Books

A Weak Case for the Important Issue of 'Muslims and the Making of America'

A book like Muslims and the Making of America is necessary in these times, and it's for that very reason that Hussain's effort is so disappointing.


Muslims and the Making of America

Publisher: Baylor University Press
Price: $24.95
Author: Amir Hussain
Length: 132 pages
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2016-10
Affiliate
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There is no doubt that Muslims are as much a part of American history as any other group that faces bias today, but Muslims and the Making of America (hereafter Muslims) does not make the case they deserve. Published in late 2016, the timeliness of Muslims' subject matter needs little explanation given the debate that was taking place (and continues to take place). However, it's unclear what Muslims actually hoped to accomplish.

More than anything, the book is greatly disserved by its complete lack of references (other than a number of suggestions for further reading at the end). It's hard to imagine any book intended for readers "both in and beyond academic institutions" that would have been green-lighted with so little attention to supporting its historical accounting. Although, it soon becomes clear, the historical accounting for a book dedicated to proving the influence of Islam in America is sorely under-researched.

From the beginning, the writing is awkwardly informal and prone to rambling, disconnected paragraphs with little attention to narrative. In the first chapter during the section devoted to African Muslim slaves and early America, Hussain spends hardly any time on the subject and the vast majority of its pages aimlessly recounting the drama of the "Ground Zero Mosque" from 2010 without even attempting to contrive a connection between the subject of the section and the discussion that follows. The section then abruptly ends with the self-satisfied "Muslims are part of the history of Lower Manhattan", having said nothing about their connection other than reiterating an un-sourced statistic mentioned in the book's introduction that ten percent of the slaves brought to America may have been Muslim. It becomes especially clear that Muslims demanded the skills of a more dedicated editor when parts of Chapter One are nearly copy-and-pasted verbatim from the Introduction, making for a difficult start to an already brief book.

Hussain writes with a very elementary syntax more suited to the style of a blog post than a published book. After recounting the plot of Alex Haley's Roots (1976), Hussain writes, "Who knew that some of the slaves brought over from Africa were Muslims...?" His undisciplined writing style continually resurfaces throughout the book as when he spends an inexplicable amount of time discussing Islam's understanding of Christ in a section devoted to the greatest Muslims in sports. His narrative about Kareem Abdul-Jabar strings together lazy, self-reinforcing assumptions more than source-supported facts. For Abdul-Jabar, Hussain once again drags out the ten percent statistic that goes forever unsourced but perpetually relied upon. This time, it is proof that conversion to Islam was not a conversion, at all, but a reversion, as Hussain sees it, to the ways of Abdul-Jabar's ancestors (somewhere along the way the other 90 percent of non-Muslim slaves are completely disregarded).

Indeed, spending eight pages of 125 total on Kareem Abdul-Jabar seems bewildering. If the argument that "Islam has always been a part of America" rests so heavily on one or two figures, it's a tough case to make. This is ultimately the most disappointing element of Muslims: the lack of preparation to write a book on this subject (in perhaps the timeliest moment in modern history) is stunning. By the end, the reader is left with a handful of factoids: Muslims may have comprised ten percent of the early slaves; a famous music producer was Muslim; as were two of the biggest names in sports. Does retelling Muhammad Ali's and Kareem Abdul-Jabar's very famous conversion stories actually make the case that Islam has always been a part of American history?

We are reminded that "there is also an older connection here between athletics and civil rights", though the fact that that connection has to do with African-American civil rights, rather than Muslim American civil rights, is as usual entirely ignored. Hussain repeatedly wanders between African-American history and Muslim American history with only the most tangential, forced connections.

The lack of preparation aside, Hussain regularly stretches logic beyond all bounds, as when he discusses the circumambulation of "mourner's benches" in African Methodist Episcopal Churches. Hussain's conclusion? Muslims also circumambulate around the Ka'ba in Mecca. For Hussain, these are "subtle traces", for anyone else it's an entirely bizarre revelation that a religious studies professor wouldn't acknowledge that circumambulation is an almost universal cultural and religious practice with no more specific connection to Islam than, say, Judaism or Christianity (i.e., the two religions that pre-date and lay a foundation for many Muslim doctrines).

By the time Hussain argues that the Trump Taj Mahal demonstrates the influence of Islam on America, it becomes impossible to believe he genuinely wants to make the case he outlines in the Introduction. In the chapter "Muslims on the American Landscape", the influence of Islam on America has been exchanged for American "fascination with the Orient", which Hussain shows us in the depiction of the camel mascot of Camel cigarettes.

It all begs the question: who is Hussain writing this book for? It is difficult (but troublingly possible) to imagine anyone so ignorant of American history not to have known that yes, Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabar were/are Muslim; yes, Muslims have lived in the United States for generations; yes, Islamic architecture and music have traveled to and influenced America. That's how culture works: it doesn't remain contained where it originated. For anyone seeking a thoughtful account of Islam in American history, however, unfortunatley, Muslims and the Making of America does not deliver.

2

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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