Speaking to an audience of more than 100 on Sunday, January 22, at the Ismaili Jamatkhana, Plano, Power attempted to cut through prejudiced depictions of both Islam and Muslims in her new book If the Oceans Were Ink.

“I came to this project thinking the Qur’an was just a book, an important book that I could read from cover to cover, and that, at the end of this project, I would understand it,” said Carla Power, Pulitzer Prize finalist and “Time” magazine writer. “At the end of the year-and-a-half, I have to say, it’s not a book in any sense of the term. It is so much bigger than that.”
Speaking to an audience of more than 100 on Sunday, January 22, at the Ismaili Jamatkhana, Plano, Power attempted to cut through prejudiced depictions of both Islam and Muslims in her new book If the Oceans Were Ink. Power chronicled her study of the Qur'an with her friend Shaikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi and how the holy text has been misconstrued since its revelation.
Power says her study helped her discover a multiplicity of layers and depth in the Qur'an she was unaware of, even with her many years engrossed in the Islamic world.
Contrary to widespread belief, Islam has a long history of promoting gender equality women-led study of the Qur'an. “There are verses in the Qur'an that are very explicitly inclusive and say believers are men and women,” said Power.
Power spoke in detail about her year-long education with Shaikh Nadwi who was researching the contributions of women to Muslim scholarship. The Shaikh had figured there might be a few dozen women to write about; but after years of research, the result was 40 volumes highlighting the contributions of more than 10,000 female Muslim scholars.
“All these portraits in the contemporary setting help point out the lie peddled by folks from Kabul to Riyadh, who say that Islamic religious authorities are male and always have been,” said Power. “The Shaikh’s volumes completely reshaped the stereotype of what I had thought was an Islamic scholar: male and bearded.”
Power said she approached her task as a “cultural cartographer,” combing through history to identify the contributions women made to Islam as it evolved. Power and Nadwi uncovered that throughout Islam’s history, Muslim women served as judges, offered legal opinions, went on lecture tours and taught the Qur'an and religious literature to Muslim kings.
“Of course, there is a great disconnect between this extraordinary and long-ignored tradition of women scholars and the reality in many Muslim-majority countries today,” said Power. 
Over her 17-year journalistic career, Carla Power has also written for “Foreign Policy” and “Newsweek.” In 2002, she interviewed Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, uncle of Mawlana Hazar Imam, on the need for natural preservation and rural development.
Power’s foray into the Muslim world came at an early age. She spent much of her childhood in the Middle East and other Muslim-majority areas. Her inspiration to write the book arose through her father’s love for Islamic cultures.
The discussion event following the lecture was moderated by Southern Methodist University Theology Professor Robert Hunt. He, along with Power, reflected on the diversity of interpretations present in the Muslim world today that have emerged as a result of the vast cultural array of Muslims.
“The Qur'an is part of an interpretive community and network that stretches over thirteen or fourteen hundred years,” said Hunt, who has doctorate in religious history. “We see here, the Qur'an is revealed as a living text, one that is busy and livening people, and potentially transforming the communities of its reader. We critique books; scripture critiques us.”
Hunt described the potential to bridge divides as the greatest lesson he took away from Power’s book. “People from very different backgrounds can come together to appreciate one another if they’re willing to listen honestly to one another.”
David Moore, one of the attendees and husband of Presbyterian Minister Amy Moore, said the event enlightened him to similarities with his tradition. “I am a Christian, and it occurs to me, we have very broad interpretations of our Bible and Islam may have the same as well.”
Power said she drew inspiration for the title of the book from of the Qur'an’s own verse, which describes Allah’s message as inexhaustible and boundless:
“If all the trees on the earth were pens and the ocean, with seven more oceans, were ink. Yet these would not suffice to record all the Words of God. God is Majestic and All-Wise.” The Holy Qur'an 31:27.
“It seemed to me to reflect endless possibility and endless pluralism,” said Power.