Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Burqas, Baseball, and Apple Pie by Ranya Idliby

Burqas, Baseball, and Apple Pie: Being Muslim in AmericaIdliby felt compelled to take up the challenge of educating her neighbors and fellow Americans about Islam and its believers in order to protect her children against bullying in school and in their daily lives. In the process she educated herself. She navigated the treacherous waters that can be found swirling about [any] organized religion to uncover basic truths that help her to be a better person, citizen, mother. She did not duck difficult questions about Islam. If only we all looked at the underpinnings of our beliefs with such seriousness, I feel sure we would be finer examples of our species.

She discovers the roots of and addresses the issues we have all wrestled with when considering Islam and Muslim societies abroad: the apparent subjugation of women, and the literal interpretation of the Quran. She is careful but unyielding in face of the worst excesses of American hate-mongering. How completely disorienting it must be to awake and find oneself part of a newly-designated “outsider” group.

There is a very nice section at the end, when Idliby considers the marriage prospects of her children. I think she solves it admirably, eloquently, and the book is worth reading for that alone. Would that every child had a mother so thoughtful with her guidance, we would not have such intractable social ills.

I liked the chapter devoted to Samuel Huntington’s 1993 article in Foreign Affairs, which is still being discussed today: in this chapter she explains her discomfort when someone considers the “inevitable, preordained, historically predetermined” conflict of values, religion, and cultures. She asks, fairly, how that fits with her family living in America as good citizens and progressive Muslims. “It is more accurate today to speak of the complicity of civilizations.” It is an interesting point which extends the discussion with hope and direction, i.e., usefully.

This book would do well to go on school reading lists because it is so clear in its examples of thoughtless, heartless things all of us, but especially children and teens, think and say that really hurt others and hinder their development as responsible adults. (I am not talking now about her examples of TV Fox and Friends and Sean Hannity raves that are pure and simple uninformed hate talk.) Children need to be educated about their language and tone, and what’s funny and what is really not so funny. She is clear about this—how hurtful things make it difficult for discriminated groups to participate.

It is sad, but probably true that “Islamophobes make it easier for terrorists to find one more vulnerable recruit….radicalization in American-born Muslims is not caused by the Quran: rather it is rooted in alienation, where troubled youths embrace a radicalized prospective of the world, enabled and empowered by radicalized readings of the Quran.” This is too simple, but there is some truth here. The discussion is a valuable one for it gives us something we can do: educate ourselves.

It is worth noting, however, that Idliby’s brand of religion is not always recognized by her fellow Muslims as Islamic. Just as there are some in every religion or group who seek to include variants, there will ever be those who claim their own particular understanding is the right one. It is not that we are back to square one, exactly. We have expanded our understanding a little to include this family and others like it in what we take to be ‘our America.’

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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