Considine (Sociology/Rice Univ.; Islam, Race, and Pluralism in the Pakistani Diaspora, 2017) explores questions and answers about the lives of Muslims in the United States.
As stated in the introduction, this book is part of ABC-CLIO’s Contemporary Debates reference series, each volume of which identifies and addresses “30-40 questions swirling about” a particular topic. What follows is a question-and-answer session concerning the topic of the title: the community of followers of Islam who live in America. Or, more specifically, the book is aimed at addressing present-day controversies surrounding Islamic identity and its place in the pluralist American society. Questions range from the easily quantifiable (“Are Muslims in the United States responsible for the majority of terrorist attacks on American soil?”) to the more abstract (“Are American Muslims happy to be living in the United States?”). By and large, the conclusions are that Muslims have a long history of living in America, that they aren’t more dangerous than any other group, and that an entire industry has sprung up around the culture of Islamophobia. These conclusions are supported by polls (many by Pew Research), various historical citations, and assertions that Islam is a broad topic and “no one Islamic organization or mosque speaks for all American Muslims.” The book makes frequent use of recent events, such as the Trump administration’s attempts at limiting immigration from certain predominantly Muslim countries, and a number of proposals for anti-Sharia laws in the United States.
This is a careful study that’s most illuminating when making use of historical details. For example, how many Americans know that a frieze in the U.S. Supreme Court shows an image of someone holding a copy of the Quran? Or that Thomas Jefferson had a personal collection of books on Islam? In contrast, some of the questions on modern issues have obvious answers (such as “Do American Muslims engage in interfaith and intercultural dialogue with non-Islamic religious and cultural communities in American society?”). The portions on Islamophobia, such as “Is Islamophobia on the rise in the United States?” provide information on how prejudiced people scapegoat Muslims. A section on the funding behind some anti-Islam groups will provide readers with some insight, although some of them may wish that the author had gone deeper into the topic. It’s easy to criticize the statements of organizations with names such as “Stop Islamization of America” and to interpret their activities as fearmongering. However, the book doesn’t adequately address the opinions of more respected critics of Islam, such as the popular author Sam Harris. Likewise, a question about why Islamist extremists believe that their thinking is in line with the Quran might have provided more substance than softballs such as “Have American Muslims contributed to the well-being, vitality, and cultural enrichment of the United States?” Although the answer to the latter is clearly yes, the answer to the former is unaddressed here.
A book on the American Muslim experience that’s brimming with information, although it also misses opportunities to tackle some difficult questions.