(p. 1) Introduction
(p. 1) Introduction
Could a Muslim become president of the United States? Thomas Jefferson thought so, though few other American leaders have even contemplated such an occurrence. President Barack Hussein Obama struggled mightily during his 2008 election campaign to assure the voting public that, despite his Arab-sounding name, he was not a Muslim, although his father was. A few asked whether it would have mattered if he were a Muslim, but for most people the answer was clear: Yes, it would have mattered a lot.
Not many Muslims in today’s United States aspire to such a high office, but Muslims are increasingly recognizing that election to public office is an important step in the ongoing story of the indigenization of Islam. The same is true for their emergence as leaders in education, science and technology, arts and music, and virtually all other fields of American endeavor. The image of American Islam is constantly in flux as new people join the community, new information becomes available, and Muslim leaders help develop new interpretations of the faith and new ways in which Islam can be practiced in a pluralistic society.
Implicit in the question of whether a Muslim can be president is another question that has always existed under the surface and has come to the forefront since the events of 9/11: “Are Muslims real Americans?” To this have been added other concerns, such as whether Muslims might constitute a fifth column, or whether they seek the destruction of America by insisting on implementing shari‘a. Similar questions have arisen whenever Americans have felt threatened by ethnic or minority groups that challenge the white Protestant establishment. Jewish and Catholic immigration to the United States sparked similar concerns. It is the unique American “melting pot” that has indigenized these religious communities. That six of the jurists on the Supreme Court today are Catholic and three are Jewish is a testament to American pluralism.
The kinds of concerns that some Americans have raised about Muslims have been particularly evident during those times in which the United States has been involved in overseas military engagement. The atrocities of 9/11 have posed a particular challenge as Muslims have had to “prove” their right to be citizens at the same time that they maintain a religious identity that has become inextricably intertwined with (p. 2) terrorism in the perspective of many Americans. The essays in this volume illustrate the many ways in which American Muslims today are rising to that challenge.
Part I: Formation of the Muslim Community in North America
The first Muslims to cross over to the American shores did so unwillingly. They were primarily West African Muslims brought as slaves to support the American cotton industry. Sylvianne Diouf describes ways in which they maintained their faith and shows how their legacy still can be discerned in various ways. One of those ways is American music, as they have been pioneers in doo-wop, jazz, hip-hop, and rap. Both Diouf and Carolyn Moxley Rouse trace the development of these first Africans in America, from the rise of Black nationalist movements, which grew in response to dehumanizing slavery, to the expansion of the powerful Nation of Islam, and concluding with contemporary manifestations of African American Islam. Rouse emphasizes that the adoption of Islam by African Americans is a clear response to white supremacy and that their struggles for equal citizenship in America reflect many of the same issues of belonging that immigrant Muslims have had to deal with throughout their history in the United States.
Middle Eastern Christians and Muslims first came to the United States in the latter part of the nineteenth century, at a time when only white or African American males were allowed citizenship. They were primarily labor migrants, single men not intending to stay longer than it took to earn enough money to return home and start businesses. Those who did decide to stay faced the reality of noncitizenship, which they had to endure until 1924, when they were deemed by the U.S. Courts to be white and thus eligible to become “real” Americans. It was not until 1965, with the change in immigration legislation, that significant numbers of Muslims began to arrive from various parts of the world. Randa Serhan looks at the overall question of Muslim immigrant presence in America within the framework of immigration literature, including issues of gender and sexuality.
After 1965, there was a new influx of Muslim immigrants, mostly from the Middle East and South Asia. Initially, they were mostly students looking for advanced education in such fields as science, engineering, and medicine. They came from newly independent nation states and brought with them vivid memories of Western imperialism in which bureaucrats, missionaries, teachers, and others were seen as having attempted to inculcate in them Western secular values to replace their own Islamic beliefs. Many of them tried to develop a distinctive Islamic community in America, one with its own religious, cultural, and social values implanted onto the American landscape. Tension existed between those who believed that their primary (p. 3) commitment was to be Muslim in America with a separate identity and an allegiance to a transnational community and those who wanted to be seen as Muslim Americans, full partners in American society. Increasingly, the second option appears to be prevailing. More recently, as we shall see, new options for American Islamic identity are being developed.
While the majority of Muslim immigrants have been Sunni, reflecting the dominance of that branch in the world, significant numbers of Shi‘ites and other groups have sought refuge on American shores since the early part of the twentieth century. Liyakat Takim describes how Twelver Shi‘ism has developed in the American context, detailing its structures, rituals, and the overall formation of the community out of disparate ethnic groups. The challenge for Twelver Shi‘ites, he argues, is to reconstitute themselves less as ethnically determined groups and more as Islamic institutions in the American context. Currently, the second largest Shi‘ite group in the United States is the Nizari Isma‘ilis, described by Yvonne Haddad and Jane Smith along with the Ahmadiyya, the Druze, and the Qur’anists, three other sectarian groups with historically strong international ties now struggling to define themselves with an American religious identity.
An important strand of international Islam that cuts across sectarian ethnic identities is Sufism, the more pietistic and spiritual branch of the faith, which has been present in the United States for well over a century. In the middle part of the 1900s, Sufi groups became part of the “cult culture” that welcomed various religious practices to America. In recent decades, American Sufis have looked for leadership specifically to the long-established Sufi orders in the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, and Africa. Marcia Hermansen describes contemporary manifestations of American Sufism, including organizations, the influences of Sufis on contemporary American Muslims, and the global rise of Islamic authenticity.
Part II: Institutionalization of Islam in North America
Muslim leaders, often working on a volunteer basis, have tried to create a place for Islam in the American mainstream. Beginning with the influx of students in the 1960s, efforts were made to establish organizations that incorporated Islamic identity in a Judeo-Christian environment. The Muslim Student Association (MSA) was started in 1963. Disenchanted with the secularism and socialism preached in the Muslim world, as well as with Islamic modernism popular in the Middle East, students tried to develop a culture with a clear Islamic identity. From the MSA grew what is now the largest American Muslim organization, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which has established institutions similar to those of other American (p. 4) religions. Jocelyne Cesari describes these organizational beginnings, going on to talk about the dramatic way that 9/11 has brought about a change in emphasis from ethnic and cultural diversity to recognition of the political consequences of the rise of Islamophobia. Meanwhile, other Islamic youth movements in the United States have continued to grow and proliferate, as described by Rabia Kamal, and like other American Muslim institutions they have been transformed in clearly identifiable ways as a result of 9/11. Altaf Hussein enhances this picture by showing how Muslims, especially youth and often through organizations like MSA, have volunteered to address complex social issues in the United States and abroad.
With greater numbers of immigrants arriving in America from literally all over the world in the last several decades, and with African American Muslims increasingly visible as full participants in the pursuit of the Islamic faith, new definitions of what constitutes the American Ummah (community) have been constantly in the making. The American Muslim community has become the most heterogeneous in the world, raising questions of leadership, governance, law and interpretation, practice, education, changing roles for women, and more. Still, Americans born into Muslim families since 1965 are citizens by right of birth and have not, like their immigrant parents or grandparents, been raised in the context of a foreign Muslim culture. They are truly bicultural, growing up American but with awareness of their family’s home culture, learning early how to negotiate the marked boundaries that this double identity represents. African American Muslims, meanwhile, have for the most part left nationalist-oriented and isolating communities such as the Nation of Islam. They are facing their own sets of identities as Blacks, Americans, and Muslims and are not free of the fear of being associated with the actions of militants overseas.
Despite the various ethnic, national, racial, linguistic, and other differences among Muslims, they share a common faith and prescribed practices that, despite some variations, are somewhat uniform. Muzammil Siddiqi lays out the common elements of Islamic faith and practice, suggesting some ways in which minor adaptations have been made to accommodate contemporary American culture. The primary way in which Islam has been expressed collectively in America is through its mosques, argues Ihsan Bagby, symbolizing Muslims’ commitment to affirm their place as a worshipping community. The construction of purpose-built mosques, to serve alongside buildings converted for worship use, has contributed to a change in the landscape of America. But who is to serve as the leadership of mosques and Muslim communities? Muslims face a major challenge because there is technically no clergy in Islam. Until recently, American Muslims have had to rely either on untrained Imams or on trained leadership from foreign cultures. Currently, the community is experiencing a gradual transition to the appropriate education and training of Americans to perform these roles. The steps involved in this transition are spelled out by Timur Yuskaev and Harvey Stark in their treatment of Imams and chaplains as American religious professionals. The authors emphasize that it is important to understand the difference between these two kinds of religious leaders, although they may receive (p. 5) similar education in subjects such as law, ethics, and cultural practices. Creating professional standards is essential to meeting the different needs of the Muslim community, with particular attention to its younger American generation.
The diverse nature of Islam in the United States with its many national, ethnic, and cultural constituents, has raised questions for first-, second-, and third-generation American Muslims about whether traditional schools of law should still be considered authoritative or whether and how shari‘a and fiqh have efficacy at all in this technically secular nation. Asma Afsaruddin highlights internal debates, discussions with international jurists, and the development of American organizations to initiate innovative legal reasoning based on the Qur’an and classic legal formulations.
Key to the development of an American Islam distinct from, yet strongly connected to, all the culturally defined Islams that go into its making is the importance of new roles and opportunities for women. Writing on American Muslim women, Kathleen Moore discusses movements such as progressive reformism, which argues that Islamic practice should be reformulated based on reengagement with the primary sources of Islam and that it is necessary for both women and men to be able to read and interpret the Qur’an and Islamic texts. Along with this, Moore says, comes the importance of rethinking Islamic rituals, claiming religious and communal authority, and challenging the ways in which Muslim women have been represented in the media and in other public venues in the United States.
Related to the topic of changing roles for American Muslim women is Juliane Hammer’s treatment of discourse and practice with regard to marriage and family life. Hammer looks at Muslims as a minority within the American context but also connected to transnational Muslim communities with their own traditional marriage and family customs. Such customs, she argues, must be seen as part of the religious discourses and practices in relation both to changing Muslim attitudes about gender roles and to their importance to the public perception of Islam in the United States.
One of the most important issues facing Muslim families today is education, both secular and religious. The transmission of knowledge about Islam, and learning in general, is of crucial importance to Muslims, argues Susan Douglass. She discusses a variety of forms of education in the American Muslim community, including home-schooling, organized education, instruction in mosques and Islamic centers, the founding of special Islamic schools, writing and publishing, and new forms of media, focusing primarily on the current status of education related to Islam and Muslims in North America in the twenty-first century.
Education about Islam has also been a primary focus in the long-standing Muslim effort to bring new members into the Islamic community as well as to call back those who may have strayed from “the straight path.” Da‘wa, or “call,” as Kathleen Moore explains, refers not only to restricted missionary work and efforts to convert non-Muslims but also to reinforcing greater piety on the part of Muslims themselves. Moore traces the importance of da‘wa activity in the United States from the influence of Muslim scholar/teacher Isma ‘il al-Faruqi to the most recent interpretations on (p. 6) social media and via the Internet. Education and da‘wa are both important elements in the efforts of Muslims to reach out to those who are incarcerated in American prisons. Susan Van Baalen traces the history of prison Islam in the United States and the growing number of Muslims who are part of that system. She looks at program accommodations to protect prisoners’ religious rights, as well as interactions between sectarian and religious groups in the prison system, and what that means for conversion to Islam and public perceptions of Muslim inmates.
Lance Laird describes the development of medicine in America as practiced by and reflected on by Muslim physicians, clinicians, and practitioners. A substantial number of Muslim immigrants have been medical professionals who eschew medications that contain alcohol or lard byproducts. Laird shows how scripture, tradition, legal practice, ritual, traditional herbal and physical remedies, biomedical science, and technology combine to provide a range of alternative medical systems for Muslims. He demonstrates how Muslims can be given appropriate care by non-Muslim health professionals, how Muslim physicians can improve their professional medical practices, and how public health—both Muslim and non-Muslim—can be promoted in the United States.
Part III: Integration and Assimilation of Muslims
In one way or another, most, if not all, of the essays in this volume deal with the reality of 9/11 and the impact of the events of that day on the Muslim community in America. The terrorist attacks changed life in some basic ways for Americans, with the most severe consequences for Muslims. The attacks of 9/11 served to awaken Americans’ long-standing reservations and even fear of Muslims and of the violence long associated with Islam in the West.
As a consequence, the “American-ness” that Muslims gradually established over the course of the twentieth century came to be challenged as Islam was increasingly viewed as a threat to America and its security. Many of the rights granted by the U.S. Constitution were suspended through such decisions as the passing of the USA PATRIOT Act and the intensification of monitoring Islamic mosques, institutions, and web sites. Even internment camps to hold Muslim citizens seen to be enemy combatants were contemplated. Several voices raised the question of whether Muslims should be granted citizenship.
President Bush and others in the American government quickly called for and attempted to institute policies that promote the emergence of a “moderate” Islam, antithetical to the violence perpetrated by the terrorists on 9/11. Many within the Muslim community itself came to recognize that even repeatedly denouncing the (p. 7) perpetrators of 9/11 was not sufficient; it was clearly necessary for Muslims to embody a new kind of identity and consciousness. In this process many felt that they needed to alter some of the identity that they had fostered during the last decades of the twentieth century in favor of creating a moderate Islam that appropriated American values, standards, and norms. The primary identity to be promoted was American, with Muslims and the government working toward the same goal of transforming Muslims living in the United States into Muslim Americans.
Several articles in this volume deal specifically with American fear of Islam and the “war on terror” that was unleashed after 9/11, and most interpreters understand these realities to underscore the development of virtually all aspects of Islam in the United States today. Charles Kimball looks specifically at the war on terror and how it has affected American Muslims, in both negative and positive ways. Government surveillance programs aimed at Muslims, along with growing fear of Islam and Muslims, have resulted in the creation of Islamic organizations to monitor and give information about hate speech and hate crimes against Muslims. Positively, Muslims have undertaken many new forms of educational initiatives, including interfaith activity, to provide accurate information about Islam. In the same vein, Peter Gottschalk looks at Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment, considering the long history of antipathies between Islam and Christianity. He argues that while the term “Islamophobia” may have been recently coined, the sentiments are long-standing and simply have been exacerbated by current social, economic, political, and military encounters.
For the majority of Muslims born in the United States, fear and demonization of Islam by other Americans did not lead them to conceal their faith. Rather, it led to efforts to affirm Islam as a religion of peace and to help educate non-Muslims (as well as other Muslims) about the true nature of Islam as both democratic and pluralistic. Among the various activities undertaken by American Muslims since 9/11 is increased participation in political life at the local and even national levels. Muslims have voted more regularly, organized registration drives, and served as and supported Muslim candidates for public office and have expressed their eagerness to be part of the political system so as to be heard from and taken seriously. Abdulkader Sinno gives us an inside look at the politics of Muslims in America, considering ways in which Muslims choose their level of activity in the political arena, their voting practices, success in running for office, and how politics can serve to foster and support particular Muslim causes.
As part of the effort to showcase an Islam that fits well into the American pluralistic paradigm Muslims have expended great effort to show that Islam itself is pluralistic and open to other religions. Muslims have willingly participated not only in talking about Islam in as many public venues as possible but also in taking part in numerous local and even nationally based interfaith dialogue sessions. Sometimes these are broadly interfaith, sometimes “Abrahamic” conversations involving Muslims, Christians, and Jews, and sometimes they are focused specifically on Christians and Muslims who struggle to understand not only each other but also their long history (p. 8) of difficult relations. Peter Makari lays out the context for these kinds of engagements, focusing on what he sees as constructive efforts and initiatives that may bode well for improved understanding and effective community-building. Makari also explores the intersection of the U.S. domestic context with the global context of Christian-Muslim relations and their mutual impact.
As change takes place in the community, it is possible to envision a three-pronged process to the efforts of Muslims to understand Islam and to make it understood. One is their effort to present an America-friendly version of a tradition in which East and West have often been pitted against each other. A second is the serious effort, especially but not only on the part of young Muslims, to rethink their faith for themselves in the light of their citizenship in the United States. A third involves the intellectual effort to retrieve the artifacts of their faith, so to speak, in the study of Qur’an, tradition, and other Islamic texts and to test them against the realities of their contemporary life. Sara Chehab and Marvin Whitacre examine a few of the intellectual contributions of American Muslim scholars. The authors highlight five representatives of such scholarship, showing how they have struggled to shed light on issues such as individual interpretation, law, gender equality, human rights, democracy and reform, and interfaith dialogue. This scholarship, they argue, is of great help to today’s American Muslims as they attempt to see the possibilities for a true reformation of Islam in the Western context.
While the predominant interpretation of Islam before 9/11 sought to ground the American experience in terms of the cultures from which immigrants came, traditional Islam was, in a very real sense, simply transplanted into American soil. Efforts after 9/11 to affirm the kind of moderate Islam that America was demanding relied primarily on a continuation of that transplantation and grounding. A new phase appears to be in the process of overtaking American Muslims, especially characterized by the activities of the young. Rather than keeping Islam in the background and foregrounding their citizenship as “real” Americans, today’s young Muslims are taking charge of their own identities in the effort to create a distinct American Muslim culture. This change involves ingenuity in a great range of fields, including art and architecture, music, films, novels, and new forms of media. The effort often involves the appropriation of existing American cultural practices and making them Islamic. The Muslim young people of today are trying to validate their experience as truly American, reclaiming the right to practice their faith as they understand it.
In the process, young Muslims have been at the forefront of Internet innovation in America. Nadia Khan writes about the age of new media and how it has been used by American Muslim activists to change the discourse about Islam. The Internet is now used by American Muslim religious leaders and institutions as well as by individuals seeking to learn and talk about the religion. A multitude of websites give Muslims access to everything from instruction on how to home-school children to purchasing Islamically inspired clothing. Khan emphasizes the way in which the Internet (p. 9) connects Americans with Muslims around the world, and serves as a critical tool in the efforts of Muslims to emphasize their identity as law-abiding American citizens.
Nowhere are the interests of young Americans in creating a truly Islamic American culture more evident than in various manifestations of the arts, including music, film, novel and poetry writing, architecture, and even Islamic dress. Muslims appropriate existing American practices and make them Islamic by style and interpretation. Muslim youth want to reclaim their right to individuality and identity as guaranteed by the American Constitution. Muslim authors increasingly write for a general American audience and not simply for other Muslims. Biographies and memoirs, poetry, novels, and plays attempt to counter, with the voice of reason, the negative portrayals of Islam that have come from American commentators particularly since 9/11.
Munir Jiwa reflects on his own ethnographic fieldwork among urban Muslims, considering artistic practices and identity in various contexts and looking at the distinctions between religious and secular Muslim art. He describes the work of a series of American Muslim artists, providing insight into the processes of art making and creative expression so as to help the reader appreciate the diversity of commitment and artistic practice, both aesthetic and theological. Taking the discussion of Muslim art in the United States into the realm of architecture, Akel Kahera examines the taxonomy of images that define the American mosque. He considers the problems attendant on various kinds of ideologies of style, providing case studies of four prominent mosques in the United States to illustrate how these styles are represented.
In some cases young Muslims have attempted to engage American society by writing and directing film as a form of Islamic media. Through it they can articulate new ideas and interpretations of what it means to live as Muslim in America. Hussein Rashid considers the history of the American film industry and the ways in which it has portrayed Muslims. He then examines some of the means by which Muslims are using film to define who they are, concluding that film can be used as an important medium in establishing Muslims in the American national narrative. Film allows for an examination of what it means to belong in America and how Muslims can be integrated into the American story.
One of the ways in which Muslims have been most visible on the American scene is through the range of styles of clothing that they adopt, especially women. Regardless of whether they are influenced by clothing style and legislation in cultures elsewhere, American Muslim women in general, and African American women in particular, have clearly been at the forefront of defining what they consider to be both attractive and appropriate in terms of dress. They have developed very creative ways to dress within their understanding of the boundaries of Islamic modesty, creating new styles such as a combination of American jeans with Islamic headdress or flowing top. Rabia Kamal ties the growing interest in Islamic dress and fashion to various diasporic trends, Muslim women’s exposure in the media, and changes in global politics and economy. She considers the many factors that have helped American Muslim (p. 10) women (and men) determine what is appropriate to wear and chronicles the development of a growing Islamic fashion industry.
The story of Islam in America, then, is one of recurrent attempts on the part of Muslims to find their place as legitimate members of the extremely diverse American public. As Muslims wonder whether they will be able to uphold whatever elements of the faith they choose to, if any, they face the reality that the shari‘a is increasingly demonized by much of conservative American society, with some states explicitly banning it. Such activity is as an expression of the wide-ranging Islamophobia that does not appear to be disappearing. Muslims today are trying to make sure that American society is open to Muslim participation and incorporation as Muslims, and not simply as citizens who happen to be Muslims.
One of the questions often raised by Americans, particularly as events around the world continue to underscore the fact that certain elements of global Islam appear to promote violence, is the relationship between American Muslims and global Islam. Essays throughout the volume make reference to this connection in a variety of ways. In the final essay, Peter Mandaville helps readers better understand the interplay between Muslims living in the United States and the Islamic world at large. He argues that the very diversity of the Islam practiced and advocated in most of the cultures of the world makes it very difficult to even talk about what is meant by “global Islam.” Nonetheless it is true that many American Muslims today are either aware of, or have some engagement with, Muslim groups and organizations outside the United States. As this volume has suggested, nearly every major global community or movement that has originated in the Muslim-majority world finds representation in America. Increasingly, what Mandaville calls “interlinked discursive spaces” such as the Internet, social media, and satellite television allow for Muslims of a range of ethno-national backgrounds and theological orientations to come together to debate the meaning of Islam and the future of their faith in the American context.
This handbook is being published at a unique time in American history. The United States is still recovering from the shock of 9/11, when 3,000 Americans died because of an attack by Muslim extremists, in the meantime trying to extricate itself from two wars on two Muslim nations: Iraq and Afghanistan. These are troubling times for those who share the faith of the perpetrators of the attack. American Muslims remember the treatment of the Germans during World War I, the Japanese during World War II, and those suspected of being Communists during the Cold War, and they fear for their own future. The American government is attempting to strike a balance between security. on the one hand. and, on the other, America’s commitment to freedom of religion and the promise made to citizens of all faiths that they will be able to thrive under the Constitution that is the very foundation of America.
The handbook illustrates how much the Muslim community has been able to achieve in the United States. It also reveals its growing pains, the shock to its very foundations caused by the events of 9/11 and the efforts of young American-born Muslims to maintain their commitment to the American values of freedom of religion and (p. 11) speech as well as to social justice and service to the larger community. The Muslims of America are very much in flux as they adjust to the reality of Islamophobia at the same time that they try out new ways in which to understand and express themselves. Immigrant and African American Muslims have struggled with their sense of belonging in America very differently, but today are beginning to come together more often as they affirm their religious identity in a secular culture. Despite their struggles Muslims continue to believe in the American commitment to justice, and hope for a future in which they will be fully accepted and incorporated into the social fabric of the country of which they are a growing body of citizens. (p. 12)