Book Reviews Taking Back Islam by Michael Wolfe


If you are reading this essay, then I imagine that you are wondering if this book would be worth reading, and whether or not it belongs on your bookshelf. I must say, unqualified and enthusiastically, you bet!

This is an anthology of essays about being a Muslim in the 21st century, and the potential and the realities of life in the Western world when your life is imbued and ennobled by faith in Islam. Most of the authors are American Muslims, and they are reacting to the very real threats of those who have, as President Bush memorably stated, “hijacked a religion of peace.”

The essays of the book

This book contains essays on the place of women, the error of terrorism, the place of the Muslim in culture, the relationship of Muslims and other People of the Book, the African-American experience of Islam, and the place of democracy in Muslim nations. Now, these are not easy topics, and they are certainly not easy to write about, but these thoughtful and insightful essays do an incredible job.

There are no apologies here, but there is a call for a vibrant faith from Muslims who have a special obligation to defend their faith from those that would hijack it. And the book is written from a willingness to engage, and not to distance, other faiths. It is a wonderful book, for the Muslim, the Christian or the Jew. It is a reasonable and thoughtful effort to swim in the dangerous waters of religious tolerance.

Muslims, Christians, and Jews Parts of the Book

My least favorite portion of the book was on Muslims, Christians, and Jews. The four short essays in this part were at times condescending and at other times just misinformed. There was one notable exception, though. “Mom Raised Me as a Zionist,” by Mas’ood Cajee is very witty, humorous and heartfelt.

“Why I Love Being Muslim”

The best part of this book is the part that doesn’t try too hard. The last section is titled, “Why I Love Being Muslim.” Here, the essays are not only interesting but also vitally important to a sense of understanding between faiths. These are people who share their personal experiences, their native truths without self-consciousness or insecurity. You know how the bully talks? “What, you think you’re better than me?” Too often, religious discussions get drawn into that kind of self-destructive and unworthy chest-puffing. Not here. These essays are very honest, very thoughtful and even poignant.

I hope that every Muslim in America who is confronted with the dichotomy of religious life in a materialistic culture reads all the essays in the section titled, “Practicing Vibrant Islam in America.” For a Muslim, these six essays are very critical and timely.

I hope that everyone who gets a chance to find this wonderful book takes the time to read it. The essays are short and quick reading. And I doubt that there is a more important book on Islamic-American thought.

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