Thursday, February 22, 2007

"American Muslims have bought into the American dream"

alt.muslim interview with Paul Barrett, author of the recently published book American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion

American Muslims, before the terrorist attacks of September 2001, were largely an ignored group within American society. Yet even though American Muslims had nothing to do with those terrible events, they were later looked upon with intense scrutiny. Slowly, a picture was painted of them that resembled the worst of stereotypes from across the Muslim world - though in reality, most Americans would be hardpressed to identify Muslims from among them. As years went by and tensions became more visible in Europe, fears of terrorism were supplemented with those of domestic unrest and separatism. Even then, very few comprehensive studies of the American Muslim landscape were made available to understand exactly who this community was. Some statistics revealed a prosperous, well educated group that is decidedly more secular than Muslims in Europe. Yet despite this, an influential American Islam has emerged - as has been seen through noted convert scholars like Sheikh Hamza Yusuf and others - that appears to be stripped of traditional cultural influences from the Muslim world. Is the American Muslim experience largely a happy coincidence? Is it fostered by the lack of a single dominant immigrant identity? Or is it a result of the structure of American society itself. Paul Barrett, an editor at BusinessWeek, spent much of 2004 researching the American face of Islam through detailed interviews with seven of its adherents from various walks of life who explain their stories and journeys in great detail. The result is his new book, American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion, published this month by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. In it, he finds a generation secure in its identity as Americans and Muslims, confronting the problems they find with confidence, and determined to find - despite their diverse demography - an equilibrium that will bring about the best that their religion has to offer. It's a situation often envied by others in Europe, prompting British MP Shahid Malik, of Dewsbury, England, to comment recently, "America doesn't know how good it's got it." alt.muslim's Zahed Amanullah recently spoke to Paul recently about his book and the conclusions he reached.

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