While on vacation this past weekend I read Behind the Veils of Yemen by Audra Grace Shelby. This was a book I received for free from Baker Publishing Group in exchange for my honest review. The subtitle of this book, “How an American Woman Risked Her Life, Family and Faith to Bring Jesus to Muslim Women,” tells you right away that this book has a decidedly religious bent.
Audra and her family are Southern Baptists from Texas who travel to Yemen with their small children with the specific prerogative of converting people to conservative Christianity. They believe that Islam as a belief is almost entirely in error. The ethics and morality of this viewpoint are clearly up for debate with people across the whole world. If a radically believing Muslim family from Yemen came to West Texas with the specific intent of converting as many people as possible to a conservative form of Islam, many Americans would have a name for that and it would not be “missionary”.
So in order to fairly review the writing and story quality of this book, I need to sidestep the whole question of whether or not the Shelby family should have gone to Yemen in the first place.
As a memoir, I found this book very engaging and well written. I have never been to the Middle East, and reading Audra’s descriptions of the climate and challenges does not make me want to hop on a plane any time soon! But Audra delivered as promised, and I really do feel like I have vicariously experienced a little bit about what it is underneath the hijab.
I cannot imagine living in a world where I literally was not allowed to open the curtains of my own house and look out the window. I cannot imagine a community in which 98% of the women are illiterate, the doctors treat you like morons (or don’t treat you at all for reasons of modesty). I cannot imagine the poverty, the lack of clean drinking water, or always eating the leftover food of my husband and his friends. To an American woman like me, all of these things are shocking.
Clearly there is a need for education and women’s rights in Yemen. No matter what you think about the religious agenda of the Shelby family, you have to give Audra credit for bravely befriending the women she met in Yemen, gaining the trust of their community, and introducing them to a culture in which women are not treated as second class citizens. As a United Methodist, this makes me think of our church’s motto: “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors”. Audra Grace Shelby is the embodiment of that motto.