The Crescent Directive was, for me, a fun but perplexing read. The concept is simple and noble: it gives guidelines for American Muslims on how to lay a groundwork for action in our communities in order to improve our image in America.
Written by Khurram Dara, the book starts out with looking at how Islam and Muslims have evolved in American discourse since 9/11. He then explains the current situation of the American Muslim community and talks about why certain efforts at understanding have failed up to now or will fail long term. He proceeds to establish some base assumptions and outline a strategy for Muslim Americans to improve their image in a post- 9/11 world. Finally, he outlines a series of recommendations as part of a strategy American Muslims can use to raise our profile and humanize us in our daily lives, and discusses how these recommendations could work. He suggests building relationships with non-Muslims (we don’t?), taking part in secular holidays (more on that below), and denouncing our “common enemy,” terrorism.
The strategy and recommendations parts of the book are what give me cause for concern. One point Mr. Dara makes repeatedly is that we don’t do enough to engage discourse as a community. I’m not sure this is the case. What about the old refrain on how Muslims don’t denounce terrorism (which Mr. Dara even addresses on page 46)? We DO denounce terrorism, but nobody listens. I can think of a lot of Muslims (just look in the blogosphere; Organica comes to mind) who engage our communities. The problem is that mainstream media discourse is usually only interested in House Muslims and shoe bombers. How much integration do we have to do for people to realize that the vast majority of American Muslims are normal people? The Crescent Directive attempts to answer this question, but some of its recommendations can take away from the real problem, which is that Muslims are often essentially dammed if they do and dammed if they don’t.
A perfect example of how some of the action items in the book may not be applicable to “established” (e.g. people who have been in the US long term) Muslims involves the celebration of non-Muslim secular holidays. In one chapter of the book, it is suggested that we celebrate American holidays like Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. I feel pretty certain in assuming that most American Muslims have already figured out their Holiday Policy and that other factors come into play besides “Am I Integrated?” when choosing these holidays. Some Muslims have Christmas because they have small children; most converts do Thanksgiving with their families, and so on. I, for example, refuse to have Christmas trees in my house. Do I care if my Muslim best friend has one? No. But we both thought about our decisions within the context of our personal landscapes. We need to spend more time saying that Islam is NOT a monolith instead of saying that “Muslims do X” or Muslims should do Y.” Furthermore, . I can’t see anyone but a brand new immigrant not having thought of how s/he was going to deal with these secular holidays. And the choices of American Muslims run the spectrum, as well they should; I don’t think it is our call to make whether or not someone is integrated vis-à-vis the choice they made on attending their company’s 4th of July cookout.
One point I felt was ignored in The Crescent Directive is that a lot of our problems in the American Muslim community come from within and run deeper than PTA meetings and soccer games. To save our image, we also have to work on how we look to the outside world from within, in our spaces, without cosmetic fixes. I had a friend who wanted to convert once, so I brought her to the “masjid”, a crowded, dank room with a wet carpet from baby waste and food crumbs, with kids running around crying, and she gets tut-tutted by an auntie for her “bad hijab.” Then when jummah starts, the microphone is broken, so over the kids, you can barely hear the imam, which is ok because he doesn’t speak in English anyway and doesn’t have time to talk with her afterwards. Now add to that: she is able to look through the frosted glass at a vast, clean men’s prayer space, where male Muslims can pray in silence (no kids please), use tasbih, or just sit and talk with the imam. Before you call me out for using an anecdote, a quick google or blog search will tell you this is not an isolated case; women’s spaces in the masjid are a HUGE problem and a HUGE turnoff to Muslimahs and potential Muslimahs, way more so than whether or not Thanksgiving is ok. This is one example of a rampant image problem obvious to most Muslims, and yet it wasn’t mentioned. Other hot topics could be homosexuality, polygamy, halal food: where are the “plausible” explanations to the outsider for these topics, since we are given directives on other, more cosmetic topics? Say we invite our neighbors over for Eid, as mentioned in the book, and then we say, “Meet my three other wives,” or “No biryani for Steve, he’s gay,” or “don’t give me that non-halal steak, it’s nasty and disgusting!”
Overall, I felt the position of women in our communities was glossed over in The Crescent Directive, which is why I chose to review it for MMW despite the book not having a “women in the media” scope. Even if it is written by a dude (yes indeed!), I wanted to see more about veil politics; I wanted to see more about how to respond to questions about women’s rights in Islam and what we can do as a community to respond to naysayers. One of the recommendations in The Crescent Directive involves how American Muslims need to integrate the work force. That is easier said than done for some sisters, when you take into account issues surrounding the veil and “traditional” marriage and gender roles. How can sisters do their part? I would have liked some insight, if only to give the non-Muslims reading the book food for thought. That said, , I’m willing to admit that I may be talking from a position of white privilege. Maybe the things I found offensive or not necessary may have a different frame in other parts of the Muslim American diaspora. Because we all know that in the United States there is a white convert discourse (essentially female, college-educated and middle class, I mean hi), which tends to get a bit more airplay. As my criticisms may be tempered by my limited world-view, The Crescent Directive may also suffer from being the limited point of view of one part of the diaspora.
I may sound harsh, but I do think The Crescent Directive has its place in our national discourse because of how disruptive and polarizing it is. A lot of American Muslims won’t agree with some of the points in this book, and a lot will. That said, I think the content is more suited for a “New American Muslim Primer” than addressing the needs of born-American Muslims: converts, second and third generation, etc., who have already found their peace with a lot of the book’s points and have already figured out how to deal with them in our own diverse, personal ways. One only needs to look at the many great personal accounts of what it means to be a Muslim in America in the blogosphere. Where we need help are explaning away the pickier issues in our community, like polygamy.
On a personal level, I did enjoy the insight into “my” culture and helped me come to terms with my own “Americanness.” I think The Crescent Directive is a great dialogue starter and a worthy addition to our masajid and library bookshelves. But unfortunately – or fortunately – it raises more questions than it can answer. Perhaps that was the point. I don’t think we’ve heard the last about this book.