Islam in America
by Jane I. Smith
New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. 251 pp. $35.00.
Reviewed by Khalid Durán
Middle East Quarterly
Smith's highly uneven book does a masterful job of making the controversial look uncontroversial. Specialists may be delighted to see an American scholar learn the typically Shi`i skill of making a descriptive presentation look analytical. This is taught as a traditional art at Shi`i seminaries, and it remains a skill not acquired by many outsiders. The general tenor suggests that the book began as a response to questions from church organizations interested in dialogue with Muslims in America. Readers with a different perspective may be disappointed by the many questions that Islam in America leaves unanswered.
The chapter on African-American Muslims is comprehensive, informative and lucid, a remarkable feat in view of the complexity of the subject. Even a whole volume surveying African-American Islam would be difficult; condensing it into a single chapter and making it possible even for the layman to understand the overview is evidence of admirable writing skill.
But this scholarly gift makes all the more baffling Smith's meager treatment of the Islamic organizations that claim to represent Muslims in the United States—another intricate and important topic. The reader gets barely a glimpse of this crucial issue and finishes the study without even an inkling of its explosive nature, and especially the growing unrest of Muslims at being manipulated by political adventurers. Chapters on the origins of Islamic religion and its history take away from space badly needed for information on the book's main subject. Knowledgeable readers will note several inaccuracies, for instance what she says about the Prophet's assisting in the reconstruction of the Ka`ba by advising how to put the Black Stone back into place.
Related Topics: Muslims in the United States | Khalid Durán | Winter 2000 MEQ
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