American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of aReligionIn the book, American Islam: The Struggle forthe Soul of a Religion, author Paul Barret introduces the reader to thehardships and hurdles of 7 different Muslims. Barrett is able to capture the voice of different views and lifeexperiences, and open the eyes of the reader to what exactly it is to be anAmerican Muslim. Having been publishedonly 5 years after the 9/11 attacks, Barrett digs deep to show the world, thatwe have plenty to learn.
Americans know nearto nothing of Islam in the Middle East and even less about Muslims in America. It would be wise for both American Muslimsand Christians to better understand each other, as Islam will undoubtedly thebiggest religion in the world, and in the United States in the coming years. Few Americans would guess that most of the estimated 4-6 millionAmerican Muslims (about the same as the Jewish community) are not Arab (only26%) but from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh or other South Asian countries. Norcould they imagine that most American Arabs are Christians. Twenty percent of the nation’s Muslims areBlack-Americans (mainly due to Malcolm X). Contrary to the popular stereotype of Arabs as taxicab drivers and storekeepers, they are on balance white-collar professionals, and both more prosperousand better educated than the average American.
Their median family income is$60,000, compared with the average American average of $50,000. Fifty-ninepercent of the adults have college degrees, compared with 27% of the Americanpopulation. In light of their experiences as immigrants,American Muslims are more concerned than average Americans with economic andeducational opportunities, and, as a minority, to constitutional protections offree speech and religious practice. Few Americans would guess that Islam is thefastest growing religion in America (and, for that matter, the world).
AsBarrett points out, “Muslims are an American immigration successstory.” Barrett’sjourney experiencing the “Publishers” life. took him beyond Dearborn, MI, theunofficial Muslim capital of America, but to the most surprising outposts inAmerica–Knoxville, TN and Moscow, Idaho–where Muslims often drifted becauseof local state colleges. In hundreds ofinterviews he met people who wear denim jeans and university sports shirts butstill pray five times a day to Mecca. Hefound women doctors who wear the Hijab head cover and hope to make the”Haj” visit to Mecca. Hevisited homes where the children were reading Disney’s “LittleMermaid” and watching Blue’s Clues, but celebrate Halloween, Christmas,and participate in weekly Islamic religious classes.
To me, this showed a great balance ofAmerican Muslim “fitting” into the American Society, but at the same time stillhonoring their religion. Then brought on the aftermath of 9/11,where life as the Muslims knew it in America. And things got even worse after the US invasion of Iraq. Muslims were already being turned away fromstore fronts, as they were being refused service, couldn’t get gas at gasstations, and drivers at stop signs would roll down car windows and shoutobscenities. At school and work theyencountered angry stares and nasty comments. Most concerning and disgusting of all, Muslims became the object ofgovernment investigators. Great numberswere arrested just because, and many were deported. At airports and train stations they weresubjected to unwarranted searches just for being Muslim, or looked thepart.
Many understood why; others feltdeep resentments. Barrett’sportrays the diversity of American Islam. There are those like Egyptian-bornKhaled Abou El Fadl, a tenured professor of Islamic Jurisprudence at theUniversity of California, who is appalled at the “Dark Ages” thathave come upon Islam.
In a torrent ofbooks and magazine articles, El Fadl concedes the hateful side of some Quranpassages, but, as Christians justifying the God of the Old Testament, turns tothe holy book itself to put these in context. It became where American Muslims even began agreeing with what washappening around the world with the terrorist’s attacks, as they could”justify” it with readings from the Quran. Thenthere’s Sami Omar al-Hussayen, a PhD candidate in Computer Science at the Universityof Idaho, notable for persuading members of his mosque post 9/11 to condemn”vicious acts of terrorism.” Al-Hussayen knew this was an oppurtunit to show the American public thatthe true followers of Islam are of peace and not war. Yet in 2003 FBI agents charged al-Hussayenwith using his computer expertise to set up Arabic-language sites designed todistribute anti-American vitriol. Thepure notion that just because they didn’t understand the reason for the site,and Al-Hussayen being a public eye for the American Muslims, they went afterhim anyway. Barrett says al-Hussayen”represents the paradox of Muslim student immigrants: they are eager totake advantage of America’s openness and its educational and economicopportunities, but many are intensely hostile to U.S.
governmentpolicies…” Roughly 85% of American Muslims are Sunnis, about the same asthe ratio world-wide.
Theoutcome of this struggle for the soul of Islam in America poses enormouschallenges to America. AS we have seenin other countries like France, which had no illusions about the failure ofMuslim integration, and Britain, which did, both demonstrate what can happenwhen terrorism gains a foothold among the Muslim population. They were able to “brainwash” enough peoplethat even though these countries are allowing the move, that they should stillattack upon the weakness for Allah and commit the terrorist acts. Which again, for the mass majority of theIslamic population, was not what they believed in, but human beings can bepretty easily manipulated. Althoughnobody, including the FBI, knows the full dimension of the threat, Barrett, ifanything, seems somewhat too positive. Before9/11 part of the World Trade Center had blown up.
Many Islamic web sites spout extremist’sattacks on American culture and society. Excuses by Muslim “moderates” have for too long settled forbland statements that “Islam is a religion of peace” withoutrecognizing the atrocities of those who aren’t. Like Protestantism, there is no central Muslim “Pope,” soleadership must come from local leaders. Those local leaders feel they need to speak more aggressively to maketheir point.
I believe that if the localleaders of the Islamic faith came across more compassionate, and not asstraight forward and almost defensive, the American people would be able toaccept their message better. Instead, Ibelieve the American public takes it only as more aggression to the UnitedStates, therefore further fear of the Muslim people. While maintaining an active effortagainst Jihadists, American law enforcement must at the same time show tact andunderstanding. Thoughtless profiling, detention and accusations can onlyexacerbate relations. The Department of Justice has shown an irresponsibleideological insensitivity to these nuances.
American fundamentalist preachers carry a huge responsibility. TheIslamophobia generated by ignorant Christian preachers who not long ago werestill referring to Muslims as “Mohammedans” are challenged to avoidincendiary statements. Pat Robertson’s assertion that Muhammad was “anabsolute wild-eyed fanatic” and Franklin Graham’s denunciation of Islam asa “very evil and wicked religion” are self-defeating. And now there’sBaptist Preacher John Hagee and his “World War III Has Begun” sermonon Jerry Falwell’s Liberty TV channel claiming great numbers of IslamicJihadists are already in place and ready to plant nuclear bombs in eightcities.
Americans must seek tounderstand, though not necessarily justify, the Muslim struggle. And the nation’s political leadership musttake the lead in seeking to ameliorate differences. Based on Barrett’s extensive reporting, thisis neither easy nor inevitable. In closing, this bookwas very eye-opening for myself. TheAmerican Muslims today still face a great discrimination, and I can honestlysay, from time to time, I have been on that end.
Not that I have ever been vocal about it, butwith the random NYC attacks, just like the newest subway one, the thoughtcrosses my mind when I see someone who fits the “typical” description. I have spent time in the middle east andactually loved every minute seeing the culture and the way of life. I hold a great respect for the Islamic faithand the followers, but I am human and this is a crazy world we live in rightnow. This book helped open my eyes morethough, and I have an even great understanding. I believe that is what Barrett wanted when writing this book. He didn’t just preach away on the subject, orlist facts and numbers only—he actually immersed himself in the culture ofAmerican Muslims and really saw what life is like.
His way of telling their story was very welldone and I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants a better understandingof the Islamic faith.