Osama Van Halen is not the kind of novel that presents a “world” one can enjoy as a microcosm. Several times, it stops short just before it creates a solid narrative of certain topics. However, this tendency is consistent with the sufistic spirit of self-effacement that the narrator keeps mentioning in the novel. In the first life action part of the novle, Amazing Ayyub initially joins force with Rabeya (both are main characters in Michael Muhammad Knight’s first novel The Taqwacores) in kidnapping Matt Damon and to send a message to Hollywood not to vilify Muslims anymore in their production. Yes, Amazing Ayyub realizes the irony in demanding Hollywood to stop depicting Muslims as terrorists by committing an act of terrorism (kidnapping one of the most expensive Hollywood assets). However, this action is interrupted as Amazing Ayyub gets distracted by the emergence of a Muslim pop-punk group Shah 79 (remember Blink 182 and Sum 41 here).
However, I think it’s also fair to say that the solidity of this novel comes from a series of small adventures: Ayyub encountering a Shi’ite Heavy Metal band preparing themselves for an apocalyptic mission to fight Dajjal, Ayyub finding a mosque overrun by zombies created by one of the most prominent Muslim figures in the U.S., Ayyub joining a nascent taqwacore band that fails gracefully, and so on.
In brief, you come to this novel with the expectation of finding an uninterrupted story like Knight’s first novel, then this novel won’t quench your thirst. However, if you are more interested in the issues of Islam in America, especially those related to the non-conservative views of Islam that are open to alternatives even to the moderate, liberal, or progressive Muslims, then this book might be a good thinking exercise. If you come to this novel with a sound but intolerant view of what a good novel should be, then you will flip out every other chapter. But, if you are open to the possibility of forms in novel, or if you believe that novel is still an evolving genre that welcomes any conceivable innovations, then Osama Van Halen might offer an exhilarating read.
From my readings (I’ve read it twice), there are a number of themes that this novel explores in various intensity: the idea of progressive Islam, the cooptation of subculture into the entertainment industry, the vilification of Muslims in Hollywood, the spread of conservatism, the objectification of women (even by the author himself), the issues related to white Muslim converts, race relation, postmodernity both in Islam and in literature, etc.
I’m not comfortable using big words, merely because what Amazing Ayyub does to a character of an Islamic Studies graduate student in the novel who keeps blurting out big words and social theory lingo … I’m just not comfortable doing this… 😀