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American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion Hardcover – December 26, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Near the end of this fascinating and carefully researched portrait of Islam in contemporary America, a California mosque experiences a surprisingly heated internal debate about whether to host a fireworks celebration on the Fourth of July. Somehow, the "canopies of red, white, and blue that for a moment illuminated the minaret and dome" of the mosque crystallize many of the tensions that Barrett describes, particularly how so many individuals struggle to be faithful Muslims and patriotic citizens during troubled times. One great contribution of the book is the diverse portrait it offers of Islam in America today, but as Barrett shows, such ideological and racial diversity haven't been easy: Pakistani immigrants are sometimes at odds with African-American converts and (mostly white) Sufi spiritualists; feminists draw angry fire as they strive for greater equality; and self-proclaimed progressive Muslims feel at odds as American mosques become increasingly conservative and strident. Barrett is an engaging writer who puts a human face on all of these issues. The book is remarkably evenhanded, but Barrett can also be critical at times, whether analyzing the shortcomings of the Patriot Act or pointing to the inconsistency of a self-starting New York imam who works for justice but also praises Muslim extremists. Balanced and insightful, this grassroots journalistic account mines the complexity and depth of American Islam. (Jan.)
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"Paul M. Barrett has written a rich book full of insights into a religion many Americans don't know enough about."--Chicago Tribune


"A thoughtful exploration that is both comforting and alarming . . . American Islam reveals the variety of Muslim experience in the U.S., as well as profound aspects of Islam that are underappreciated in this country."--The Wall Street Journal


"These seven lives, and all the others they represent, heighten my sense that we should be practicing a more complicated patriotism, one with a pluralistic gaze."--Los Angeles Times


"Well wrought and engaging . . . A welcome antidote to the wide spread Islamophobia that has infected so many Americans over the last five years . . . The book makes a compelling argument that the greatest tool in America's arsenal in the 'war on terror' may be its own thriving and thoroughly assimilated Muslim community."--The Washington Post Book World


"Timely and engaging."--The New York Times


"This is a smart, careful look at America in the post-9/11 world. It is definitely worth the time of anyone wondering where the country is going."--Thomas E. Ricks, author of Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq


"[American Islam] fills a real need and does so remarkably well. . . . It delivers a set of powerful insights about Muslim life in the United States and the tensions that are shaping the community . . . Barrett's carefully crafted approach is a smart one."

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Printing edition (2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374104239
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374104238
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,381,306 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Hasan Z. Rahim on January 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
As an American Muslim, I have found books published on Islam and Muslims, particularly since 9/11, unsatisfying. Those writing from outside the faith are prone to generalizations, distortions and condescension. Muslims authors, in contrast, are often either apologetic or strident or too beholden to the past to make their narrative compelling.

It is not easy to tread a path between these two perspectives, which is why I am very happy to recommend Paul Barrett's book to the general reader and specialist alike.

By focusing on American Muslims from diverse backgrounds (Publisher, Scholar, Imam, Feminist, Mystics, Webmaster, Activist), Barrett conveys the idea, more than any other writer I have come across, that Muslims are not a monolith, that like adherents of other faiths, they too can sustain conflicts and contradictions within and between themselves and yet are able to lead pious and caring lives.

It takes insight and a feel for truth and humanity beneath the façade to write a book like this. Mr. Barrett does not gloss over the difficulties he encounters in trying to understand his subjects but neither is he quick to judgment or generalizations. He is after facts, not abstractions, and he never overstates his case. By subtly creating a context in which the Muslims are free to express their innermost thoughts, a remarkable feat by any definition, he draws out their stories in all their nuances and complexities. What these Muslims say about extreme jihadists and misguided clerics and how to defeat them are alone worth the price of the book. This is an engaging book on a difficult topic written in lucid language that I can honestly say I found deeply satisfying.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Gaetan Lion on January 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a very interesting and well written book about an almost mysterious subject: American Muslims. During this time of "clash of civilizations" and "War on terror" what are the several millions of Muslims that live among ourselves like? Not so unexpectedly, they are incredibly diverse. Their faith, behavior, and profile are very fragmented as underlined in the subtitle of the book "The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion." The author has interviewed and profiled many of them. They make for fascinating subjects. As can be expected, they are not supportive of the White House Administration foreign policy since 9/11. However, on the whole they seem surprisingly Americanized. As a group, they are very well educated as 59% of them have college degrees vs only 28% for the average American. Also, their average income is significantly higher than average. In other words, Muslims are very well integrated and successful American citizen unlike their counterparts in Europe.

The author analyzes well why American Muslims are well integrated while European ones are not. U.S. unemployment benefits are modest and short in duration. On the other hand, job and business opportunities for anyone with smarts and entrepreneurship are relatively plentiful. Outright discrimination against Muslims, even if prevalent, is not an insurmountable obstacle towards success. Just the reverse is true in Europe. Unemployment benefits are extremely generous and permanent. Meanwhile, tacit discrimination in the workplace is rampant and makes it nearly impossible for Muslims to get descent jobs in Europe. As a result, European Muslims are marginalized , frustrated, and unsuccessful. They in turn more readily join radical local groups.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Mel Powell on February 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Since 9/11, but surely long before as well, I have understood as much as I suppose most Americans understand about Islam in America: very little. I have, of course, been inundated by the constant message of generalization about Muslims. The current administration's profiling of Muslims has only added to the distressingly large chance of misunderstanding.

Paul Barrett's book is an amazing and powerful view of American Islam. By introducing us to real, individual people, of different backgrounds and experiences, Mr. Barrett helps break down some of these walls of generalization. As in any "category" of people, some espouse opinions most people might not like, some come across well and some do not, some show the courage of freedom and some show the cowardice of hate. But we are able to learn that we are people, and even in the words of the Quran it seems we are here to get to know each other better.

"American Islam" should be required reading in current American civics classes--not to mention all levels and branches of government right now, today. American Muslims live in America, obviously; and this book gives us all a chance to stop seeing a category called "them" and start forging an understanding that will finally let us be an "us," regardless of religion or nation of origin.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amber on November 21, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Barrett's portrayal of Islam in his novel, American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion is all at once frustrating, biting, truthful and eye-opening. At first glance, the novel seemed to be about tackling the fear of Islam by describing seven stereotype-defying Muslim personalities. In actuality, the real message of this book was less about creating common ground between Muslims and other Americans, and more about being a forum for Barrett's distaste for fundamentalism. To his credit, Barrett does bring up some very important and pertinent issues surrounding the spread of fundamentalism worldwide, and how it has affected the perception of Islam as a whole. It is unfortunate that his inflammatory opinions about Islamic Fundamentalism, coupled with his selection and depiction of polarized Muslim views, clouded the more important messages of tolerance in his book that were left to the very end. This would not entirely be a problem if Barrett was more up front about his intentions, as opposed to acting under the guise of exposing the real story of the American Muslims. (The moderate majority of American Muslims are entirely ignored except for the conclusion.) The value in this approach is that the reader may understand that there are many different types of Muslims, and that followers vary greatly in their practice of Islam. In this way, it might foster intellectual dialog and exploration. While quite biased, it is nonetheless a sensational read.
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