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 exploration of the many manifestations of Islam across cultures, traditions, communities, and political lines ... Mouallem’s search takes an intersectional approach to faith, and he draws from personal experience (both his own and his hosts’) to pose difficult and profound questions that don’t have simple answers. Grappling with his own relationship to Islam throughout his reflections and journeys, Mouallem is unafraid to voice doubt ... It is in these penetrating questions – and the honesty and vulnerability they reveal – that Mouallem demonstrates why he is an award-winning writer. Leaning into the discomfort of holding more than one space at one time, Mouallem deepens his investigation of faith to reflect its complexity ... Mouallem also speaks to the anti-Blackness within the ummah – the larger Muslim body – and the history of Islam, willing to pierce through his own privilege to grow into deeper understanding ... Mouallem is masterful in his ability to both embrace what he loves and interrogate the faith he was born into. It takes a gift of discernment to define and redefine what it means to be a Muslim without romanticizing its problems or giving Islamophobes more fodder. Mouallem walks this thin line with grace and candour ... Mouallem consciously and courageously resists a monolithic approach to a faith tradition that is too often relegated to headlines and media stereotypes in the Americas. It’s a refreshing read that shines light on the humanity of Islam through the words, reflections, and lives of its practitioners.
[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.
... a riveting new book intends to rebalance Western understandings of the religion ... Mouallem is filling a major gap in knowledge ... manages to cover hundreds of years of Islamic and pan-American history without falling prey to boring digressions or sweeping cliches, an impressive feat for a book that stretches to almost 400 pages. In this quasi-memoir, Mouallem’s readers will also see a more positive, nuanced portrait of Islam than they might find in much of the news media or popular culture. The more Islamophobia proliferates, the more necessary books like Mouallem’s become ... readers will gain a new appreciation for Islam and the Americas from this book.