When You Hear Hoofbeats Think of a Zebra


When You Hear Hoofbeats Think of a Zebra by Shems FriedlanderGuest Reviewer: Kin Lo

Author: Shems Friedlander
Publisher: Archetype (2006)
Number of Pages: 162
How long it took me to read: 4 weeks
Where I bought this book: Amazon.co.uk
ISBN: 0939214067

Like a Moth to a Flame

Someone had recommended the book to me many years ago and I finally got round to buying it. In fact, I was told that, ‘if there was one book you must read, it has to be When You Hear Hoofbeats.’ I stored the title at the back of my mind, until I got fed up of reading lots of scholarly books and journals on Islam. They never satiated my curiosity on Sufi Islam and so I finally decided to give the book a go. The interesting title ignited my curiosity and having read several positive reviews, I thought I would see what I made of it myself. I was intrigued to find out more about what Friedlander had written about the Sufi tradition, not having much idea about it myself, despite having many friends who consider themselves Sufi.

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Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “It’s not necessary to look for miracles outside ourselves.” (p.52)

4. “And for those who could never have enough of big houses and acres of land, one day they will have to be satisfied with six feet of earth.” (p.4)

3. “You must want more for your brother than you want for yourself, and, more important, before you want it for yourself.” (p.77)

2. “We are not just something that happened; each of us is a miracle. If we understood this, we would not take ourselves for granted.” (p.1)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “We have to become like the boat of Noah, so that anyone who comes near us, anyone who touches us, can be helped.” (p.104)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“Before giving the book a chance, I thought it would be one of those overrated titles that wouldn’t live up to the hype. However, with its simple truths, I have found this book to be so profound. For example, you realise how we fail to value time and its importance. I find myself stepping back, taking a moment, and reflecting on the present, rather than on what I am to do next. Friedlander highlights our very human desire to rush every single thing that we do and how pointless this is.

“I also find myself thinking more about the reasons and consequences behind my words and my actions; we can choose how we respond to the events in our lives; we just need to take a moment to make that choice. For instance, at one point in the book, Friedlander talks about how we should be grateful, rather than angry or resentful, when we wake up each morning. The very act of waking from one’s sleep is, to Friedlander, a miracle—and one that the reader should also revel in. I can feel myself changing in the way I see the world around me; I’m grateful for what I have. Often, Friedlander addresses the reader directly, urging her to sit in a different spot from the one she would usually sit in, thus looking at the room from a different angle. It was in these moments that I realised how true Friedlander’s words were—humans are creatures of strange habits and I felt Friedlander urging me to instigate the process of change, no matter how simple it may seem at first.”

“The book has made me realise that valuing yourself is just as important as valuing others. It highlights the importance of loving the Creator’s creations and how this demonstrates the best in each of us. It’s all about realising the qualities that we have and how we can cultivate them for the benefit of everyone. After having read the book, I have actively tried to do this through forgiveness, honesty and treating others with more kindness. This may all sound very cliché, but it’s the way Friedlander composes his words that have such an impact on the reader. There is a sense of ancient wisdom in Friedlander’s words. He is able to weave Sufi wisdom and stories together, in a concise manner, making it understandable to those outside of the tradition. It gives a clear insight into the practices and beliefs of the Sufi tradition and the meanings behind them.”

“The Sufi stories add a different dimension to the messages Friedlander is trying to convey about how we should treat others and how we can develop ourselves. You don’t need to be religious or spiritual at all to enjoy this book. I found myself talking about the book and recommending it to all my friends, regardless of their spiritual standing. I have also come to realise why so many people are attracted to the Sufi tradition (although there are different Orders, the basic principles are the same). At the heart of being a Sufi is the quest for God, and this quest can take many different forms yet none take you away from the physical world completely. Rather, you have to remain very much a part of the world in order to find God, by interacting with others. The main lesson I have learnt from Friedlander is that this quest is universal and open to all—you do not have to be a Sufi, or adopt any label for that matter. Rather, the only thing that is required of you is you. Such a lesson has been a profound one for me and one that was so easy to understand once I read this book.”

1 Comment

  1. Teta Bombardieri says:

    As a message of this Easter, I want to try to apply : “You must want more for your brother than you want for yourself, and more important, before you want it for yourself” ….

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