Margaret and Betty
Maryam Jameelah Passport Photo 1962
“Deborah Baker’s astonishing book reads like a detective story but is also a work of enormous beauty and understanding. She has explored the most difficult of subjects in an evocative and original way, powerfully conjuring a bygone, albeit simpler era when the so-called clash of civilizations between
Islam and the West first arose fifty years ago. The Convert is the most brilliant and moving book written about Islam and the West since 9/11.”
— Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban and Descent into Chaos
A Tale of Exile and Extremism
What drives a young woman raised in a postwar New York City suburb to convert to Islam, abandon her country and Jewish faith, and embrace a life of exile in Pakistan? The Convert tells the story of how Margaret Marcus of Larchmont became Maryam Jameelah of Lahore, one of the most trenchant and celebrated voices of Islam's argument with the West.
A cache of Maryam's letters to her parents in the archives of The New York Public Library sends acclaimed biographer Deborah Baker on her own odyssey into the labyrinthine heart of 20th century Islam. Casting a shadow over these letters is the enigmatic figure of Mawlana Abul Ala Mawdudi, both Maryam's adoptive father and mentor, and the man who laid the intellectual foundations for militant political Islam.
As she assembles the pieces of a singularly perplexing life, Baker finds herself captive to the larger questions raised by Maryam's journey. How, exactly, did the cold war devolve into the war on terror? Is the argument between Islam and the West a metaphysical one or a historical one? Is Maryam's story just another bleak chapter in the so-called clash of civilizations? Or does it signify something else entirely? And then there's this: is the life depicted in Maryam's letters home and in her books an honest reflection of the one she lived? Like many compelling and true tales, The Convert is stranger than fiction. It is both a gripping story of a life lived on the radical edge and a profound meditation on the roots of terror in our age of dread.