The Convert

A Tale of Exile and Extremism
The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism. Graywolf. May 2011. c.224p. ISBN 9781555975821. $23. BIOG
In 1962, Margaret Marcus (b. 1934), a young Jewish woman from New York's suburbs, converted to Islam, left America, and moved to Pakistan to live as a disciple of one of the major architects of the Islamist revival, Mawlana Abul Ala Mawdudi (1903–79). As Maryam Jameelah, she excoriated American decadence and warned of the dangers of Western influence, laying a cornerstone of Islamic fundamentalist ideology. Biographer Baker (In Extremis: The Life of Laura Riding) came across an archive of Jameelah's papers and became entranced; she presents here a spellbinding factual account of Jameelah's estrangement from her family, faith, and country; her quest to find an authentic Islam halfway around the world; and her confinement in mental asylums on two continents. How did this troubled woman become the theorist behind the notion of Islam vs. the West? Baker's investigation of Jameelah yields mysteries and surprises galore.
VERDICT A significant contemporary figure in Islamic-Western relations becomes human, with all the foibles and angst that word implies. General readers will find this story compelling, while scholars will be pleased with the insight it brings to an important 20th-century Islamist voice. Highly recommended.
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