I just finished reading Michael Muhammad Knight’s latest book, Tripping With Allah: Islam, Drugs, and Writing. As is very typical with MMK’s work, I was usually captivated, somewhat enlightened, and, at times, extremely confused. We’ll start with what I learned.
Knight’s latest work taught me a great deal about the history of drug use in religious practice, the basic background of the Santo Daime faith, and some parts of the slave trade that I don’t remember covering in history class. I also learned about how Transformers and Dinobot Island can provide allegorical framework for just about any discussion about society and religion… and those discussions that don’t fall into the Transformers realm seem to always relate to the world of pro-wrestling… but I digress.
In fact, digressing is a major part of MMK’s book, as well. In this hybrid Fiction/Non-Fiction, MMK oft employs a stream-of-consciousness prose style, albeit with structure. The digressions can be distracting, at times, but typically just provide added insight and/or quippy anecdotal information.
Back to the review, I guess… so… in addition to learning about the Transformers, drugs, and the slave trade, I found that MMK continues to find better ways to say things that I’ve thought and said, as I’ve noticed in much of his work. One such example that had me on the hook was:
Plenty of Americans are unable to conceive that their country has its own underground, an if they do, they fail or refuse to admit that the underground, the counter-narrative, is just as “American” as the patriots’ mythology on top. So the T-shirts and bumper stickers tell me, “Love it or leave it,” missing the obvious fact that I do love America, maybe more than they do-but my America is also the anti-America, the lineage of Shakers and Nat Turner and William Lloyd Garrison and Emma Goldman and the Weathermen. Loving America doesn’t meant that you buy into that aboveground story of freedom and democracy or that you want to see Ronald Reagan’s head on Mount Rushmore.
Like I said, as he always does, Knight found ways to connect with some the very thoughts going through my head.
So, what is this book, really? Great question. It’s not a Hunter S. Thompson book, first and foremost. The back of the book jacket is way off-base when it calls the book “a road book in the tradition of 2001: A Space Odyssey” and whoever called MMK “the Hunter S. Thompson of Islamic literature” was just looking to get their quote in other people’s reviews (oops, mission accomplished, I guess). MMK is no drug guru… and THANK ALLAH! Knight is level headed and not a wastoid, so calling him Hunter S. Thompson is an insult.
While it’s not some Islamic Fear and Loathing, it does deliver one of the most whacked out drug hallucination descriptions in print. That said, there were points where I thought there would be a let down, but then… BAM! There it was… and in true MMK fashion, it involved graphic depictions of sexual acts. But the vision was something more, it was something that reframed and redefined his faith.
So, through this rambling “review”, here’s what you need to know… this is a good book. But, I’m not so sure that you should start here if you’ve never read MMK. Then again, there’s nothing wrong with diving in head first.
PS. I kinda want to drink Ayahuasca now. Anyone want to front me a couple grand?