Red, White, and Muslim
Speaking in praise of diversity
Speaking in praise of diversity
Book Reviewed by T. U. Dawood
Asma Gull Hasan has made quite a name for herself as an American Muslim voice. Born in Chicago to Pakistani immigrant parents and raised in Colorado, she is a writer, lawyer and activist. She has spoken at many conferences and universities, blogged for Glamour, contributed to the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Denver Post, as well as been interviewed on FOX News, MSNBC, Politically Incorrect and other television talk shows.
The author of Why I Am Muslim and American Muslims: A new generation, Hasan has recently published her third book Red, White, And Muslim: My story of belief. In it she writes about her personal experiences and religious knowledge and opinions.
Although the book is directed mainly at non-Muslim Americans, in an effort to show them a more relatable side of Islam, she also urges fellow Muslims to focus on the many similarities that exist between the Islamic way of life and the American one.
Chapters such as ‘Being Muslim makes me a better American’ underscore Hasan’s inclusive nature as well as her passion for recognising the similarities, rather than the differences, among people. However, when she writes about the numerous times she has been harassed by Muslims who feel she should wear hijab or be less modern, it reminds the reader that there are divisions and different schools of thought among Muslims, just as there is a considerable divide between what some Muslims believe and what some Americans believe.
She addresses this to some degree by writing that, ‘Islam encourages diversity — outside Islam and within it. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) praised diversity. A famous hadith attributed to him is: ‘Difference of opinion is a mercy for my community.’Her writing style is inviting and makes for a quick, easy read. Most of her points and stories are cursory, so she covers a wide variety of topics and gives a well rounded snapshot of her personal view on things.
The author is at her best when writing about her own life. Where she offers more general assertions about her faith, the statements would have benefitted from better notations and citations, particularly when she addresses controversial topics such as abortion.
She writes: ‘Islam may even permit abortion within the first trimester in the opinion of some Islamic scholars… Some reports also say that women in the Prophet Muhammad’s time had abortions and that he did not object, which contributes to the view that abortion may be allowed. Certainly even a literal reading would leave the possibility open.’
While there are some scholarly books on this topic written by erudite and respected Islamic scholars, Hasan does not cite them, or name any of the Islamic scholars who have given an opinion on this matter. She does not even footnote the hadith that support this argument.
Keeping with her casual writing style referencing may not seem necessary, but it would have strengthened her overall argument and possibly increased her credibility as a voice on this issue.
Overall, however, she has doing a terrific job of helping to bridge the divide between the Islamic world and America by shedding light on the beliefs and experiences of at least one American Muslim in a down-to-earth way.
[Red, White, and Muslim, Book by Asma Gull Hasan HarperOne, US ISBN 0-06-167375-7 172pp, Courtesy Dawn, Books & Authors, 12 July 2009]