Monday, May 18, 2009

Trying on religion

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross' memoir only scratches the surface of his religious development. This book is different than Jacobs' book in that his year is not deliberate. In fact the book really spans much more than a year. Gartenstein-Ross explains his secular upbringging with hippie parents in Ashland, Oregon and his personal growth in social activism as un undergraduate at Wake-Forest College in North Carolina. Much of this is due to his friendship with al-Husein, a Muslim who is vocal about racism, and other social justice issues. His own conversion to Islam seems rather abrupt, however. His year with "radical Islam" begins after he graduates when he begins working for a Muslim charity called Al Haramain in Oregon. The men he works with (he is completely segregated from women) scrutinize virtually everything he does and let him know whenever he is doing anything that does not please Allah. This includes listening to any kind of music, wearing shorts, and playing computer games. He also points out, no fewer than three times, that Islam proscribes everything, including how to "wipe after you go to the bathroom." While he does question many of these, he also researches them, but always follows the set rules explained to him. Even after he moves to New York for law school he continues to follow the rigid brand of Islam he had been following for the previous year. He begins to question his faith while away, and eventually converts to Christianity, which makes his Christian girlfriend quite happy. Again, while Gartenstein-Ross is honest about his doubts regarding Islam, and makes it clear that he does quite a bit of research about both faiths, I was still left wondering about the conversion. Why didn't he just return the the more moderate form of Islam he converted to in the first place?

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