recess radio program

12/12/03
Books From the Middle East
    by John Cech

More than one billion people in the world today are Muslim, and yet, in America, we know relatively little about this religion and its founder, the Prophet Muhammad. One couldn't wish for a better introduction to the life and spiritual journey of this man than the new biography of him by the children's book artist/author, Demi. Her respectfully written, exquisitely illustrated volume is the first biography of Muhammad for younger children in English. Using the style of Persian miniature painting, and following the Islamic tradition of not depicting the Prophet or his family, Demi traces the events of Muhammad's life from his birth in Mecca in 570 A.D., to his first visitation from the angel Gabriel during the month of Ramadan in 610, to the Prophet's death in Medina in 632. Throughout, the book is as much about Muhammad's ideas and teachings as it is about his biography, and it's especially important for young people to hear about the dimensions of kindness, tolerance, and generosity that are essential to Islamic belief.

Through the meticulous drawings and research in David Macaulay's new book, Mosque, we see how one of the most significant structures in Islam represents broader, idealistic dimensions that are fundamental principles of Islam -- in particular, the obligation of those who have been very fortunate to give something meaningful back to their culture. To illustrate this concept, Mccaulay traces the creation, in the 1500s, of a fictional mosque from the initial commissioning of the project by a successful Admiral of the Ottoman fleet, to its successful completion as one of the central features of Islamic community life. For, as Macauly shows us in this fascinating book, though the mosque was first and foremost a place for worship, the compound that often surrounded a mosque contained a college, community baths, a soup kitchen, and a "public fountain providing fresh drinking water."

Ed Young offers a very different kind of story in What About Me? a tale inspired by the Sufi teaching stories, about a young man who wants to find knowlege. But each person he turns to for help, from the Grand Master to the carpenter, wants to tell the student instead about his own needs. "What about me?" they all ask. Young's wonderful collages are just right for this witty and wise tale that, though it is brand-new, feels like a rock that's been worn smooth by many years of the miraculous tumblings of life.

Copyright 2003 John Cech

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