Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Islam's All-American authors

There's the one about the guy in love with WWE wrestling and punk music. Then there's the one about the only non-Catholic girl in Catholic school who wished she could be the Virgin Mary in the Christmas play. Then there's the Boulderite who moved to Cairo and found the love(s) of her life.
In the past few months, I've come across three beautiful, hilarious and eye-opening memoirs written by American Muslims. One reason I've been drawn to these stories is sort of selfish: the authors are young, based out of cities I'm familiar with and grew up in with the same kind of pop culture I'm familiar with.
My second reason for seeking out these books is because Islam is a religion that is constantly in the news, but often as a big, nebulous "other." I get the feeling that Islam isn't always viewed as a "real" American religion. Numbers vary, but the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life estimates 2.5 million of us Americans are Muslim. A big chunk, and a big chunk of stories.
The best part? At least three of them have written really hilarious/personal/great books that you should read!

I loved "The Butterfly Mosque" by G. Willow Wilson. The Boulderite moved to Cairo to teach English, but she had no idea she would fall in love with a religion, a city and a man all at once. She gives an honest, grounded account of her conversion, her marriage to a deeply devout person and her adjustment to a society that sees women, religion and independence in a much different light. Plus, she was just 27 when she wrote this (it was published this year!)

"Impossible Man" by Michael Muhammad Knight was a much different story that was just as page-turning. Knight was barely a teenager when he found Islam in a book about Malcom X. In Knight's book, he spares us no details of his his trailer park youth, his messed-up family life and his initially rigid view of Islam and the West. I can't wait to see his film "Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam."

I have to admit, I haven't read this one yet, but I met Asma Gull Hasan, author of "Red, White and Muslim," just tonight at a panel discussion. She's a lifelong Coloradoan who often has to explain her religion to people who have never met a Muslim before. Her descriptions of growing up Muslim in a Catholic school, her close-knit relationship with her mom and her trials with online dating had me laughing uncontrollably. Check her work out here.

What are you reading? Got any great religious memoirs (of any religion) to share?