American Muslims: Bridging Faith and Freedom

By Muqtedar Khan

Review by Shahid Sheikh, Ed.D.
Executive Director
American Educational Research Institute
New York

Dr. M.A. Muqtedar’s book, “American Muslims: Bridging Faith and Freedom,” was published in 2002 to dispel American public’ widespread negative perception of Islam and Muslim here and abroad after 9/11. Additionally, the book is a quest for self-comprehension by a Muslim-American scholar through introspection combined with a re-examination of traditional topics related to Islam and the Muslim-Americans with an ultimate outcome being the defining and then forging of the Muslim-American identity.

Throughout the book, therefore, Khan raises many intriguing questions, for instance, is Islam compatible with the Western democracy? What are the prevailing political and religious trends among the Muslim-Americans? What political and religious roles should Muslim-Americans play vis-à-vis the United States and the Islamic world? How do Muslims perceive the United States’ foreign policy vis-à-vis “the growth of Islam and the welfare of Muslims everywhere?” With unusual candor, Khan discusses many controversial topics as well, such as, Muslim feminists and the role of mosques in the lives of Muslim-Americans, particularly women.

Given the exigency to put together an instant book aimed at the masses, Khan takes up a wide array of topics and provides a plethora of basic information about Muslim-Americans combined oftentimes with keen observations and brilliant insights. The limitations of space, however, hinder him from providing thorough, exhaustive and enlightening discussions on almost all topics. Skimpy outlines of important arguments and oftentimes premature termination of crucial discussions makes the reader oftentimes feel as if he/she is reading “Muslim-Americans for Dummies” instead of a scholarly work by an academic.

Another striking weakness of the book is that Khan does not buttress his personal perceptions, observations, generalizations and conclusions with research or documentation. This apparent lack lends flaccidity to the entire work especially when he candidly discusses controversial topics and puts out difficult-to-swallow opinions and analyses.

A superficial analysis and the lack of argumentation through documentation probably have been caused by two factors. First, Khan was totally unprepared for this book about Muslim-Americans because he was not a serious scholar of Muslim-Americans per say prior to 9/11. One can easily sense Khan’s discomfit with his chosen topic: he exclusively devotes only two chapters to Muslim-Americans in which he very briefly discusses their lives in terms of religion, politics and socio-economic issues and concerns. He leaves out the political history of the Muslim-Americans, fails to acknowledge the sacrifices and contributions of the African-Muslims and for that matter indigenous Muslims, and totally ignores their immigrant experience, the inevitable clash of cultures, the conflicts and pangs of assimilation, the tangled ties between generations, an indelibly-etched identity crisis, and, most poignantly, the erstwhile worsening Muslim civil rights conditions. By not even acknowledging their existence, Khan abandons his impartiality, which makes the book almost skewed.

In the subsequent six chapters, however, Khan visibly gets animated when he veers off to his favorite topic and academic forte -- international affairs. Here, he very comfortably discusses American foreign policy from a Muslim scholar’s perspective but couches the contents and phrases as the spokesperson for the Muslim-American community in an apparent attempt to be true to the book’s title. Second, though not much reliable research is available on Muslim-Americans, Khan chooses not to make use of whatever is available.

No doubt Muqtedar Khan has the rigorous training, superb analytical skills and intellectual stamina to write a thorough and well-researched scholarly work about Muslim-Americans. Let’s hope that he revises “American Muslims: Bridging Faith and Freedom,” into one such book in near future.

(The writer is the executive director of the New York City-based American Educational Research Institute and the moderator of http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Muslim-Americans. He can be reached at aeriusa@hotmail.com. )

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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