American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a
Religion

In the book, American Islam: The Struggle for
the Soul of a Religion, author Paul Barret introduces the reader to the
hardships and hurdles of 7 different Muslims. 
Barrett is able to capture the voice of different views and life
experiences, and open the eyes of the reader to what exactly it is to be an
American Muslim.  Having been published
only 5 years after the 9/11 attacks, Barrett digs deep to show the world, that
we have plenty to learn.  Americans know near
to nothing of Islam in the Middle East and even less about Muslims in America.  It would be wise for both American Muslims
and Christians to better understand each other, as Islam will undoubtedly the
biggest religion in the world, and in the United States in the coming years.
          
Few Americans would guess that most of the estimated 4-6 million
American Muslims (about the same as the Jewish community) are not Arab (only
26%) but from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh or other South Asian countries. Nor
could they imagine that most American Arabs are Christians.  Twenty percent of the nation’s Muslims are
Black-Americans (mainly due to Malcolm X). 
Contrary to the popular stereotype of Arabs as taxicab drivers and store
keepers, they are on balance white-collar professionals, and both more prosperous
and better educated than the average American. Their median family income is
$60,000, compared with the average American average of $50,000. Fifty-nine
percent of the adults have college degrees, compared with 27% of the American
population.
          In light of their experiences as immigrants,
American Muslims are more concerned than average Americans with economic and
educational opportunities, and, as a minority, to constitutional protections of
free speech and religious practice. Few Americans would guess that Islam is the
fastest growing religion in America (and, for that matter, the world). As
Barrett points out, “Muslims are an American immigration success
story.”
          Barrett’s
journey experiencing the “Publishers” life. took him beyond Dearborn, MI, the
unofficial Muslim capital of America, but to the most surprising outposts in
America–Knoxville, TN and Moscow, Idaho–where Muslims often drifted because
of local state colleges.  In hundreds of
interviews he met people who wear denim jeans and university sports shirts but
still pray five times a day to Mecca.  He
found women doctors who wear the Hijab head cover and hope to make the
“Haj” visit to Mecca.  He
visited homes where the children were reading Disney’s “Little
Mermaid” and watching Blue’s Clues, but celebrate Halloween, Christmas,
and participate in weekly Islamic religious classes.  To me, this showed a great balance of
American Muslim “fitting” into the American Society, but at the same time still
honoring 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 from
store fronts, as they were being refused service, couldn’t get gas at gas
stations, and drivers at stop signs would roll down car windows and shout
obscenities.  At school and work they
encountered angry stares and nasty comments. 
Most concerning and disgusting of all, Muslims became the object of
government investigators.  Great numbers
were arrested just because, and many were deported.  At airports and train stations they were
subjected to unwarranted searches just for being Muslim, or looked the
part.  Many understood why; others felt
deep resentments.

          Barrett’s
portrays the diversity of American Islam. There are those like Egyptian-born
Khaled Abou El Fadl, a tenured professor of Islamic Jurisprudence at the
University of California, who is appalled at the “Dark Ages” that
have come upon Islam.  In a torrent of
books and magazine articles, El Fadl concedes the hateful side of some Quran
passages, but, as Christians justifying the God of the Old Testament, turns to
the holy book itself to put these in context. 
It became where American Muslims even began agreeing with what was
happening around the world with the terrorist’s attacks, as they could
“justify” it with readings from the Quran. 

          Then
there’s Sami Omar al-Hussayen, a PhD candidate in Computer Science at the University
of 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 that
the true followers of Islam are of peace and not war.  Yet in 2003 FBI agents charged al-Hussayen
with using his computer expertise to set up Arabic-language sites designed to
distribute anti-American vitriol.  The
pure 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 after
him anyway.  Barrett says al-Hussayen
“represents the paradox of Muslim student immigrants: they are eager to
take advantage of America’s openness and its educational and economic
opportunities, but many are intensely hostile to U.S. government
policies…” Roughly 85% of American Muslims are Sunnis, about the same as
the ratio world-wide.
          The
outcome of this struggle for the soul of Islam in America poses enormous
challenges to America.  AS we have seen
in other countries like France, which had no illusions about the failure of
Muslim integration, and Britain, which did, both demonstrate what can happen
when terrorism gains a foothold among the Muslim population.  They were able to “brainwash” enough people
that even though these countries are allowing the move, that they should still
attack upon the weakness for Allah and commit the terrorist acts.  Which again, for the mass majority of the
Islamic population, was not what they believed in, but human beings can be
pretty easily manipulated.     
          Although
nobody, including the FBI, knows the full dimension of the threat, Barrett, if
anything, seems somewhat too positive.  Before
9/11 part of the World Trade Center had blown up.  Many Islamic web sites spout extremist’s
attacks on American culture and society. 
Excuses by Muslim “moderates” have for too long settled for
bland statements that “Islam is a religion of peace” without
recognizing the atrocities of those who aren’t. 
Like Protestantism, there is no central Muslim “Pope,” so
leadership must come from local leaders. 
Those local leaders feel they need to speak more aggressively to make
their point.  I believe that if the local
leaders of the Islamic faith came across more compassionate, and not as
straight forward and almost defensive, the American people would be able to
accept their message better.  Instead, I
believe the American public takes it only as more aggression to the United
States, therefore further fear of the Muslim people. 

          While maintaining an active effort
against Jihadists, American law enforcement must at the same time show tact and
understanding. Thoughtless profiling, detention and accusations can only
exacerbate relations. The Department of Justice has shown an irresponsible
ideological insensitivity to these nuances. 
American fundamentalist preachers carry a huge responsibility. The
Islamophobia generated by ignorant Christian preachers who not long ago were
still referring to Muslims as “Mohammedans” are challenged to avoid
incendiary statements. Pat Robertson’s assertion that Muhammad was “an
absolute wild-eyed fanatic” and Franklin Graham’s denunciation of Islam as
a “very evil and wicked religion” are self-defeating. And now there’s
Baptist Preacher John Hagee and his “World War III Has Begun” sermon
on Jerry Falwell’s Liberty TV channel claiming great numbers of Islamic
Jihadists are already in place and ready to plant nuclear bombs in eight
cities.  Americans must seek to
understand, though not necessarily justify, the Muslim struggle.  And the nation’s political leadership must
take the lead in seeking to ameliorate differences.  Based on Barrett’s extensive reporting, this
is neither easy nor inevitable.         

            In closing, this book
was very eye-opening for myself.  The
American Muslims today still face a great discrimination, and I can honestly
say, from time to time, I have been on that end.  Not that I have ever been vocal about it, but
with the random NYC attacks, just like the newest subway one, the thought
crosses my mind when I see someone who fits the “typical” description.  I have spent time in the middle east and
actually loved every minute seeing the culture and the way of life.  I hold a great respect for the Islamic faith
and the followers, but I am human and this is a crazy world we live in right
now.  This book helped open my eyes more
though, 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, or
list facts and numbers only—he actually immersed himself in the culture of
American Muslims and really saw what life is like.  His way of telling their story was very well
done and I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants a better understanding
of the Islamic faith.