Review: Face to Face with Jesus: A Former Muslim’s Extraordinary Journey to Heaven and Encounter with the God of Love

cvr_face-to-face-with-jesus-a-former-muslims-extraordinary-journey-to-heaven-and-encounter-with-the-god-of-love-by-samaa-habib

Face to Face with Jesus: A Former Muslim’s Extraordinary Journey to Heaven and Encounter with the God of Love by Samaa Habib, Bodie Thoene

MY RATING: 3/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from the GoodReads Giveaways Program (in exchange for an honest review)

REVIEW: ”For many believers, particularly in the West, persecution is a foreign concept and experience–limited to unpleasant exchanges in the office or over social media. However, for many other believers, from Indonesia to Africa, in North Korea and throughout the Middle East, persecution is common. They suffer in many different ways, from social and economic exclusion to torture, rape, imprisonment and martyrdom for their belief in Jesus”(13).–Mike Bickle, Director, International House of Prayer

Face to Face with Jesus: A Former Muslim’s Extraordinary Journey to Heaven and Encounter with the God of Love,” existed as the story of a young, Egyptian female and her conversion from Islam to Christianity. The author, Samaa Habib, received an invitation, from one of her friends, to attend a Christian Orthodox Church service. She was fortunate to have parents who, despite being Muslim and deeply religious, were also open-minded about learning, seeing how others practiced their faith(s), etc. While there, she learned that the God of Christianity valued and loved females equally as much as males. This surprised her; because in Islam, females were worth half or less than that of their male counterparts.

Face to Face with Jesus” covered the wide-spread progression from Samaa’s Egyptian family living under a communist government, to displeasure of it and people’s desire to convert to generalized Sharia Law, and ultimately to being ruled by the cleric-mandated Sharia law. As things changed, her worth to her family also became devalued. Nonie Darwish, also a native of Egypt and whose father worked in the field of military intelligence under Gamal Abdel Nasser, noticed these extreme changes as well and shared them in her book, titled “Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror.”

In Samaa Habib’s case, it was the first time that she witnessed how religion became a divisive weapon: to “tear personal lives apart and divide and destroy nations” (51). She also saw “cruelty for the sake of cruelty ” (52). “In Muslim countries, women without male chaperones are targets of assault” (109), and she witnessed some of the terrible acts. One could easily understand how this girl’s new-found faith (in Christianity) made her feel protected and helped her to fight back against some fellow Egyptians who became her attackers.

At first, I thought that the “International House of Prayer” was unfairly targeting Egypt’s female population, using “free self-defense classes” as a way to gain recruits and converts from Islam to Christianity; however, the reality was that they did provide an undeniably valuable and life-saving service and skillset to the populace, which also saved the lives of this girl and her friends on multiple occasions. Not everyone would convert to Christianity, but they would convert from intended victims of sexual assault and other crimes to their own personal heroes.

SPOILER ALERT
As the chapters progressed, especially in the “Epilogue,” the soft-sell for Christianity became a hard-pushing one, and I found myself skimming the last parts. The hard-sell became distracting from the author’s amazing life story and the good deeds of her church. It seemed that the sole purpose of the book was to be a religious conversion piece, which varied greatly from what its synopsis conveyed to me; as such, this well-written book and amazing story lost some of its integrity, causing a reduced star rating.

Review: Unveiled Threat: A Personal Experience of Funamentalist Islam and the Roots of Terrorism

cvr_unveiled-threat-a-personal-experience-of-funamentalist-islam-and-the-roots-of-terrorism-by-janet-tavakoliUnveiled Threat: A Personal Experience of Funamentalist Islam and the Roots of Terrorism by Janet Tavakoli

MY RATING: 4/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from Author (in exchange for an honest review)

REVIEW: Do not allow the small size of this book fool you into believing that it is not big on content. This is the first piece I have read by Janet Tavakoli, MBA, who utilized this work as a delivery vehicle to share her experiences when she found herself suddenly trapped in the middle of Iran’s Islamic Revolution. In one day she went from being an Iranian man’s, American-born, wife to becoming his property under that nation’s newest laws. “Unveiled Threat: A Personal Experience of Fundamentalist Islam and the Roots of Terrorism” delved into the author’s experiences, connected religious institutions to terrorism, and expounded upon the issues that developed due to the creation of a politically-correct world that began producing a global, fundamentalist, terrorist threat to the United States of America (USA).

Unveiled Threat” began with a focus on Iran and touched on tangentially-related topics in other countries due to their effect on the USA. Prevailing themes included the following:
1. “Poor men want to be rich” (1)
2. Political hypocrisy.
3. Hypocritical use of chador.
4. “Stalkers for Islam” (43)
5. Honor killings.
6. Female genital mutilation (FGM).
7. Islamic rule.
8. Muslim apologetics.
9. Sex abuse scandals.
10. Freedom of artistic expression and speech.

Ms. Tavakoli gave one example that specifically dealt with Muslim outrage pertaining to freedom of artistic expression/speech; I felt that it lacked sufficient context, causing me to be in disagreement with her. The story’s lack of details pertained to the year 2006, when a Pakistani cleric issued a death fatwa on a cartoonist who drew satirical images of Mohammad. I did not find their context to be fatwa-worthy nor good cause for riots. The situation created by the editors appeared repulsive and malicious. I associated this example with the Charlie Hebdo incident, though it was not clearly defined in the book.

The incident involved artistic representations of tied-up Muslims being raped by dogs (as had reportedly occurred to incarcerated people of the same faith). Dogs were utilized because due to their consideration as being the most disliked, lowly creatures in Islam. Other highly-inappropriate, disgusting, and insensitive illustrations went to print. I could not begin to imagine the uproar that would take place in a Westernized nation if, in the same context, there was a contest to draw a likenesses of God, Jesus Christ, or any other holy icon, in order for them to be printed amongst cartoons of children being raped by religious or other authority figures. In this situation, described as artistic expression and/or freedom of speech, moral and philosophical boundaries melted.

Unveiled Threat made for a compelling read that, at its core, focused on personal boundaries being legally melted by changing societal norms. This book contained elements of stories shared by Nonie Darwish, in her book titled, “Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror.” Plus, Ayaan Hirsi Ali stressed similar warnings in the three pieces I have read of hers: 1.) Nomad–From from Islam to America: a Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations; 2.) Infidel; and, 3.) The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam.

Tavakoli’s book made me hold my breath quite a bit. At times I felt my eyes racing from one sentence to the next because of the energy that the author’s writing style created. The reading enjoyment factor caused the book to easily earn five stars; but, what I thought were minor historical discrepancies did cause me to reduce the work’s overall rating by that of one star. These minute differences in no way diminished the author’s experiences nor intensity of the situations covered in the piece. The most important factual fabric of this book maintained its integrity.

Review: Getting Away with Murder: Benazir Bhutto’s Assassination and the Politics of Pakistan

cvr_getting-away-with-murder-benazir-bhuttos-assassination-and-the-politics-of-pakistanGetting Away with Murder: Benazir Bhutto’s Assassination and the Politics of Pakistan by Heraldo Muñoz

MY RATING: 4/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Library Book

REVIEW: Benazir Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, addressed the United Nations with the goal of encouraging it to create an investigation into his wife’s murder. Heraldo Munoz, a Chilean journalist, lived in a country with seemingly no intense political nor economic interest in Pakistan. His work revealed a compelling set of credentials, inclusive of having “presided over the Al-Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council during 2003 and 2004” (16), which may have ultimately explained why he received “a request from the (UN) Secretary General…to lead a commission to investigate the assassination Pakistan’s former prime minister Benazir Bhutto” (15).

“WHAT WE KNEW about the day of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination before initiating our investigation was confusing and contradictory. There were disagreements about basic facts and much controversy about the assassin or assassins, the cause of death, the former prime minister’s entourage, and what the behavior of the police had been” (31). The aforementioned existed as wide-spread knowledge; but, Getting Away with Murder: Benazir Bhutto’s Assassination and the Politics of Pakistan served to share details surrounding this historically significant event. The author also delved into Pakistan’s (and the Bhutto family’s) history, US-Pakistan relations, Pakistan’s relationships with its neighbors, changes of leadership, evolution of the Taliban, plus the roles of religion and the military.

Getting Away with Murder achieved all of the author’s stated goals. I found the piece to be a compellingly-written and highly-insightful read that could have been completed in a single day. Unfortunately, post-investigation content did not maintain an equal level of cohesiveness and relevance to the book’s preceding chapters; so, my interest level waned a little bit.

Review: All American: Two Young Men, the 2001 Army-Navy Game and the War They Fought in Iraq

cvr_all-american-two-young-men-the-2001-army-navy-game-and-the-war-they-fought-in-iraqAll American: Two Young Men, the 2001 Army-Navy Game and the War They Fought in Iraq by Steve Eubanks

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from GoodReads Giveaways Program (in exchange for an honest review)

REVIEW: Steve Eubanks, changed how I viewed sports history and America’s war in the Middle East with his book “All American: Two Young Men, the 2001 Army/Navy Game and the War They Fought in Iraq“. He established himself as a highly-credible sports writer, former college golf player and PGA member. The first post-9/11 Army versus Navy football game became his focal point for introducing the reader to this biography of two incredibly brave men sent to fight in “War on Terror.” “It was the recent terrorist attacks on American soil that made this particular event the most watched college football game in the country. Four million American television sets tuned in early that Saturday afternoon, with another four million sets tuned in overseas” (xi). Additionally, “President George W. Bush had spoken in both locker rooms before the game: ‘Your opponents today on the football field will be the men you will be serving beside on the battlefield very soon,’ he said” (xiv).

This post-9/11 environment super-charged the football fans as well, showing a renewed and more intense patriotism that perhaps had not been demonstrated by the public masses since “Lake Placid, New York, at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games, when the U.S. hockey team upset the heavily favored Soviets, the game known as the ‘miracle on ice’” (46). I remembered that game…that moment, that physically-expressive surge of patriotism demonstrated by my family and me when I was a little girl. I remembered jumping up and down at the winning goal. Mr. Eubank’s analogy resonated with me and made my heart soar again; this historical comparison existed as one of several examples utilized by the author to connect on a deeper level with the reader and reach a much wider audience.

Emotions continued to “run high” as young men gave their hearts and all of their energies in devoting themselves to their military training in preparation for combat operations. Some training focused on leadership roles that mandated impeccable reputations. The author delved into the rigors of Army Ranger training and how easily a bad person can run someone’s life and/or career with a false allegation. Nobody cared about a person’s innocence. The author labelled this scenario as “availability bias”: favoring what was simply available without any regard for safety and other mitigating (and eventually, litigating) factors to resolve a problem.

The unfortunate realities of war existed as another problem that had basis in availability and/or bias: killing children and loss of our own children. One character identified the age at which Iraqi children had been brain-washed to dislike American soldiers. This served as an important piece of information for adults, especially Americans, to help understand the brutal cruelties of war and why there existed occasions when adolescents and teenagers experienced targeted death with their adult relatives. Mr. Eubanks explained such situations in a manner that made them somewhat more digestible for the American moral consciousness. Essentially, we did not have to like the situation; but, it was an unfortunate reality that we had to force ourselves to understand. War played by a different set of rules than American football, Olympic hockey, and/or any other sport…because its subsistence equated to more than that of a comparatively simple game.

Another tragedy of war came in the grown-up, deadly form of the game “Hide and Seek.” Unfortunately, many Americans moved in the open and without sufficient protection (and, seemingly) without strategically-planned safe transit times and/or routes. The story of Jerko “Jerry” Zovko, and others, who died in an ambush, detailed an example of such failures. “On March 31, 2004, four private security agents working for Blackwater were guarding a food convoy when they were attacked by insurgents in downtown Fallujah. Zovko was killed by machine gun fire and then dragged through the streets by a mob” (165). When I read this story, I instantly thought of the interview with Zovko’s mother, in the film “Iraq for Sale”. Mr. Eubanks and the film highlighted the games played by our enemies as well as with American families when our personnel became injured or happened to be killed. Re-watching the film created a multi-faceted supplement to this book. The movie provided additional context and re-enforced the lives sacrificed by the characters and their families in this biography.

If you do not like football, I encourage you to look past that opinion and focus on what this book is really about: Americans battling each other on the sports field, one of them being attacked by a domestic enemy and additionally by his professional associates due to availability bias, leading into the story of both guys, and many other Americans, sacrificing their lives in the Middle East…fighting the “War on Terror.” “All American: Two Young Men, the 2001 Army/Navy Game and the War They Fought in Iraq” revealed itself as an emotionally-rich, content-heavy, compassionately-written biography that leveraged the author’s expert-level, sports history writing skills, with football as its delivery vehicle for a heart-felt war story based in the Middle East.