AMERICAN MUSLIMS: The New Generation
by Asma Gull Hasan
Available from News Weekly Books for $35.00 plus p&h
Mention the word Islam and one is tempted to conjure up negative images of pre-modern societies that oppress women and engage in terrorist activities.
Asma Gull Hasan, who describes herself as a feminist Muslim, challenges these simplistic stereotypes of Islam. American Muslims explores some of the main issues surrounding Muslims in American society.
As with Australia, most Muslims migrated to America from the 1960s onwards and are a small, but distinct minority. They are to be found in a variety of occupations and now have their own schools and community centres.
The major difference between the two communities is that a significant number of Muslims in America are black African converts, whose attraction to Islam was linked to the civil rights movement, for example Malcolm X.
Hasan explores many of the beliefs of Islam, particularly the five pillars (confession of faith, prayer five times a day, fasting during Ramadan, almsgiving and pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime if possible) as well as other aspects of Islam that people are familiar with such as the prohibition on eating pork. She challenges stereotypes, for example that women are oppressed within Islam.
While critical of the way in which some Islamic males treat women in some Islamic communities, Hasan argues that Muhammad raised the status of women, for example by commanding husbands that they had an obligation to be able to support their wives and by outlawing female infanticide, then commonly practised in Arabia.
One issue she discusses is the wearing of hijab or head covering. Hasan points out that hijab is an interpretation of passages of the Qur’an, one of which calls for modesty and is not necessary in a Western country as it calls attention to the wearer rather than deflecting attention, as is its intention.
Nevertheless, Hasan respects those women who decide to wear hijab arguing that many Muslim women choose to wear hijab because in doing so, they are valued for who they are as persons, not looked upon by men as a sex symbol.
This work also explores the phenomenon of Muslim terrorists, arguing that such actions are un-Islamic. Muslims, Hasan suggests, have a duty to live peacefully and abide by the laws of the society in which they find themselves. Jihad is primarily a personal struggle against evil in one’s own life, for example a struggle against selfishness and laziness.
This work also explores the movement Nation of Islam, led by Louis Farrakhan. Hasan considers that much of their rhetoric (that blacks are superior to whites) is un-Islamic and that most Afro-American Muslim converts are Sunni Muslims, even if their initial contact with Islam was through this movement.
What is perhaps most interesting for Christian readers are the similarities between Christianity and Islam. Both believe in one God, share stories from the Old Testament and believe in the Virgin Birth. Muslims, however, while they believe Jesus was a great prophet, do not believe he was divine.
American Muslims is an interesting insight into issues facing contemporary Islam in Western democracies, particularly for educated Islamic women. As with Christianity, Islam has many sects and interpretations of beliefs. Indeed, Hasan keeps reminding readers that each Muslim is free to interpret the Qur’an, but must give an account to Allah on Judgement Day. For this reason, no Muslim may judge the faith of another Muslim.