Red, White, and Muslim: My Story of Belief (Review)

August 16, 2010

Book cover for "Red, White, and Muslim" by Asma Gull Hasan.Title: Red, White, and Muslim: My Story of Belief

Author: Asma Gull Hasan

Publication Year: 2008

Pages: 208

Genre: Non-Fiction

Source: Personal copy from bookshelf; re-read

From the cover:

An inspiring account of one woman’s journey to reclaim her spiritual and cultural identity.

For Asma Hasan, being a Muslim is not merely a matter of birth, but a matter of choice and faith. Hasan’s personal relationship with her religion was, and continues to be, a defining element of her life, and through her writing she inspires a new understanding and appreciation of a frequently misunderstood tradition. This is her American story.

This book is a very personal reflection on being Muslim in America, and I enjoyed it. I’ve read it before, actually, shortly after it was published, and before I had converted. That’s why I decided to re-read it now, to see if I still felt the same way about it as I did before.

I really like the way that Hasan approaches things in Red, White, and Muslim: head on but personal. Each chapter has a theme, and is then broken down into little anecdotes and thoughts that relate to that theme, and that connect to each other in some way. It’s not written as a cohesive piece, though, in each chapter – it’s as though Hasan is giving you a variety of things to think about, but is trying to leave you on your own to connect the dots and to add in your own understandings and make you come to your own conclusions.

There are two sections that might be really interesting for the non-Muslim reader. One of these is a section about being a Muslim in post-9/11 America. Hasan points out, in a very clear way, why it is that non-Muslims get the impression that the Muslim community has ignored the calls for a “cohesive” condemnation from the community:

While Muslims are freed from the tyranny of a supreme religious cleric, this freedom also means they are less equipped to counter criticisms and generalizations. No one Muslim can speak for all Muslims. So, when a tragedy like the attacks of 9/11 occurs, Muslims do not have a pope who can announce to non-Muslims that, as a group, all the Muslim community condemns 9/11. While all the Muslims I know condemned 9/11, non-Muslims needed to hear one spokesperson they could point to as the source of condemnation. The de-centralized nature of Islam, which is so beneficial to me as an individual Muslim, hurts us collectively as Muslims at times when we need to speak with one voice. But if we established an authority figure who speaks for all Muslims, we would be defying a core value of Islam.

This de-centralization is something that is very important to the idea of Islam, and also very important for me, personally. I grew up in a Catholic family, and one of the things that really bothered me about the Catholic faith was the insistence on the hierarchy, on the priests, bishops, pope, etc. who made all the “important” decisions … and who were also rather corrupt. I think this is one of the big things that many Americans (and others around the world) don’t understand about Islam – there just isn’t a centralized power structure, no matter what some people – like the Ayatollahs of Iran – try to tell the world.

The second part that I think is realy interesting for a non-Muslim is Hasan’s reaction to constantly being introduced as American-born:

Is it really that odd that a young Muslim woman who practices her religion was born in America? Is our opinion of Islam so low that we can only imagine those unfortunate enough not to have been born in America as willing to practice it? I have been American my whole life and Muslim my whole life, and I’ve never had a problem with being either. Others – non-Muslims – have had the problem.

This is something that I encounter all the time, as a convert: “you’re Muslim? really? but you’re not Somali!” or “but you’re German”. Well, yes, both of those things. But first of all, why do we have these assumptions about all Muslims being foreign? And why do we assume that no American-born (or Canadian-born) person would want to be a practicing Muslim? It’s a really telling point about how many portrayals and understandings of Islam are negative.

If you’re interested in Islam in America, particularly from the point of view of a woman, this might be the book for you. Know ahead of time, though, that this isn’t a scholarly look at the religion – it’s a very personal story told from one woman’s perspective. It’s an interesting perspective, though, one that can still teach and reveal a lot to outsiders.

Rating:


This book is a part of the Ramadan Reading event happening here this month.

You can find other posts in the series by clicking on the image to the right, or by taking a look at the schedule of posts and reviews.

7 Comments

  • Amy August 16, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    This sounds like a really interesting book Carina, thanks for reviewing it for us 😀

  • Helen Murdoch August 17, 2010 at 8:53 am

    This looks really interesting and has now been added to my TBR list (which just seems to grow and grow!). I think it’s so great for us to read books about people who are different from ourselves, whether that is because of religion, geography, class, etc. It’s how we learn!

    • Carina August 17, 2010 at 1:19 pm

      Definitely, I love reading books about people who are different from me! (Hence why I read this one the first time around.) And sometimes a person’s personal story can be more interesting to an ‘outsider’ than a book that is more fact-based.

  • zibilee August 17, 2010 at 10:39 am

    I like that this book gives you the facts and lets you make your own decisions. It sounds like a refreshing change, because most of the books that deal with religion and spirituality tend to be a little pushy at times. Glad to know you liked this one and that it was just as good the second time around.

    • Carina August 17, 2010 at 1:20 pm

      I agree with you about how most religion/spirituality books are a little pushy. This one definitely wasn’t – it was just a person talking about her personal experiences, which was nice.

  • Darlyn August 21, 2010 at 10:20 am

    This is so interesting! Being born and raised in Muslim community seems to be normal. I’ve never be in a foreign country like America and see how’s their daily life would be.I think it is kind of adventure.

    • Carina August 21, 2010 at 8:08 pm

      This book definitely showed her perspective of growing up Muslim in a non-Muslim community, I think you’d enjoy it!

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