Donna Gehrke-White, a reporter for The Miami Herald, has attempted to do for Muslim women what Studs Terkel once did for American workers. When it was published in the ’70s, Terkel’s Working was a revelation, a catalogue of the worldview of citizens rarely heard from or represented in any previously existing literature: washroom attendants, steelworkers, gravediggers, piano tuners. While many of the interviews followed a similar pattern, beginning with mundane workplace details, then gradually moving on to the workers’ philosophy of life, readers came to count on the insight they knew Terkel would deliver — his way of eliciting from each worker something about his or her search for meaning in all of those hours per week given over to the daily grind.
Like Terkel, Gehrke-White, a former Courier-Journal reporter, has divided her book into sections: the New Traditionalists, the Blenders, the Converts, the Persecuted and the Changers. She has sought to give voice to the women themselves, letting them tell their own stories of belief and practice.
Gehrke-White based her project on the idea that American Muslim women (or Muslimah), the most diverse and best-educated group of Muslims in the world, might lift the shroud of obscurity that covers their Middle Eastern and European counterparts. She wanted to discover why, against so many odds, American Muslim women don’t give up their faith — why and how they find solace in Islam, sometimes even after escaping its more extremist inceptions abroad. While many of the reasons are similar to those given by women of other faiths (such as community, solidarity and social outreach) and are therefore not surprising, others shed much-needed light on a subject that, to much of the non-Muslim population, remains a mystery.