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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » American Muslims: The New Generation » User review

Wellesley's Religious Studies Course Must be Very Easy

  • Mar 21, 2005
Pros: Hasan is likeable aand seems to practice what she preaches

Cons: It's the opinions of one person, not the facts about followers of a religion

The Bottom Line: Hasan's intentions are certainly noble, but she presents the opinions of one person, not the facts of a people.

Muslim Feminist Cowgirl. Asma Gull Hasan won my heart immediately after referring to herself by this moniker. In my review of The Trouble with Islam, I implied that most Muslim mouthpieces can’t be trusted because all they are doing is backpedalling, knowing what would be done to them if their defense was to spit the same anti-Americanism they were allowed to get away with before the Trade Towers fell in a cloud of dust. (If you missed the implication in my other review, I’m saying it outright here.) In the current climate of hypocritical Islamic politics, Hasan is one of the few mouthpieces who actually lives her words. She’s easily the most vanilla of the Muslim rights activists, which makes her very easy to endorse as a person and a humanist. She has an easygoing, inoffensive, and risk-less style as a writer, she doesn’t wear hijab, she’s articulate, she snowboards, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention just how cute she is.

It’s Hasan’s wonderfulness as a person that makes it hard for me to slam her first book, American Muslims. Hasan attempts to write it from the viewpoint of a devout Muslim Jane Doe dealing with the everyday contrasts between American culture and Islamic law. Unfortunately, the fact that Hasan herself isn’t the typical devout Muslim Jane Doe makes this effort crash like those airplanes. Hasan’s visible hair alone invites conservatives to question her devotion to Islam, and that’s to say nothing of her support for homosexuals and Jews, her willingness to intermingle with men (a taboo in Islam), and her support for President Bush. (Her parents run Muslims for Bush.) Add that to the number of errors in American Muslims, and you have yourself a Muslim who tries to speak for her people, but ends up only speaking for herself. She is DEFINITELY speaking for a minority of Muslims here.

It’s amazing to see just how much of American Muslims is comprised of wasted filler material. Chapter four, for example, is about Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. It’s true that the Nation of Islam arguably had more to do with the rise of Islam in America than anything else (except possibly 9-11), but the vast majority of North American Muslims (including me, a dissident who once spoke of Muslim unity) don’t consider the NOI to be a branch of Islam so much as a black Ku Klux Klan. While Hasan does go into light detail about the differences between the NOI and mainstream Islam, the chapter feels forced out to work in the obligatory mention of Malcolm X. Chapter nine is a short read in which Hasan appears to be blowing off steam about the issues of gender separation in mosques and at Islamic events and the way the Islamic prohibition on pork is taken in a lot of places. Both subjects are valid for discussion, and I enjoyed reading about the way her sister casually walked into the men’s section of a local mosque to dine with one of her friends, but the way Hasan asserts her opinions in this chapter looks like an angry response to an argument. Page 168 (hardcover version), for example: Special protections are sometimes tantamount to the protectors’ saying “You NEED to be protected because you’re weak and can’t do it yourself.” Well let ME watch out for MYSELF, and you worry about yourself. My Uncle Adnan says that having women alongside while he prays would be distracting. He just wants to concentrate on God at this time, but he says, instead, he would be thinking about that girl near him praying. As with hijab, I feel that women are expected to modify THEIR behavior... It’s also worth noting her mistake when she talks about the pork prohibition: She correctly mentions the Quranic guidelines for food preparation, but she refers to the system as halal. Halal is not the term for Islamic food preparation, but the Arabic term for Islamically lawful. The term for Islamic food preparation is Zabiha.

From the outset, it’s obvious that the emphasis in Hasan’s self-brand, Muslim Feminist Cowgirl, is clearly on the Feminist part. Hasan has plenty to say about the rights of women in Islam, but her lack of Quranic evidence to back what she says severly cripples her otherwise feisty arguments. Actually, there were times while reading American Muslims when I questioned whether Hasan had read the Quran at all. She opens chapter six with an anecdote, writing about a short argument she had with her grandfather about whether Muslim men were superior to Muslim women. When she challenges her grandfather to find the passage that says men are superior to women, she concludes by saying ”Sure, there are a few passages that taken out of context, interpreted from a patriarchal perspective, or not updated for our times (which the Quran instructs us to do) imply women’s inferiority. They are by no means passages on which to build tenets of Islam.... As he has still not found it, I presume it doesn’t exist or isn’t clear in its meaning. She should open her Quran to 2:228, where it saays Divorced women shall wait concerning themselves for three monthly periods. Nor is it lawful for them to hide what God hath created in their wombs, if they have faith in God and the last day. And their husbaands have the better right to take them back in that period if they wish for reconciliation. And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable, but men have a degree (of advantage) over them. And God is exalted in power, wise. There is another passage in the Quran which is infamous, and often invoked by anti-Islamists for advocating the beating of women. While Hasan DOES address this passage, she presents a weak scholarly argument which suggests that when the Quran says beat, it actually means hold in confinement. This is no better than a beating; both are forms of torture which can be invoked by Muslim men for almost any reason. I also don’t recall any passages in the Quran saying we have to keep updating it. Muslims take pride in saying the Quran has never been changed, that the living word of Allah and as relevant today as when it was revealed to Muhammad.

Hasan’s wily and witty feminism also fails to address a certain controversial issue: The existance of virgins in heaven for the men. When one reads the Quran with an unbiased eye, there is a heavy pro-male bias. There are few passages in the Quran implying that good Muslim women will even be rewarded, and none about what they’ll be rewarded with. For the dunya (this world), the responsibility of controlling overactive male hormones also falls almost solely on the shoulders of the women, with the exception of backhanded mentions of men lowering their gaze. People familiar with Islamic scriptures, be they Quran or Hadith, are often capable of rattling off passage after passage about the restrictions placed on women. Some anti-female Hadiths, like the one about how a man will never be asked why he hit his wife, are fairly notorious. Again, Hasan fails to answer for or even mention any of them.

In chapter three, Hasan does her part to try to unify the Muslim community with the Jewish and Christian communities by talking about the similarities between the three religions, and the differences. She points out, correctly, that the phrase Judeo-Christian in American politcal-religious talk should really be Judeo-Christian-Islamic. It’s a very basic summary of Islamic beliefs which serves the purpose it was included for very well - Hasan uses one of the Close-up sections scattered throughout the book to talk about the Five Pillars and their purpose. She also talks about the Islamic version of the Day of Judgement and - correctly, again - points out that the big Muslim hero who will make the world safe for the righteous in the end times is not Muhammad but Jesus, and she even recounts the story of how Islam got the five-prayer-a-day requirement, even though she messes up the original number (which was 50, as opposed to the 5000 Hasan talks about. This is forgiveable, though, because Hasan implies she couldn’t remember what the original number was. Either way, she’s right in saying it was exorbitant). Her only mistake in this otherwise excellent chapter was saying Islam was founded on the same principles as the United States. She’s very matter-of-factly in pointing it out, but the truth is the claim is contestable at best, and a lot of Muslims outright deny that idea.

In chapter seven, Hasan distances herself from the Muslim community for all time when she suggests that Muslims could take a page from the book of Reform Jews to make Muslim life in America easier. She ir right in saying that a Reform Islam would be a good idea, but she’s also right in saying that Muslims can’t set up an Islamic doctrine because there are so many interpretations of Islam.

The best chapter in the book is easily Chapter Five, which is about media representation of Islam and the negative impact it has on Muslims. She kicks it off talking about a recent incident about the anti-Islam sentiment which rushed through a community that wanted to introduce an Islamic school. She then goes on to talk about the bad things Muslims have done, and how religion always seems to be mentioned whenever a Muslim is the culprit. While she’s right to imply that innocent people tend to be put in the line of ffire whenever a random act of senseless violence has the words Islamic fundamentalist preceding the culprit’s name, and also right to say that Muslims are never publicized for the good things they do, she’s wrong in implying that Muslims haven’t done anything to deserve such shabby treatment. I said in my review of The Trouble with Islam that my personal experiences show that Muslims are guilty of being what many stereotypes portray them as. The fact is, Muslims don’t do much in private to dispel the stereotypes. If anything, I believe the stereotypes will make Muslims practice what they preach to try to get the media to stop stereotyping them.

As a writer, Hasan is here strictly to inform. She’s not here to provide the be-all-and-end-all guide to the Quran. Therefore, her style is witty, feisty, and sometimes funny, but very vanilla. This is good in this case, because that makes it inoffensive. While there are Close-up sections scattered around, they’re very unnecessary because they often fit into the subject of their chapters perfectly. Hasan is smart to begin her chapters with perssonal anecdotes - and sometimes ideas - because they succeed in setting the tone for what she’s going to say.

American Muslims is a great insight into the opinions of one Muslim. It’s NOT a great insight into the majority of Muslims because Hasan is out of touch with a Muslim community that seeems to be trapped in the dark ages. (Again, I speak from experience.) Hasan seems to have written an angry response to a conservative Muslim here, and if you wanted to use the arguments presented in American Muslims in debate, you’d lose. American Muslim is an amusing read for people just wanting to assure themselves, but there are better exaaminations of Islam out there - one of which is Hasan’s other book.


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Nicholas Croston ()
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Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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About this book


The author offers a personal account of her experiences as a Muslim in the United States, dispelling many of the myths and misunderstandings about Muslims and comparing Islamic values to American ethical values.
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ISBN-13: 978-0826414168
Author: Asma Gull Hasan
Genre: Religion
Publisher: Continuum Intl Pub Group
Date Published: July 01, 2002
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