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Book Review of "American Muslims, The New Generation"
About the author:
As she has mentioned in the preface of her book she is an American Muslim from immigrant Pakistani parents who has born in Chicago. She has made up a title for herself “I am s self proclaimed Muslim feminist cowgirl….my spirit is a mix of American individualism, the American west, the Islam that I grew up with and practice, my family code of ethics and the Feminism I believe in.” She has published another book “Why I am Muslim”.
She was a 25 years old student studying law at New York when this book published in 2000. She has written editorials for the Denver Post, fiction for the Susquehanna Review. It seems she has mingled some of Islamic rules with the circumstances of living in America to create a light-minded feminist Muslim. From the evidences she provides in her book, she probably says her five daily prayers and fast during Ramezan and helps charity but thinks just modest attire is enough to save Hijab, or in judgment day she would not be guilty for not obeying a complete Halal diet.
She thinks that American Islam as it grows and evolves will offer a model to Islam in the rest of the worlds: a purer Islam. “I believe American Islam is a purer form of Islam than is practiced in some Islamic countries.”
About the book
Hasan published her book before 9/11. After this event in an interview in National radio, she said that some of conservative Muslims have said her, “You can’t be a Muslim and believe that!” and she answered, “Yes, I can!” In the interview, she did not mention what was her meaning of “that”, so a glance on her book would get an idea what “that” meant.
This book is written in ten chapters, each covers a different issue. Generally speaking, it is about the sects of Islam, Hijab, principals of Islam, military in Islam, media and Islam, feminism, reform, growing up in America, and politics.
This book is neither autobiography, although in narrating the situation of Muslims her experiences are conspicuous, nor is it a historical explanation about development of Islam, while it contains some background from some issues to get a totally stranger American audience more familiar with Islam. In this respect, her experiences illustrate how it is like to be young Muslim and live in America. For instance, when she prefers to say the waiter in a restaurant that she has allergy to pork, rather than say she keeps religious diet, she implies that even nowadays it is somehow odd for an American to encounter uncommon issues, which he would consider as unnatural.
She tries to correct some misconceptions in American minds. She attempts to make Americans believe that what one Muslim does cannot be generated to all of Muslims. If a Muslim does terroristic actions it does not mean that all of them have belligerent ideology. She tries to tell that the image of oppressed Muslim women in the minds of the American is not right, in proving her claim she exemplifies herself as a female Muslim student with feministic ideas who is living freely.
In correcting Americans mind, sometimes she makes an effort to optimist their attitude and change what they had already believed. She says that Jihad does mean a struggle and mostly “inner struggle to strengthen one’s belief against corrupting and anti-Islamic forces” (p.49) According to her, this meaning is shown in Quran and life of Prophet of Islam, so it is not a holy war against all Americans. It is obvious that she herself struggles to soften Islamic principles to introduce them very gentle.
She brings another subject to get a common sense between Americans and Islamic principles and emphasizes similarities between these two. She claims “Islam was founded on the same principles and ideas the United States was.” In her desire to integrate with a common religion she says that as “western culture and Judeo-Christian ethic are defined by a belief in one God, also the major belief of Islam” it is better to consider” Judeo-Christian-Islamic”
She describes the difference of being Muslim and living in America in contrast to other countries in this way “American Muslims don’t have the cultural support system most Muslims all over the world have. Each Islamic country has its own set of Quranic interpretations, even a group of academics that set those interpretations, called the ulema. Here in the Unites States, Muslims are mostly flying blind, although we do have a national Fiqh Council, created by and consisting of some American Muslim leaders… However, we need to create our own support systems to do with our new approaches to the Quran.” (P. 132)
Regarding politics, she thinks that a major involvement in American politics is electing Muslim congressional representative. And the reason why Muslims do not take part eagerly in politics in her view is “because they are disturbed by overwhelming U.S. policy against Muslims, especially the implicit lack of support for Palestinians.” (P.152) Then she continues with the activities of Muslim institutions like AMA, MPAC and AMC not to leave a disappointing picture in this part.
Criticism and evaluation
According to Hasan”… this book is about other Muslims like me, who are living as American and Muslim and figuring out their spirit and identity as we go along.” Her claim that her book is about nearly six million other Muslims who live in America and all are like her is suspected. I think as there are so many interpretations, ideologies and lifestyles related to Islam in the United States, it is a big venture to think that all of them think like her or even live in the circumstances like hers, because treating with minorities is different in different parts of America.
What I can say at first is that I think that the title of this book, “American Muslims”, is not appropriate at all. Hasan is a young Lady who narrates her own perception of Islam and so she is not permitted, to my view, to generate what she thinks to all Muslims who live in America.
The second point I noticed is that as young and unexercised as she is, she cannot picture a right and multi dimension perspective of Islam. Her background shows that she has no prophecy in studying Islam to judge if what American Muslims do is according to Islam or not, although it is obvious that she has had a glance at Quran at least. For example, she believes that Hijab (head covering) according to holy Quran and prophet Mohammad (P.B.U.H) is not necessary for women except in praying time. In her view, it suffices for women just to dress modestly.
The other weak point I understood was that her statements are very general, I mean without specifying the meaning of her terminology (like “modestly” in women attire or “feminism” in her idea) and on the other hand, she claims something without giving evidence and reference for that. When she narrates some sentence from Quran, she does not specify where she has read it. For instance, she mentions, “In truth, Islam is really supposed to be practiced and interpreted by each individual and not handed down by a Pope-like figure. It says so in the Quran.”
So I think what she has written in her book is just her point of view about Islam and cannot be relied on. It is very personal, a completely personal narrative. Even from the cover picture that is the photo of the writer it can be guessed how personal it may be! Therefore, although it is interesting to know how a young Muslim girl thinks in the days before 9/11, reading this book for another Muslim who already knows about Islam and at the same time may be in disagreement with the author may be boring.
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