Asma Hasan begins her book Red, White, and Muslim with a quick note to the reader and the following quote from the Qur’ an:
It may be that God will grant love and friendship between you and those who you now hold as enemies. For God has power over all things; and God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
I love that Oft-Forgiving and Most Merciful are capitalized. It is as if these human qualities are alternative names for God themselves. I wonder how Western culture might be different if “we” worshipped Oft-Forgiving instead of Jesus and the Christian god (I have a hard time understanding the necessity of a crucifixion if REAL forgiveness is involved)?
I love the idea of the personification and embodiment of benevolent emotions in a god. Pantheistic and Pagan religions and traditions do this almost by definition. One of my favorite Buddhist deities is Avalokiteśvara. This god (Boddhisatva–more like a deified saint) hears the cries of sentient beings, and works tirelessly to help those who call upon his name. Avalokiteśvara has 33 different manifestations (including both genders) and each of these manifestations exist to suit the mind of the various individuals with which the god interacts. Avalokiteśvara is most often portrayed with multiple arms (with as many as a thousand) each willing and ready to dispense comfort and aid to those in need.
While I am rather suspicious of seemingly codependent “celestial bellhops” I do think that the idea of a god as an archetype/manifestation of human emotion has been quite helpful as a schema to help us order our understanding of ourselves and each other. I also think that the deification of these human attributes has helped us foster and emulate altruistic ideals. The Roman pagans seemed particularly adept at imagining these characters. I suspect that an unfortunate side-affect of abrahamic monotheism is that while God is given different names that coincide with certain imagined attributes, these names are often overshadowed by the perceived awful omnipotence of the numinous.
Those of you who know me well know that I tend to be harshly critical of religious practice. Some of you might misunderstand my criticism and believe that I am critical of all religion. This is not the case. Unlike my favorite
curmudgeon atheist authors Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens I believe that humanity should be grateful for our religious traditions and knowledge. It is within the world’s religions that we find the stories that expose our historical state-of-mind. Essentially our ancestor’s psychological meanderings and journeys are all contained within our religions. It is in our holy books that we find hope for redemption, thrilling hopes, and our darkest fears. However generally I remain quite aligned with Dawkins and Hitchens about the contemporary practice of religion being superfluous and even psychologically harmful. I believe that religion should be explored and discussed, valued and questioned, but NEVER practiced (my glib apologies to those of you who do).
Red, White, and Muslim is a beautiful book with an annoying proselytizing flavor. Hasan’s passion is likeable and very accessible. She adeptly portrays the humanity and beautiful commonness of the average muslim. Her description of her American family is like that of any other. Their is a welcoming familiarity in her description of her relatives and family events. Additionally, her description of various Islamic sects is informative and rather orienting for an average American accustomed to a media that tends to . Yet, despite an admirable effort the reader will most likely be disappointed (because Hasan is so like able) when she fails to convince us of the virtues of some of the more restrictive Islamic practices. Hasan’s desire for Islam to be a feminist friendly practice is endearing but naive. Her earnest explanation for the Qur’an’s mandate that daughters receive half of the inheritance that their sons receive is downright uncomfortable in it’s ridiculousness. Still, her effort is appreciated and her informal language and descriptions are captivating. The reader almost wants there to be veracity to her claims.
Red, White, and Muslim is a great read–especially for those of us who might be a bit uncomfortable with our own prejudices and ignorance about those who practice Islam. I look forward to the day when more of us are able to call each other friend instead of enemy. May whatever diety, philosophy or creed you follow grant you the wisdom to choose friendship over enmity.