- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Rodale Books; First Edition edition (November 16, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1579546552
- ISBN-13: 978-1579546557
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,713,964 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith Hardcover – November 16, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
This intelligent, thoughtful collection of writings from dozens of contributors is the thinking person's guide to Islam in a post-9/11 America. It is only fitting that a major world religion be represented by multiple voices. Wolfe (One Thousand Roads to Mecca) gathers excerpts from postings to the Beliefnet Web site, as well as brief essays from established authorities such as Karen Armstrong, practitioners like Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) and new voices such as Asma Hasan and Aasma Khan. Some writers describe specific organizations they have founded to foster interfaith communication and human rights. With only a few exceptions, they do not write as apologists, but willingly grapple with the complexities and paradoxes of Islam. The book works well for both Muslim and non-Muslim readers. It is both an exploration of contemporary Islam (Has it been hijacked by extremists? Is it violent? Can Islamic states be democratic?) and a call for Muslims to reclaim their faith by mobilizing the moderate, seemingly silent, majority. There are also short personal essays about various aspects of Muslim life (art, humor, conversion, pilgrimage and more) that stand as small windows into daily practice. These American Muslims and Islamic scholars are devoted to the faith, but passionate about finding ways for Islam to divest itself of its associations with violent terrorism and sexism. It is an eye-opening survey of the minds and passions of progressive Muslims in the United States and offers hope for greater interfaith understanding.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
“September 11 forced a reckoning of sorts, and it has led us to be more self-reliant. When any religion is new to a place, as Islam is new to America, the tendency to take one's cues from the Motherland is strong, wherever that Motherland is perceived to be. And then there comes a moment to grow up. For many American Muslims, that moment arrived in the weeks following September 11.
This is a book by forward-looking Muslims-- in love with Islam, proud of Islam, and confident enough in its strength to believe that it can stand up to honest introspection. 'Speak the truth,' Muhammad said, 'even if it hurts you.' A sometimes painful struggle, nothing less than a faith in search of its soul, informs this book.” ―Michael Wolfe
“This is a book by forward-looking Muslims-- in love with Islam, proud of Islam, and confident enough in its strength to believe that it can stand up to honest introspection. 'Speak the truth,' Muhammad said, 'even if it hurts you.' A sometimes painful struggle, nothing less than a faith in search of its soul, informs this book.” ―Michael Wolfe
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The premise of the book is that the silent majority of "moderate" Muslims need to speak up and define themselves, in contrast to the distorted characterization Islam has suffered in the American media since 9/11. One very significant point this book illustrates is that Islam is not a monolith, and while Muslims are able to unite (for the most part) side-by-side in the same mosques for prayer, there are many issues that Muslims hold a variety of opinions on. In fact, in some ways I am afraid this book fails to fully capture the breadth of Muslim opinion. But if it is widely read, it will certainly provoke discussion and important questions for Muslims to consider. For example, I am sure many Muslims will take issue with the new "Progressive Muslim" movement's undertones in a few chapters, though I must reiterate, the questions provoked by Progressives need to be taken seriously. American Muslim youth will certainly ask them and will probably not be satisfied with the "this is what we found our father's doing" type of answers. Instead we need answers that balance our traditions against the continuous need for renewal.
Also, the issue of interfaith acceptance is theologically oversimplified, characterized by a perennial approach to religion. For example, Shaykh Kabir Helminski offers a novel universal reading to the Quranic verses about Islam, stating that properly understood, islam, with a small i, means submission to God, thus being widely applicable to those seeking a state of submission in general. Regardless of the theological debate, the section of essays on this subject do provide excellent examples of the degree of tolerance and allowance in Islam for peaceful co-existence with other faiths.
Similarly, the two separate sections on violence and democracy helped to provide an accurate portrait of the Islamic stance on these two issues - a stance that is strikingly in consonance with American ideals: War becomes morally necessary in defense of justice; Democracy, or rule by consensus, is intrinsic to good government. Yet again, I think many Muslims would take issue with the indictments in this book against Muslims or Muslim groups whose responsibility for the 9-11 attacks were fed to the public by the media and became the unsubstantiated pretext for the way the Bush government responded in Afghanistan and Iraq. These issues were not necessarily within the scope of the book. But I think it is unfortunate that in order to be politically correct, Muslims are indulging in blanket criticisms that gel with the prevailing notions of the day without engaging a more responsible academic inquiry into the conditions and circumstances of groups such as so-called "Wahhabis", the Taliban, or even Al-Qaeda. This is not to say we must endorse them, any more than we must endorse so-called "Progressives". But it is important that we learn from our condition rather than simply go with the crowd in condemning it.
In spite of the above, I think the benefit in this volume definitely lies in the discussion it generates and far outweighs the cautions I offered above. If not taken as a monolithic "progressive" stance, it represents a worthwhile cross-section of American Islam. It should be read and discussed for this reason. I will pinpoint some of my personal highlights:
Among the first chapters is Ingrid Matteson's essay on the special obligation of American Muslims in the world. She discusses some of the ways we need to live up to this obligation better. But certainly, as much as the brain drain has adversely affected Muslim countries that have lost their best-educated and skillful citizens, America has reaped the benefits. America can boast the most highly educated and wealthiest (by average) Muslims in the world. So it is without doubt that American Muslims must uphold their Islamic social values and work against injustice with both foreign and domestic interests in mind.
Karen Armstrong makes at least three different contributions throughout the book, tackling some issues in the opening section, but also addressing the questions of violence and democracy in Islam. She is well known for her contributions to the body of interfaith literature and her writings here lend well in this respect. Shaykh Ahmed Abdur Rashid `s debunking of six common myths about Islam was also insightful. He discussed common misconceptions about Muslims being monolithic, puritanical, evangelical, premodern, militant, and religiously intolerant. It is as important that these false impressions be corrected in both Muslim and non-Muslim arenas.
Speaking of militancy, Khaled Abou El Fadl provides an analysis of comparative views in Islamic jurisprudence on Jihad that is a good primer for much needed discussion on the appropriate place of war in Islam. Unfortunately, the subject has become taboo for Muslims to discuss due to ongoing random cases of trumped-up legal indictments against Muslims who are well known in their communities to have been decent law abiding Americans. This is unfortunate since the best way to prevent extremism is to be able to discuss the issue of Jihad and its rightful place in Islam in an open free-speech environment of academic honesty. Post-9/11 apologetics will not uproot the boiling resentment that tragically festers into attempts at vigilante justice.
I found the interview with Farid Esack to offer a balanced multidimensional view of the politics behind the global tensions we are faced with today. I especially enjoyed his analogy of the older brother used in the last part of the interview to discuss some of the problems Americans have in perceiving themselves in the modern world. Islam aside, the most important question 9/11 should have elicited amongst Americans is - Why do other countries have so much resentment against the US? It is a sad commentary when silly superficial slogans like "They hate us because we are free", pacify our conscience enough that we stop troubling our intellect for meaningful eye opening answers.
Alexander Kronemer's piece on democracy in Muslim countries provokes an even more troubling paradox: If the United States wants democracy to flourish in Muslim lands (or even other struggling nations), then why has/does our government consistently back(ed) authoritarian regimes? Can Americans really be so blind to the fact that it is not just Muslim nations that struggle under dictatorships? Or is it really plausible to believe that there are whole nations of people who do not want freedom or political participation for themselves and their loved ones? And why is it so easy for us to be duped into thinking that religion is to blame when wealth and control of resources has almost always been the root cause of war and human bloodshed?
While these issues are helpful for Americans to better understand Muslims, what I found most relevant were the pieces that help Muslims to better understand themselves, especially as believers in America. Miriam Udel-Lambert's interviews with American Muslim women offered anti-stereotypical vignettes while tackling pertinent issues. Saraji Umm Zaid's further discussion on women in Muslim communities was also notable.
I also enjoyed Precious Rasheeda Muhammad's writing on the African-American contribution to Islam in the US. Unfortunately, this contribution is typically overlooked and Islam in America tends to be defined by immigrant Muslims. This is not something that can be blamed on the media either, since as she shows, the Islamic ideal of racial equality has not been fully achieved. Immigrant Muslims are defining Islam in the US through their own efforts in ignorance of or at least independently of the groundwork laid by African-American Muslim forerunners.
Yahya Emerick also offers insights on competing interpretations of Islam within the Muslim community. Largely oversimplified, perhaps it provides archetypes rather than definitive categories from which American Muslims can reflect and better understand themselves and the competing entities with the mosque.
My favorite part of the book was the section on culture. It is my contention that Puritanism amongst Muslim movements in the past century has seriously eroded the potential of Muslims to contribute culturally to the degree that Islamic civilization did in the past. Art, literature, poetry, and even music have a place in Islam that needs to be rediscovered. Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) discusses his own struggle with the music taboo, while Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore offers perhaps my favorite essay in the book about poetry and literature. The key, I think is toward the development of a new distinct American Islamic culture. As Islam offered something to every other culture it visited in the world, it is exciting to be living in the pioneer stages when Islam's influence on American culture is being forged.
Shaykh Kabir Helminski offers several nice pieces throughout the book. His section on Rumi helps to show how the cultural merge has already begun. I especially liked his reflection on Ramadan and how fasting forces us away from the security blanket that our consumptive habits provide and force us to deal squarely with our spiritual selves. The reflections on Muslim worship continue with Michael Wolfe recounting his Hajj experience. He contributes several writings throughout the book and serves as the editor. I really enjoyed another of his reflections about a Qari (one who recites the Quran) who he met and heard at a home in Chicago. He painted a beautiful image of this tradition being carried on here in the United States, just as it has been in the Muslim civilization for centuries.
This book visits some famous athletes too, like Hakim Olajuwon and Muhammad Ali. These chapters reminded me of an older similar book by Steven Barboza called "American Jihad". That book was published in the early 1990s and offered a diverse range of personal accounts by American Muslims. Barboza offers his own account here in this volume on his "Odyssey to Islam". The last chapter by Ali Asadullah explores the influence of Islam in rap music, a relatively new genre that finds an audience among many Muslim youth. The bulk of this essay discusses one prominent Muslim rapper, Mos Def and the prevailing social message of his music. In this I found an instructive comparison. As the author points out Mos Def's unique positive message in a genre dominated by "the triumvirate of sex, violence, and materialism", so too should American Muslims stand out in a society being overrun with the same false gods. If there is any question about what Muslims can offer to America, it is certainly answered in this example. It is the universal message of all the Prophets and Messengers to turn people away from falsehood and restore them to their natural and elevated alliance with the Creator and Sustainer.
In closing it is important to acknowledge that much of the anti-America rhetoric that so freely echoed from the pulpits of American mosques before 9/11 revolved around a critical error in judgment about shared values. While America ails with and struggles against the encroachment of sex, violence, and materialism these are not the ideals held up by anyone. This is where I think the next volume must begin: discussing and identifying what is right between Islam and America. It is in these shared values that American Muslim will find their identity and their purpose in the generations ahead.
The essays are thematically grouped into a number of larger sections: "Violence," "Democracy," "Women and Islam," "The African-American Experience," and more. As a whole this is an absolutely fascinating and illuminating collection of voices. Among the many topics covered are Quranic interpretation, Muslim humor, the roles played by mosques in America, fasting, Sufism, the impact of the 9/11 attacks, and sectarianism within Islam. It's not a sanitized book--the essays cover some difficult and controversial material.
There are some real standout pieces in this anthology. Mas'ood Cajee's "'Mom Raised Me as a Zionist'" is a funny and touching account of growing up in both South Africa and the U.S. and of his encounters with the Jewish community. Arsalan Tariq Iftikhar's "I Believe in Allah and America" is a genuinely stirring piece in which the author declares, "I am a Muslim and I am an American. I am proud of both and will compromise neither."
This is a thought provoking and valuable book which I especially recommend to Americans regardless of their religious beliefs. It's a book suitable for both classroom use and individual reading.
Teachers/Librarians: 9th grade to Adult - Social Studies/Humanities.
In short, these essays bring to us, out of one of history's darkest moments, an extended love song to the world we still have. Sometimes grave, occasionally reflective, and ultimately informative, Taking Back Islam is a hopeful examination of the people Muslims are and what they might yet make of themselves.