How much does our religion define us? What does it mean to be a minority when people don’t understand your religion. How do you live in a country where there is a growing movement of hatred toward anyone who is different? These are some of the themes that Nadine Jolie Courtney attempts to tackle in the book All-American Muslim Girl.
The story focuses on Allie Abraham. She is the child of a first generation Muslim immigrant who marries an American woman. Allie doesn’t give off the impression of being Muslim as she is blonde, appears more white than brown, and her family is non-practicing. Her mother converted to Islam and her father wants to immerse himself in only American culture. Allie has always been that perfect, straight A student. She enjoys levels of white privilege due to the fact that she is not openly Muslim. Courtney then asks – “Who is Allie, if she sheds the façade of the “perfect” all-American girl? What does it mean to be a “Good Muslim?” And can a Muslim girl in America ever truly fit in?”
I found the story to be absolutely beautiful. It got me thinking on so many levels about how religion and heritage fit into our lives. The fact that Allie was white allowed her to fit in when she followed a don’t ask don’t tell attitude toward her religion. This is very similar to how most American Jews are able to live, so it did hit home. Wearing a hijab every day makes a statement about your beliefs in the same way that wearing a yarmulke does. When the world starts to lash out at people of your heritage, it doesn’t matter where you are on the religious spectrum, it is hard to sit by and let it happen.
The book starts off powerfully with a scene on an airplane. The news is reporting that there has just been a shooting. Allie’s thoughts immediately go to “Please, God, don’t let there have been a Muslim involved.” A cable news host starts on the typical rant against immigrants and Muslims and even the people on the plane start whispering comments. But when Allie’s father receives a phone call from his mother, who only speaks Arabic, the situation turns ugly. Allie and her parents handle it with grace, but it has sparked something in her and she can no longer sit silently and let the hatred continue. Allie starts to think more about her religion and what it means to her.
Allie has always been seen by her peers as white. She has never lied about being Muslim, but she has also never told anyone that aspect of her background. The incident on the plane and her struggle to hold a conversation with her own grandmother draws her to the religion. She secretly purchases and Qur’an and starts to read it. She joins a Muslim study group and becomes good friends with the other girls in the group. She discovers the comfort in praying and understanding her heritage, even learning the language.
With the growing Islamophobia as well as xenophobia, she is concerned what her other friends and the wider community will think. Especially when it turns out that her new boyfriend’s father is a political talk show host who spews hatred towards the Islamic community and immigrants in general.
I did struggle with the fact that Allie hid the fact that she was embracing her Muslim identity from her father, but she had her reasons. I also found it odd that her mother knew and helped her while also keeping her secret.
Upon finishing the book, I saw that the idea of being an All-American Muslim girl came from Nadine Jolie Courtney’s own experiences and her emotions after the Muslim travel ban. The following was taken from her website.
“As a blonde-haired, green-eyed Muslim of Circassian descent, Nadine was raised to hide the truth about her religion, spending years hiding behind her white-passing privilege. Following the Muslim Ban, she gathered the courage to write a love letter to Islam—a book about a young girl running toward her Islamic heritage, rather than away from it.”
This is one of those powerful books that deserves a wide audience and a lot of love.