"Many Assumptions Collapse as Jewish Author Studies America’s Muslims," a Commentary by Paul M. Barrett

February 16, 2007

Author: Paul M. Barrett

Source: The Columbus Dispatch


"Did they know you were Jewish? "

I often hear that question when people learn I’ve spent four years researching and writing a book about American Muslims. The answer is yes, and rather than hinder my reporting, disclosure usually helped.

For one thing, the differing reactions I got underscored a central point of my book: American Muslims are anything but monolithic. Shiite Iraqi immigrants who originally supported the U.S. invasion of their homeland see the world differently from Sunnis who passionately opposed the war. White ex-hippie converts to Sufism, Islam’s mystical cousin, have sharply different views from black ex-convict Muslims who embraced the faith behind bars. American Islam is an intricate mixture of devout and secular, moderate and extreme, insular and integrated.

On the topic of Israel, the vast majority of Muslims agree: They don’t like the Jewish state. Longstanding U.S. support for Israel is the single greatest source of frustration to American Muslims. But that doesn’t mean they all hate Jews. Some do, just as some Jews reflexively despise Muslims. With few exceptions, I was welcomed into the mosques and Muslim homes I visited.

It’s true I heard some unsettling notions about American power and who wields it. In Dearborn, Mich., I had a series of long interviews with Imam Husham al-Husainy, a voluble Shiite Iraqi emigre who leads the Karbalaa Islamic Education Center. Initially a backer of the U.S. invasion of his homeland, Al-Husainy had come to believe that the bedlam that has followed had to be intentional - the result of a conspiracy.