A Tale of Exile and Extremism

From The Christian Science Monitor:

Book Biographer Deborah Baker was “on the prowl” in the New York Public Library – not looking for anything in particular. But while “idly clicking” through library files, she glimpsed the name “Maryam Jameelah” – apparently a well-known figure in the Muslim world. Curious, Baker put in a request for the file. Little did Baker know the kind of journey she was about to embark upon – one that would culminate in the profoundly disorienting biography that she calls The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism. Maryam Jameelah, it turns out, was once Margaret Marcus, born in 1934 to a non-observant Jewish family living in a pleasant New York suburb. Her parents (who liked cruises and card games) and her sister, Betty (destined to become a New Jersey housewife), aspired simply to the comforts of postwar middle-class American life. Margaret, however, from her very youth, seemed driven by deeper passions. Rejected by her girlfriends as a teenager, Margaret turned her considerable intellect and enthusiasm in an unlikely direction: She developed a fascination with Arab life. As a young woman, Margaret renounced not only Judaism, but the whole of Western civilization. She finally converted to Islam, declaring that she would devote her life to the struggle against the “materialistic philosophic-secularism” of the West.

A voracious reader, Margaret dived deep into Muslim texts and entered into correspondence with any Islamists willing to answer her letters. One of these turned out to be Mawlana Mawdudi, an influential Pakistani journalist and theologian who was also founder of the Islamic revivalist party Jamaat-e-Islami. Drawn to the brilliant young convert who revealed herself to him through her letters, Mawdudi eventually offered to liberate Margaret from the West by bringing her to Pakistan so she could live a proper Muslim life with his wife and daughters while he found her a pious Muslim husband.

More here.