An American Islam
Wholly American, Wholly Muslim
All across this country—and the world, in fact—there are numerous people who seek to define Islam and Muslims in a specific and (frequently) negative manner. Islamophobes have, in fact, staked their careers on this task. There are also criminals, so-called Muslims, acting in the name of Islam in such a wrong way that provides a "definition" of the religion wholly inconsistent with its principles. The actions of these criminals are just that: criminal and twisted and do not reflect the truth. Islamophobes claim that these deviants are, in fact, only representing the truth, and any claim to the contrary is a "lie."
Hence the importance of Muslim voices owning their faith. These voices define Islam; they represent the truth. This is why the "I Speak For Myself" series is so important. Starting with the first book, I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim (White Cloud Press, 2011), American Muslim women got the chance to tell the world their story, in their own words. Now, it is the brothers' turn with All American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim, edited by Wajahat Ali (a Patheos contributor and former blogger) and Zahra T. Suratwala.
As I read the book, I was happy to see some contributors that I know and like—Mazen Asbahi, Svend White, and Shahed Amanullah. Then there were other contributors who, if I had passed them in the street, I would never have figured that they were Muslim, which proves that you can't make any conclusions about outward appearances. One such contributor is Justin Mashouf, who tells the story of his transformation from an observer to a participant in the Shiite rituals commemorating Imam Husayn, the Prophet Muhammad's (saw) grandson. Another such contributor is Davi Barker, whose political views are eye opening to say the least.
Throughout this book, the reader is treated to a wide expanse of experiences and stories that show the American Muslim community for what it is: varied and diverse, rich and colorful.
As you read story after story, one thing comes out at you: These men, as their female counterparts, are fully Muslim and fully American, and they see no contradiction in being both. Indeed, in some of the men's stories, they recount how they did not fully feel that way at first due to a variety of circumstances. Yet, they all come to this conclusion in the end.
In his essay, "Integration, not Assimilation," Aziz H. Poonawalla (a blogger at Patheos) admits that beyond "speaking for himself," he does speak for fellow Muslim Americans, "regardless of my intentions." And, he states the simple truth that "America is the greatest Islamic country on the face of the earth simply because it is a pure example that freedom of speech and faith is possible to achieve." This, Poonawalla says, is a double blessing that comes with "a welcome weight on my shoulders . . . [to] keep me upon the straight path, in faith and in citizenship."
This is but one example of how so many of the contributors feel no contradiction between being Muslim and American. Other contributors, however, refuse to wear any labels. Some embrace them all.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago-based physician and writer. He is author of, most recently, Noble Brother: The Story of the Prophet Muhammad in Poetry (Faithful Word Press). You can follow Hesham Hassaballa on Facebook.