|Image courtesy Fons Vitae|
In a world with ISIS and terror and xenophobia, it's more important than ever for all of us—elected officials, private citizens, government clerks who can change lives just by pushing paper—to remain curious and compassionate about the world around us. Books help us do just that. If your only exposure to a culture (or a religion, etc.) is its extremes, it's difficult to remember that there are nuances. Memoirs like The Road to Mecca highlight this nuance and paint a more detailed picture of mainstream Islam than what most Americans otherwise have access to.
Also, the writing is gorgeous.
The good news is that it's available for free (as in freedom and as in beer) online at Muhammad-Asad.com, along with other works by Asad (including his English translation of the Koran).
Asad is not without criticism, from within and without the Muslim community. You can read a little about that from Martin Kramer. But you don't develop a nuanced and intuitive understanding of a culture without reading a variety of opinions and experiences; and again, the writing is gorgeous.