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AMERICAN ISLAM by Paul M. Barrett


The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion

by Paul M. Barrett

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 0-374-10423-9
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

“In America, Muslims do not think and act alike any more than Christians do.” So writes Business Week editor Barrett (The Good Black, 1999) in this timely survey of America’s six-million followers of Islam.

Barrett highlights the diversity of Islam, noting that there are many differences among native-born and immigrant practitioners and even among long-established communities. Some Muslims are committed to liberalizing the faith, such as a young West Virginia woman who insists that she be allowed to pray in the same space as men. Another recounts his transformation from onetime member of the violent Muslim Brotherhood to ecumenicalist; this young man even ventures that he wishes his wife had not taken up wearing the hijab, but adds, “It’s no big deal.” Others are committed to a more conservative version of Islam, and others even to radical, virulently anti-Semitic brands of Wahhabism, with all their talk of Jews’ being “brothers of monkeys and pigs” deserving of slaughter. Interestingly, Barrett notes, Muslim Americans tend to be wealthier and better educated than non-Muslims (59 percent, for instance, have college degrees, as compared to 27 percent of all American adults). They tend to observe the same sharp divisions between Shia and Sunni as can be found in the rest of the world. And, until late 2001, they tended to vote Republican—in heavily Democratic Michigan, by margins of more than three to one, even as George Bush’s team actively courted the Muslim vote. Following the attacks of 9/11, however, Muslims of every stripe and sensibility reported feeling singled out; Shiite supporters of the war in Iraq increasingly sided with their Sunni opponents, and it was not uncommon to hear support for—or at least a refusal to condemn—Osama bin Laden and his operatives.

Necessary reading for police advocates of profiling, and highly useful for anyone wishing a greater understanding of Muslim compatriots.