Journey to the End of Islam, Michael Muhammad Knight. (Soft Skull Press) $16.95
Born Irish Catholic in upstate New York to an abusive, white-supremacist father, Michael Muhammad Knight rebelled against his Christian upbringing at age 13 and officially adopted Islam at 17. Shortly after his conversion, Knight made his first journey to Islamabad, Pakistan to study at Faisal Mosque, during which time he considered joining the jihad in Chechnya. Knight’s disenchantment with orthodox Islam inspired his underground novel The Taqwacores, the story of fictitious Muslim punk band. It wasn’t long before the fantasy Taqwacore scene became a reality, and young Muslim readers rallied to encourage Knight in his faith. In Journey to the End of Islam Knight chronicles his second trip to Pakistan, as well as his pilgrimage to holy sites in Syria, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, as he wrestles with questions concerning Islamic doctrine and what it means to live as a Muslim. By utilizing his middle name, Muhammad, Knight is able to superficially integrate himself into various Islamic cultures and gains access to holy sites in his quest for insight. The author flaunts his extensive, well-read knowledge of Islam and history in general. While not unpleasant, his stream of consciousness writing style in Journey rambles. Knight pursues rabbit trails like Thomas Jefferson’s secret version of the Bible, the theology and practice of Rastafarianism, and many of the legends—some contemporary—behind celebrated Muslims. Such meandering emphasizes Knight’s already evident spiritual and personal confusion.
It is difficult to consider the author a true Muslim, as he bravely questions everything regarding Islam: he scorns the aya (verses) in the Quran that require women to submit to their husbands, pray separately from men, and to abstain from sex outside the confines of marriage. However, Knight sees Islam in everything, even in his collectible Star Wars action figures—pilgrims that he arranges around a replica Ka’ba (depicted on the cover). He finds it in The Dark Knight and in the mathematics of the dates and times (from his Five Percenters education). In this Middle Eastern road novel, Knight mines Islam for American versions of freedom. But to satisfy his quest, he is finally forced to create his own version of the Islamic faith:
I’m still a Muslim, so I must be the imam of me, the alim of me, the shaykh of me, the caliph of me, the Master Fard of me. The Mothership is my mother’s hip, I’m the Mahdi of me. My own gate to the city of knowledge, I’m the Ali of me. Bear witness to yourself. I’m the Muhammad of me. (p. 377)
If Knight’s Journey to the End of Islam really just leads to Michael Muhammad Knight, then I’m more than a little disappointed I didn’t see it coming. He effectively informs and engages his readers both in fiction and nonfiction works, and I enjoyed Journey considerably. It’s unfortunate then that he insists too much on being the protagonist, too little on the narrator.
Raised in Urbana, OH, Kat Wisecup wrote her first complete book (Another ABC Book) at age 7—which was illustrated and published by her 1st grade class—and went on to win several writing awards throughout her time in elementary school. Wisecup currently works in the accounting industry and resides in Los Angeles, CA.