Thursday, December 26, 2013

Book Review: Sandcastles & Snowmen by Sahar el-Nadi

The first thing that attracted me to this book was the title. Sandcastles & Snowmen is an intriguing title and it’s almost as if it immediately invites the reader into a world of adventure. True to the title, the book did provide an interesting journey of discovery and even rediscovery, highlighting the fact that there are many different perspectives in the world, all worth learning and understanding.  

As a workshop facilitator and psychologist I would like to regard this book as a manual of sorts, something that I am sure will prove to be an important reference guide which I can refer to over again, for self-development as well as to assist other people with their own self development.

As a Muslim woman and researcher of issues relating to Muslim women, this book has personal significance and it sheds light on issues that are universal and applicable to Muslim women in diverse settings.

Yet the book is so much more than what it initially seems to be. Although written by a Muslim woman, it does not exclusively focus on issues relating to Muslims. Instead it offers information on a variety of topics, and helps the reader understand Islam as a whole system, and it does this in the most refreshing of ways.

The topics of discussion range from spiritual intelligence, the basics of Islam, ethics and morality to politics, trade and business and science, to arts and culture, and of course gender relations. Each chapter is written in a way that draws the reader in, making you want to read more.

Not only are the topics extremely well researched, but the author has somehow managed to bring it back to the average person’s everyday life experience in a manner that is practical and applicable to modern day times. After reading this book, no one can make the claim that Islam is a religion stuck in ancient times and that it does not relate to modern day people or societies.

The thing that stood out the most for me however, was Sahar el-Nadi’s insistence on unity. Not only did she consistently come back to the idea of all human beings as a unified race, as descendants of the same ancestors (i.e. Adam and Eve- may Allah’s peace be on them), but she focused on the unity of people and other creatures, and the unity of people and the environment. Moreover, she managed to eloquently present Islam as a unified and holistic system. A system which fits the natural inclinations of mankind, leaving the reader to think that if Islam is adopted and practised correctly then the end result can only be complete unity and of course peace would be the resultant effect.

To call this book inspiring would be doing an injustice to it, and I think that it was the appeal not only made to the readers emotions, but their intellect as well that provided the impetus for me to want to be a better person. That Islam appeals to people as whole beings to make use of their various talents, to research, study and learn, and mostly to ask about things that are uncertain was enlightening and a great reminder to me that as a Muslim it is my duty to be the best that I can be.

I have to admit that I felt sad when I read through the rich historical accounts detailing remarkable achievements by Muslims. Sad, that Muslims today have divorced what they call “secular education” from “religious education”. I particularly enjoyed how the author revered knowledge and how she emphasised that Muslims should have knowledge in all fields and that in fact our love for the Quraan in itself should naturally incline us towards gaining knowledge in all fields. Perhaps in keeping with the theme of unity, this highlights the need for unity in knowledge as well. Knowledge in all areas of life is important for us to excel, not only as Muslims but as human beings. The author’s insistence that knowledge and good education is the key to many of the world’s problems today is something that vividly stands out for me.

At the same time, I was pleased that she did not leave out the causes of some of the problems we are faced with today, and the roots of the inferior education systems and some of the warped ideas that have become popular.

This book illustrates perfectly that values such as love, peace, caring for others, respect and tolerance is something that all human beings have in common, something that can connect us as fellow humans. In an atmosphere filled with negativity and division, it is refreshing to read a book which focuses on so many ways in which the people of the world can find common ground. Sahar el-Nadi gives credibility to her ideas because she actually lives and practices what she speaks about, emphasizing that her discussions are not merely idealistic discourses.

I cannot classify exactly what type of a book this is, but I think that’s a good thing. In keeping with its ever so dominant theme of unity, this book unites genres so it is all at once a book on spirituality and religion, self-discovery and motivational, a history book, a book on politics, science, art and culture.

The journey that Sandcastles & Snowmen takes you on is definitely a worthwhile one and I would recommend this book to anyone.


  1. Zarina, Thank you for this review. I was tempted to read this book but now I am sure I want to get it and I am sure it will help me to better understand Islam and its application in our daily life.
    Many Thanks and stay in peace always.

  2. Marie

    I hope that you are doing well. I am glad the review was helpful and yes, this book is definitely a must-read. I believe that it will answer many practical questions that people have about Islam, and the way in which she explains it is very easy to understand. I hope that you manage to get a copy and please do discuss it with me if you do.

    Stay well and take care