| American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion |
by Paul M. Barrett
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
$25.00 Release Date: 12/26/2006
Only spotty data exists about America’s Muslim population. Estimates suggest there are between 3 million and 10 million Muslims nationwide—including Asians, Arabs, and African-Americans—and that about 1,300 mosques dot the land. But the U.S. Census doesn’t ask about religious affiliation, and there’s no reliable count of mosques. What we do know, says journalist Paul Barrett, is that the American Muslim community is slightly more prosperous and significantly better educated than the American population as a whole. To speak of them as a “community,” however, obscures the significant differences in background and ideology that divide them.
Barrett, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, has wisely built his portrait of American Islam not with statistics but through seven detailed individual profiles, said Laura Miller in Salon.com. Even so, his thoughtful, scrupulously evenhanded book includes a “concise overview of Islam in general and American Islam in particular” that may be better than any other published since 9/11. His subjects form a diverse lot—a prosperous Michigan newspaper publisher, a militant African-American imam, an iconoclastic Pakistani-American feminist, an Indian-born entrepreneur who dabbled in hate theology during his college years in Tennessee. The overall mix appears weighted toward “unconventional and even progressive members of the religion,” but Barrett clearly “aims to give all sides their due.”
Barrett’s case studies imply, reassuringly, that radical Islam is unlikely to gain the traction here that it has in Europe, said Neil MacFarquhar in The New York Times. Though Barrett details how Saudi money has built mosques and spread fundamentalist teachings here, his profiles make clear that many Muslims in this country have embraced American values. They are not ghettoized in ethnic enclaves or alienated from the larger society. What’s more, many moderate Muslims are vigilant about extinguishing radicalism when it crops up in their midst. Though our leaders in Washington don’t yet seem to recognize this, said Reza Aslan in Slate.com, the Muslims in this country may in fact be “America’s greatest weapon against jihadism.” The moderates, after all, fervently believe in the benefits of pluralism and “know that they are more threatened by jihadism than any of their non-Muslim compatriots.”