Sunday, February 18, 2007

Islam in America

Islam, like every religious tradition, has more than one face. This is especially true in America, where Muslims hail from many different nations, cultures, and contexts. Some are rabidly fundamentalists, while others are liberal, tolerant, and even secular in their orientation. Some Muslim Women cover themselves completely, others simply wear a scarf over their heads, and others dress just like every other American woman, which is to say, with great variety. It's politically expedient to create a monolithic picture, but once you get to know a few Muslims, you'll discover that the stereotypes don't fit very well.

The LA Times today runs a review by Marjorie Gellhorn Sa'adah of Paul M. Barrett's American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2006). I've not read the book, though I've thumbed through it on several occasions at Borders. From the review we learn that Paul Barrett tells the story of seven Muslims who range from a fundamentalist activist to a feminist writer. It appears that this new book will help shatter our stereotypes and perhaps help us build toward a greater understanding of one another.

The reviewer helps us understand the complexity of patriotic America:

What, for any of us, is patriotism?

In a Yuba City parking lot, a group of Muslims debates Fourth of July fireworks. One wants the bottle rockets and fireworks that would launch into a canopy of red, white and blue.

"Fireworks on Independence Day, yes, but not at mosque," disagrees another.

"Mosque is prayer, Quran," adds a Pakistani farmer.

One of the Muslim men turns to Barrett and asks, "Paul, what do you think? … Do churches have fireworks at the church?"Barrett's reply? "I said I was Jewish," he writes, "but for what it was worth, my mother always warned that fireworks could put your eye out."

"American Islam" does a lot to suspend the red, white and blue pyrotechnics that have, since Sept. 11, tended to put our eyes out. 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. What better way to see, then — as the Koran says — that "[w]herever you turn, there is the face of God." •

1 comment:

El Person said...

As a Muslim, I can say taht all the Muslim women I know here in America dress in a way that makes it somehat difficult to figure out their religion.