure as surviving is more important. The author cried and asked his grandfather to stop talking nonsense. When the leader of the faction asked what they are both doing in the area, His grandfather told that they are visiting his house in the area. It turned out before the war, the leader is one of the students of the author’s father. He decided to let them go and send them both back. The author picturized the whole scene as his first death escape experience.

The third part is where the age of ignorance came and how the Taliban rules did alter the whole nation. He told what he deeply felt about them in this book. He stated that they brough strange peace into the country. How peace can be such strange thing? He revealed decrees of Taliban that insisted on Hudud Punishment and Fundamentalism of Islamic Law. No Music, No Entertainment, No Pictures, No Free Relationship between Boys and Girls, No Open Courtship and up to the extend of NO to everything. How did they governed Afghanistan? They said Yes to everything which considered good in Holy Quran. When he said strange peace, he does not mean it a good way. He felt the Afghan community and culture suddenly died and they can no longer do what they usually did. He said girls in Taliban’s time faced it much worse because they cant attend school , they have to wore Burqa all the time , they cannot work and they have to be accompanied by their male relatives if they wanted to go to other places. He portrayed vividly the moment of how Taliban used the stadium to carry out the punishment of those they claimed to be a sinner. To witness the scene of girls being stoned to death, the thieves whose hand is being cut and the murderers being shot at the head right away is one of the horrifying moments author ever had. He also reflected back the time he went to jail just for not cutting his hair according to Taliban Standard. In the jail, he was beaten by the religious officers and only to be released when he could answers all of their questions about Islam and Taliban.

According to this book, The author’s cousin named Wakeel and his grandfather played a big role in his life. He cherished both of them in temple of his heart. The wording that he put in this book to portray them both is simple yet poetic. You can sense his sincerity and tenderness in the book. The author even managed to share some of the stories of good people he met despite of war in his journey back and forth with his family.Whether it is from Hazara, Turkmenistan or Pashtun, They are indeed kind people who helped him when he needed it.

Can you see how huge this book is?
Can you see how huge this book is? The book size that i preferred is on my left (The Kite Runner Book) and in the middle one (which i tolerated because it is not that heavy).

To be honest, I hated books that had a huge size (compared to the normal size) which is for me difficult to hold it during reading. This book turned me off right away when i first saw it sitting among bookshelves in a local bookstore. I wanted to ignore the book and move on to another section but my instinct kept asking me to flip a few pages of this particular book. I turned a few pages of this book and i sighed. There is no foreword or rave review by other famous authors. I am skeptical at first but i bought it. I bought it in the sense that i loved non fiction books and above all, it is middle-eastern literature especially from Afghanistan and Iran. After reading a few chapters, I was completely blown away. I wondered how Afghani authors (Khaled Hosseini and others) can easily grasp my attention and i am completely hooked on the way he told his tale. If you like Khaled Hosseini, You should buy this book. What differentiate Qais Akbar Omar from Khaled Hosseini is he did tell the TRUE story and what really happpened to him while he was growing up in Afghanistan in a time of War. I can assure you guys that this book is indeed one of the best books i’ve ever read in 2014.

Book Review : Raising My Voice by Malalai Joya (2009)

by the gorgeous Palah Chingu

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“I don’t fear death; I fear remaining silent in the face of injustice. I am young and I want to live. But I say to those who would eliminate my voice: I am ready, wherever and whenever you might strike. You can cut down the flower, but nothing can stop the coming of the spring.” ― Malalai Joya, Raising My Voice

I got this book at the fair price near the Chowrasta market, Penang. How I love that place because they sold books in a very reasonable price. However, since I read this book, I have deep admiration towards Malala Joya’s courage and boldness for speaking what is on her mind. She’s even willing to risk her life for championing women rights in Afghanistan. She is what I called the true figure of Afghanistan Heroine. It is truly lucky that she had educated father. Born into the war torn country, having an educated father is a blessing to her. She has not been denied her right to education like majority of Afghanistan girls had. Malalai Joya started being an activist at the young age.  Her family supported her dreams and understands that what Joya did is a proof of how much she loves her country. Even in Taliban Years at Afghanistan, She constantly travels to teach young girls so that they can read and continually have access to education. In this book, Joya does not try to sugarcoat or hide anything on what happened in Afghanistan. She told and exposed everything from the withdrawal of US force from Afghanistan, to the period when Hamid Karzai is appointed as a President and until now, where the majority of government’s minister and members of Parliament are part of warlords and religious extremists.

My Rating: 5/5
My Rating: 5/5

She often travel to overseas to speak about the plight and dilemma of her peoples and her country. She often invited to the talks and events to share her experience and to make her message came across clearly especially to other countries political leader. She talked about how comfort she is at the other country but she still thinking about her country. How many people spent times in the darkness due to no access of electricity and how many people fell sick because of lack of access on clean water. Her true love towards her country is reflected upon that. I know that no even once she mentioned she wanted to move to another country despite death threat made against her is increasing. She managed to escape so many times and would not give up easily.

It is truly a real eye opening story to me. A very young girl who dared to raise her voice in the Afghanistan’s Parliament criticizes majority of MPs who did not give a shit about people. They do not care about improving the rate of literacy, discarding the poverty and let alone in championing women rights and freedom. When Joya spoke boldly, she’s being scorned not by the fellow male MPs, but also by female MPs who Joya believes is just for display so that the world believes that the current government is on the path of instilling Democracy. She was banned for so many times from parliament due to so many complaints have been made against her.

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This is truly amazing book. Amazing because you can feel how honest Malalai Joya pours her feelings into the book. Amazing because how insightful she wrote this book based on the aspect of war, Afghanistan people, Democracy and her not yet achieved dreams and hopes.