Journalist Omar Mouallem travels to thirteen mosques and discovers the surprising history of their communities. But what he finds also challenges his own long-held personal beliefs, and even his sense of identity.
[A] fascinating, occasionally exasperating and almost infallibly instructive read ... Praying to the West is certainly a testament to his journalistic acumen, full of well-chosen and vividly rendered stories. The book is a peripatetic illustration of how many people, often scattered and marginal, practice Islam in the Americas. It’s when he is chronicling the plight of these people that Mr. Mouallem is at his best ... But Mr. Mouallem is also determined to present Muslims in the West as a victimized minority, a narrative that doesn’t always fit the picture he describes and shortchanges the factual complexity of his subject. Careful readers will notice the contradictions ... The author does not shy away from the ugly facts. He is, at bottom, an instinctively honest reporter ... he often and pointedly refrains from passing judgment in any conclusive way.
...absorbing ... The immigrant experience described by Mouallem will sound familiar to many Americans: the desire by the first generation to assimilate, followed by a rediscovery of roots by their children, then a more eclectic approach by grandchildren. The mosques he visits reflect these different relationships to assimilation ... his book has made it impossible not to see this faith tradition’s rich complexity.
...this book is about how the Americas shaped their Muslim communities. And that’s a good thing. The story is historically important yet generally unremarked upon ... a book that oscillates between the fascinating and the mundane ... if his 'pull back the veil to reveal nothing' approach wins over some of the conspiracy-mongers who believe mosques are places where Muslims gather to plot world domination, so much the better. But would this retroactively mitigate the boredom the rest of us felt at reading what we’ve long considered obvious? Difficult to say. Even time might not tell ... As for the fascinating stuff, much of it has to do with the formation of early Muslim communities in various parts of the Americas ... Mouallem has discovered as much and more, what with his dive into the matter of how and why certain communities have evolved ... the most interesting chapters see Mouallem mingling with Muslims or descendants thereof in other countries ... Perhaps it is no coincidence that Mouallem’s writing, which at times suffers from poor word choice and syntactical confusion, acquires a literary flourish when he sketches these places ... Woven into the narrative is the story of Mouallem’s personal struggle with his Muslimness. This aspect of the book proves only moderately engaging, in large part because it is devoid of tension ... however quixotic Mouallem’s mission to carve out a niche for himself as a nonbelieving Muslim, it is sincere in nature and unpretentious in approach.