Great books tell stories. Here’s our pick of vivid and insightful new releases for better understanding America, world events, history, science, and theology
What would you do if a Muslim man approached you and offered an all-expenses-paid trip to Egypt? Seven Americans from various walks of life accepted Tarek Mounib’s invitation to spend 10 days with hosts in Cairo. Mounib, a Canadian Egyptian who describes himself as an “entrepreneur of the Muslim faith,” wasn’t selling Islam, as it turns out, but an opportunity for people from America and Egypt to unlearn stereotypes and prejudices. His documentary Free Trip to Egypt, slated for a 500-screen release in June, follows Mounib’s crusade from recruitment to reunion.
The affable Mounib dons a MAGA hat and seeks out voyage volunteers at a Trump rally in Kentucky. There and elsewhere around the United States he encounters skepticism and hostility. Mounib eventually selects Ellen, a retired Jewish woman; Jason and Jenna, two Christian friends (the latter a former Miss Kentucky); a police officer; and three others for the July 2017 trip.
Jason and Jenna get along well with the conservative Muslim family hosting them. They also get a surprising amount of screen time praying and talking about Jesus.
“I’m not worried about being misunderstood,” Jenna explains. “I’m just worried about pleasing my Father.”
Katie, a single mom and domestic abuse survivor, finds solace from her grandmotherly host. Ellen overcomes her distrust of Arab people, which she says 9/11 had sparked. The documentary’s most interesting scene comes when the Americans and their hosts all attend something like an Islamic séance with music and dancing. The Muslim family disapproves of the spiritualist aspect and walks out. Jason and Jenna beat a hasty exit, too, when they figure out what’s going on. Through a translator, they commiserate outside.
Mounib hopes the documentary (unrated, with some brief, strong expletives) will encourage people from different backgrounds to “celebrate their shared humanity.” His endeavor, designed to foster “more listening and kindness in the world,” is commendable and worthy of emulation, for, as Jesus said, loving your neighbor as yourself is indeed the second greatest thing you can do.