Polls* suggest that there are quite a few people in the United States that hold negative views towards Islam and Muslims or just don’t even know any Muslims. That along with the mixed messages about the religion one may get from the media has prompted some people to step up and tell their stories as American Muslims. Not because they think they are more awesome than most, but to portray how Muslims really are instead of letting random people without any proper knowledge speak for them.
Some of these stories have been contained in books – the first one was called I Speak For Myself and was released last year. The book contained essays from various American Muslim woman from all walks of life writing about various parts of their lives.
Due to the success of that book, the people behind it worked diligently on a follow up, this time focusing on American Muslim men instead. I know what you are thinking – should we really even care about what American Muslim men think? Looking at the first I Speak for Myself and the anthology Love, InshAllah, one could get the sense that American Muslim women are the only misunderstood group when it comes to Muslims. From those books we see that these women are just like you and me (yes, I know that doesn’t bear much weight to it as I am also an American Muslim woman but you know what I mean ;).
The results of this endeavor to compile essays from these men was just released. Edited by Wajahat Ali and Zahra Suratwala, All-American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim collects essays from Muslim men of many ethnicities who are poets, journalists, entrepreneurs, lawyers, and from a host of other backgrounds. Some were born Muslim, others came into the religion later in life. Each has their own story to tell.
Okay so let me stop there and say that this isn’t a review. I don’t think it’d be fair for me to review it because I volunteer for the same organization as a couple of people involved with this book and I’m Facebook friends with them and a couple of other contributors. Since Facebook friends = best friends (that’s how it works, right??!!), it’d be a conflict for me to say that I can present an unbiased review for this book.
Having said that, my biased self really liked this book. Actually, I liked it a lot better than I thought I would. Does that sound bad? I don’t mean it to.
The book consists of a collection of essays that were honest, with some even being downright inspiring. There were classic tales of facing adversity, striving for a better life, and overcoming doubts. These were very human stories that will hopefully present as a substitute for those who really don’t have a clue about American Muslims and who they are.
The editors did an excellent job of gathering the essays and really getting them down to a good length as each essay is an average of 4 pages. There really is just no room to get bored with this book. By the end, I only had one minor editing quibble but to say anything about that here will only reveal what giant nerd I am so I reckon I won’t say anything.
After I finished reading All-American, I wanted to know everyone’s story. Not just Muslims, but like, everyone’s story. Muslims aren’t the first group of people to publish narratives – there’s a ton of stuff out there to read. Also, I think I’m going to start more random conversations with people I don’t know. Come to think of it, I think I’ll talk more with the people I only know somewhat. We all have our own stories with our own unique perspectives and it’ll definitely be interesting to get to know one another on a more significant level.
*From Pew Forum: Public Remains Conflicted Over Islam