Cons: It's a rerelease with a new name! Can you say "blatant money grab?"
The Bottom Line: Bismillah, ir-Rahman, ir-RahimIn the name of God, most Gracious, most Merciful.
I am stuck in an odd situation about Asma Gull Hasan's latest book, Red White and Muslim. How, exactly, does one review a book such as this? Do I give it a four star rating because I still like it? Or do I slap it with a single star for being nothing more than a blatant money grab? Please allow me to elaborate: I did read Red White and Muslim. Of course I did - I wouldn't be reviewing it if I didn't! But I also originally read it five years ago, back in 2004, when it WAS RELEASED UNDER A DIFFERENT TITLE! I'm not being metaphorical here! In 2004, Red White and Muslim was released as Why I Am a Muslim! Oh, and four years ago, I read it a second time and actually posted the review of it on Epinions!
Now I have half a mind to just link my last review - which I will actually do once I'm finished ranting here - and say "DONE!" But Epinions is a harsh mistress and I have a damn reputation to maintain plus a bunch of spare hours to kill. So I guess I'll fill everyone in on all the other pointless details.
Okay, perhaps saying Red White and Muslim is the EXACT same book as Why I Am a Muslim is a little bit harsh. In truth, Red White and Muslim does contain a new introduction. It also contains a few short paragraphs about things which happened to Hasan in the five years since Why I Am a Muslim was originally released as Why I Am a Muslim. But really, there's absolutely nothing new you can learn in Red White and Muslim, nothing new Hasan has to say. The differences between Why I Am a Muslim and Red White and Muslim are WAY too few and far between to warrant any kind of rerelease, let alone slapping a whole new cover and title on it to sucker people into buying it.
As I mentioned, the introduction for Red White and Muslim is new. But as I read through the first chapter - which is about how Hasan chooses to be a Muslim because she was born that way - I began to experience a somewhat unsettling feeling of deja vu. Hasan writes about her excitement when she was able to first read the word "cat," which I remembered seeing without a whole lot of variation from Why I Am a Muslim. I read her stories of her blaming her lackluster study habits on Ramadan, her buying groceries at a certain Safeway location which felt closer to her grocery store from her hometown, her opinion that Muslims who say that America means nothing to them should just get up and leave and thought, hey wait a second! She did manage to get one past me mentioning a conference she attended in 2007 and a second one by me when she got the story of Muhammad's first revelation right. (See my other review of Why I Am a Muslim for details.) But I knew I had read all these things before.
I closed the book and perused the cover. Then I noticed, in small, inconspicuous fine print under the author's name, the words "Previously published as Why I Am a Muslim." For once in my life, my deja vu had been validated. Ladies and gentlemen, these two books are 99 percent mirror reflections of each other. What makes this deception even more grating is that Red White and Muslim is being advertised a lot as Hasan's autobiography. Hasan does give us bunches of anecdotes from her personal life, but as a single, solid whole autobiography, it ain't even close. Why I Am a Muslim/Red White and Muslim was never meant to be an autobiography. And it doesn't come off even remotely autobiographical. There are too few personal anecdotes for it to be an autobiography, and they jump around too much and don't involve any major experiences. If Why I Am a Muslim/Red White and Muslim is an autobiography, then A Tale of Two Cities is a historical account of the French Revolution.
Red White and Muslim contains the same seven chapters it did five years ago. I notice the contents page is now free of the "because" wording. In Why I Am a Muslim, for example, the chapter is called "Because I was Born Muslim." In Red White and Muslim, it is simply "Born Muslim." The chapters cover a vast spectrum of different reasons for being Muslim, including Allah's expectation that we are created imperfect, the rich mysticism of Sufism, the diversity of Islam, and other subjects. Hasan's first book was called American Muslims, which launched her literary career because it had the odd fortune to be released close to 9-11. That book was a poorly researched rant, and Why I Am a Muslim/Red White and Muslim is much more thoroughly researched.
The final chapter is easily the most disputable one. In that chapter Hasan insists that being a Muslim makes her a better American and vice versa. Plenty of people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, will dispute that idea until the return of the great Muslim Prophet Isa (better known to you never-Muslims as Jesus. Yeah, that Jesus). Hasan calls herself a Muslim feminist cowgirl and insists that Islam is a woman's religion in the sixth chapter. This book brings a lively balance of fact and opinion which makes it both informative and readable. No doubt the super-hardcore Muslim crowd will definitely have problems with it, but those guys have problems with the fact that Hasan doesn't wear hijab - the woman's head covering - and would probably stick their fingers in their ears and yell "lalalalaIcan'thearyou!!!" before ever listening to a halfway intelligent interpretation of Islam.
The third, fourth, and fifth chapters provide some of the more interesting viewpoints. The third brings new ideas about Sufism, the well-known mystic tradition which is the great drawing card for many people's entry into Islam. The fourth makes the argument that Allah doesn't expect people to be perfect and so Islam is more forgiving toward mistakes. The fifth is about the diversity of people who are Muslims, a favorite chapter of mine which reminded me of the Islamic Society of Central New York in Syracuse, New York, where I once attended Jummah prayer. I had seen a wide variety of different people there of all different races, worshipping the same god.
Throughout the book, Hasan comes off as quick-witted, smart, and likable. She spends a lot of time talking about her ideas of what it means to be a Muslim in the United States, and relates a lot of what she says to her own personal experiences. In all of it, Hasan comes off as a woman who practices every word she preaches, and that alone reminds me that all those terrorist nutcases we see on Fox News are in fact a minority that just makes a lot of noise and leaves 99 times as many Muslims who are watching from home scratching their heads. It almost made me wish I was a Muslim again myself. I was reminded of some of the things I enjoyed about being Muslim.
I converted to Islam in 2002 and became an apostate in a major fit of anger in 2005. A lot of my anger from my apostasy creeped into reviews of things Muslims had anything to do with at the time. But honestly, since then my stance has softened a great deal. (Though I'm not about to rush out to the nearest masjid and recite shahada again.) While I'm very mad at Asma Gull Hasan - a Muslim mouthpiece I've always really liked - right now for wasting my time and tricking me into reading a book I've already read and reviewed, it doesn't change the fact that Why I Am a Muslim was an excellent book and that Red White and Muslim is simply an enhanced version of it. My one-star rating comes because of corporate trickery - they should have just given it its old title and they shouldn't have tried to pass it off as an autobiography. That's just low. But I do recommend reading Why I Am a Muslim/Red White a Muslim or whatever title those corporate pricks come up with later to trick people who already own it into buying it a third time.
Offers a glimpse into the life of a young American-born born Muslim, who is a woman journalist and a lawyer, sharing a vision of one of the world's greatest religions that is ethnically diverse, tolerant of others, and supportive of women's rights. Original. 15,000 first printing.