Qazwini, head of the oldest and largest Shi’a mosque in the United States, seeks to bridge misunderstandings between Americans and Muslims through his life story and interpretations of various Islamic worldviews.
The author avers that acts by extremists, the media’s thirst for spectacle and historical geopolitical opportunism have given Americans a dangerously skewed notion of the everyday Muslim man and woman, giving rise to suspicions of Islam’s compatibility with democracy and civil rights. To convey the experience of being a devout Muslim today, Qazwini offers his own journey as testament. Though his life is not exactly representational—son of a respected imam, his family suffered intense persecution under Saddam Hussein and more than once had to flee in the night from the jackboot at the door—it is apt in showing how Muslims, often on the move, must redraw their cultural boundaries with each shift. This is so even within Muslim communities, where contending schools have specific requirements and ingrained prejudices. These personal experiences have an engaging immediacy that allows readers to see the world through a practicing Muslim perspective, where culture and religion are held fast. His parallel story of Islam’s evolution says some canny things about the manipulation of faith to serve vested power, but the strokes are too broad to leave an indelible impression. “Our women wear hijab [conservative clothing] willingly and proudly” is the kind of blanket statement that undercuts his authority. But Qazwini makes a solid case that Islamic institutions can embrace democracy as easily as those of Judaism and Christianity, that most Muslim immigrants appreciate the United States as the best of both worlds and that Muslim participation in the American political mainstream will hasten cross-cultural awareness.
Scores more hits than misses as an interfaith dialogue seeking not converts but understanding.