What Every Muslim Does When Visiting Barnes and Noble by Tricia Pethic

On a recent visit to Barnes & Noble I did what every Muslim does when they pay a visit.

I rearranged the bookshelf.

Well, the shelf on Islam to be exact. OK, it was more like the half a shelf we were allotted. But no worries, we’re only .6% of the American population so perhaps that will change in due time.

You see, almost every Muslim will privately confess that we visit “our” section, on every trip to every bookstore we enter. We have to check out the real estate. Most of the real estate goes to Christianity, of course. They’ve been around a while, I suppose they’ve earned their keep. The runner up was two glowing shelves devoted to Buddhist author Thich Nhat Hanh.

My husband and I scanned our shantytown portion of the Religion section hoping we wouldn’t spot any “anti-[the religion]” diatribes which are conspicuously absent from the other sections (I know, I checked that too). I guess post 9/11, there are a lot of people who find fault with Islam because it happened to be the religion of the hijackers, and if they can find an apostasy book called Why I Am Not Muslim (which I did), then perhaps this will confirm their belief that Islam is horrible and has no redeeming qualities or positive effects on those who practice it.

Now, I’m not normally a censoring kind of woman. But in a batch consisting of 10 books total, one anti-Islam book really throws a wrench into things.

Thus, my husband and I operated like a well-oiled NASCAR pit stop crew. We scanned the shelf, noting with approval that there were actual Qurans present. Pickthall pontificated (the “thee and thou” Quran translation). Karen Armstrong lilted in her British accent about “the prophet of Islam.” A troubled Asra Nomani was there, standing alone in Mecca. I’ve stood alone in Mecca too. She lost a good friend in a gruesome way. Others may have removed her; I wouldn’t.

And then our gaze fell upon something that absolutely beckoned for correction. Dear beloved Rumi, the darling of the poetry-reading American public, all ten of them, was bestowed upon the Buddhism section. So Rumi packed up his turban and whirled from the Buddhism section to the Islam section, where I am sure he would have wanted to be. (And, with all due respect to our fortunate Buddhist friends, you already have the Dalai Lama, you don’t get Rumi too.)

The question became where we would relocate the lone offender: Why I Am Not Muslim. At first we stuck it in the Christianity section. After all, with its hulking four shelves it was kind of hard to avoid. But being the evangelizing folk we are, we decided we wouldn’t risk exposing a Christian (read: potential Muslim) to such material. Just being honest, you know you want to proselytize me, too. Later on, sitting outside Barnes & Noble, my husband told me the book’s final resting place: “Spiritual Fiction.” I chuckled.

While I realize that book was very much non-fiction for the person that wrote it, our attempt at what my husband called “shelf maintenance” can perhaps be seen as an act of desperation to influence at least one arena in which the public is exposed to our faith. Muslims do not inhabit the media in any significant numbers (we’re .6% remember?), nor will most Americans walk up to a mosque and ask to be shown around. Plus, we’d probably want advance notice so we can shampoo the carpets when they do.

And let’s face it, ordinary, non-explosive folks like myself are not the most newsworthy people. What’s left to the ordinary Joe and Jane Muslim are the bookshelves. This is something we all have access to.

So to bookstore employees nationwide: there’s a reason why you find a lot of anti-Islamic literature strewn about your stores alongside Wolfgang Puck and other non-related material. We’re covertly trying to take over. Not to establish a caliphate, or implement “Sharia”…whatever that means to people. But we would like better product placement, and a fair crack at the marketplace of spiritual ideas. Our prophet was, after all, a merchant in addition to the usual prophetic occupation of shepherd. I know we have a lot to offer this society. Take the banking sector, for example…

Photo via stock.xchg.

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5 thoughts on “What Every Muslim Does When Visiting Barnes and Noble by Tricia Pethic

  1. I hear you sister! I thought I was the only one who felt the urged to “re-arrange” when I visit the Islam section of bookstores…Glad to know there are fellow book re-arrangers out there!

  2. I rearrange the religious shelves, too! Well, i used to before most of bookstores near me were closed. Here in Los Angeles, there were usually 2 to 3 shelves for Islam, but still dwarfed by Christianity. Rumi was always popular, and in the correct section. Armstrong and many translations of the Qur’an. We might have 2 or 3 Ibn Warraq books against Islam, published by Prometheus Press, i believe, which is a freethought outfit that publishes books criticizing religion in general. I did not move books about the store, but maybe your subversive acts will inspire other readers?

  3. Great piece! I really enjoyed your writing.
    In the Judaism section, I am often torn when I see the copies of self-help kabbala, sometimes including words of wisdom from Madonna. Seems best to relocate those ones so that only the more accurate are remaining, but I am not usually as bold as you. Next time will be different, B&N.

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