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From The Asian Reporter, V16, #44 (October 31, 2006), page 13.
Trust in God but tie your camel
Ayat Jamilah: Beautiful Signs:
A Treasury of Islamic Wisdom for Children and Parents
Collected and adapted by Sarah Conover & Freda Crane
Illustrated by Valerie Wahl
Eastern Washington University Press, 2004
Paperback, 189 pages, $19.95
By Josephine Bridges
The word ‘Islam’ means peace and submission to God," writes Sarah Conover in her preface to the second book of Eastern Washington University Press’s "This Little Light of Mine" series. "In Ayat Jamilah: Beautiful Signs, we have done our best to provide the reader with stories that draw from the diverse reaches of Islamic culture across distance and time … By presenting this assortment, we hope to unhinge the fixed notion that links camels to Muslims." Okay, okay, sorry about the title of this review, but I couldn’t resist using one of the most vivid bits of wisdom included here.
Ayat Jamilah contains both short stories and even shorter sayings. Two of the best examples of the latter are "Nothing on earth is so deserving of a long imprisonment as the tongue," and "He who is unthankful for little is unthankful for much."
"Manifold Increase: A True Story of Uthman ibn Affan" is the astonishing account of a merchant whose idea of "a better offer" exemplifies both profound faith and tremendous generosity. "Infant Jesus: From the Qur’an" reminds readers of the respect this faith accords Judaism and Christianity, which Sarah Conover calls "Islam’s cousins." Mystic justice figures in "What the Birds Know: A Tale from Iran," and the protagonist displays an infectious gratitude in the midst of loss in the collection’s last and shortest story, "The Honorable Joha, Mulla Nasruddin Hodja, Goha Gives Thanks."
Islam has inspired not only wisdom, but also beauty, and Ayat Jamilah is rich in visual as well as spiritual blessings. Each story begins with the saying "In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, and Most Merciful" written in a variety of Arabic calligraphic styles. As Freda Crane explains in her introduction, "It is customary for Muslims to begin any good action, such as eating, with this phrase." Valerie Wahl, who illustrated the collection and graced the thoughtful and gentle words here with gorgeous borders, outdid herself with the illuminated Arabic calligraphy for the prayer that begins each story and for "Inshaa Allah, if God wills."
"Today’s high-stakes political climate, tinged with religious conflict, has made the need for accessible introductory material on Islam more vivid," writes Sarah Conover. "Our true hope is that this book will be a modest, but useful contribution toward redressing that shortfall."