Islam in America

The Muslim community in the United States is undergoing significant and serious changes. With its unique blend of immigrant, African American, and other American-born Muslims, it is becoming increasingly heterogeneous even as efforts are under way to stress commonality over individuality. Muslim institutions are proliferating, Islamic education is taking new forms, various individuals and groups are vying for positions of leadership, and young people are often choosing paths of greater religiosity than their parents at the same time that the label on their religion seems to read “made in America.” The history of the Muslim faith in America exemplifies many of the principles associated with the ninth theme discussed in the introduction to this volume: immigration, the globalization of American religious communities, and ethnic insularity and self-definitions.
September 11, 2001—a defining moment in American history—has left its irrep- arable mark on American Muslims as anti-Islamic prejudice in American society continues to rise, Muslim civil rights are challenged, and relations between Sunnis and Shi’ites reflect the sectarian divisions of the Middle East. Even as Muslims are trying to persuade the citizens of the United States that Islam is peace- loving, open, and viable in its newly adopted home, Americans today—although relieved that several potential new attacks by Muslim terrorists have been intercepted—continue to express rising anxiety and suspicion about Islam and about the increasing presence of Muslims in public life. Muslims in the West in general vehemently disavow any relationship between true Islam and terrorism and are struggling to be good citizens of the United States, although they often are afraid to be too visible.
Reports on the number of Muslims in America vary greatly, depending on the claimant. Four to 6 million is a reasonable estimate, with more than eighty countries represented in the mix. Once American Muslims were easily classified as either immigrants or African Americans. With the rise of second, third, and fourth generations of Muslims born in America, however, new forms of identification are needed. The simplest may be “foreign-born” and “American-born” (the lat- ter also including white, Latino/a and other converts); the students, temporary workers, diplomats, and others who never intend to make America their home are also included in this tally. Approximately one-third of the community is African American, members of Sunni Islam or one of many sectarian movements. Most of the major cities of the United States have Muslim populations, with the largest concentrations located in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, and Detroit.


A significant body of literature is now growing, especially among African American scholars, that argues that Muslims have been present on American soil far longer than earlier supposed. Some slight evidence has been collected to suggest both a pre-Columbian presence and early West African explorations in the Caribbean. Spanish Muslim sailors may well have served as guides for Spanish and Portuguese discoverers. With the expulsion of Muslims from Spain in 1492 by monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, some may have fled Europe and made their way to the Americas. Even if this is true, there is no record that they were able to maintain their Islamic identity.
The first significant entry of Muslims onto the American continent took place with the African slave trade from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. Per- haps as much as one-fifth of the Africans brought as slaves were Muslims. Fragments of records, including a few narratives and a Qur’an apparently copied from memory, indicate that in the beginning some slaves attempted to practice their religion, including those who were probably forced to convert to Christianity. Michael Gomez’s encyclopedic work Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the Americas traces the extent of Islamic influence among Africans in the New World; the story is complex and, because of the paucity of sources, difficult to track, but the Islamic influence on slaves is certainly greater than what scholars had thought previously, even in cases where slaves practiced Islam without fully being aware of its sources (such as bowing down eastward to pray or avoiding pork, as some slave-era sources relate). There is evidence that in 1758 in Haiti and 1835 in Brazil there were some Muslim revolts—an indication of the presence of Islam in the America several centuries ago. For the most part, however, Islam arrived on American shores with the first immigrants from the Middle East in the late nineteenth century. The apparent disappearance of earlier African Muslims in America was reversed in the twentieth century with the growth of African American Islam and the increase in immigration from continental Africa.


The earliest Muslim immigrants arrived between 1875 and 1912 from the rural areas of Greater Syria in the Ottoman Empire, what today is Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and Israel. Muslims in this group were far out- numbered by their Christian compatriots. Mainly unskilled and uneducated, they were economically motivated single men who worked as migrants and merchants, factory and mine workers, or peddlers. Some were fleeing conscription into the Turkish army. Many never realized their dreams either of earning a fortune in the new land or of returning home, but stayed to settle in the eastern United States, the Midwest, and along the Pacific coast.
A second and larger group of Muslim immigrants came after World War I and the demise of the Ottoman Empire. The end of that war ushered in the period of Western colonial rule in the Middle East under the mandate system created to “govern” Arab lands. Significant numbers of Muslims decided to move to the West, now for political as well as economic reasons. Many joined relatives who had arrived earlier. Immigration during this period, however, was soon curtailed by the institution of the “national origins quota system.” During the 1930s, the movement of Muslims to America slowed drastically, being largely limited to relatives of those already resident.
Between the mid-1940s and the mid-1960s, a third period of immigration saw Muslims arriving from countries other than the Middle East, including eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and then the Indian subcontinent after the 1947 partition of India and the creation of Pakistan. While many of the earlier immigrants had moved to rural as well as urban areas of America, now they settled almost exclusively in major cities. Most were urbanized and better educated than their predecessors. Some came hoping to escape political oppression, including Palestinians after the creation of the state of Israel, Egyptians whose land had been taken after Abdel Nasser’s nationalization, and Iraqis escaping after the revolution of 1948. The most recent wave of Muslim immigration occurred after 1965, with the passing of President Lyndon Johnson’s bill repealing the system of quotas by national origin. Preference now was given to relatives of those already living in the United States or to people with occupational skills needed in the American labor market. More Muslims started coming from Asia as well as the Middle East, often for educational or professional advancement. This movements continues, although the past four decades have also seen slowly growing numbers of less well educated, often illiterate, workers from areas such as Yemen and Palestine, and Shi’ites from Lebanon. Over the past several decades, political turmoil in their home countries has been a primary motive for many of the Muslims choosing to come to the United States. Refugees have arrived in significant numbers as a result of such troubles as the Six-Day War between Israelis and Arabs in 1967; the civil war in Lebanon and the recent Israeli invasion of that country; civil war and famine affecting Afghans, Somalis, Sudanese, and others; ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia; and the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom, which caused Kurds, Palestinians, and Iraqis to flee. The Iranian Revolution and ascent to power of Imam Khomeini in 1979, followed by nearly a decade of war between Iran and Iraq, brought a large number of Iranians to the West. It is estimated that around 1 million Iranians live in the United States today.
While Pakistanis, Indians, and Bangladeshis were a minor part of Muslim immigration for most of the twentieth century, in the past several decades their ranks have grown significantly and today they probably number over 1 million. In general, South Asian Muslims have been well educated, Westernized, and fluent in English. Pakistani and Indian Muslims, many of whom are skilled professionals such as doctors and engineers, have played an important role in the development of Muslim groups in the United States and in lay leadership of mosque communities. Today increasing numbers of Muslims are arriving from countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. Many of these immigrants are also highly trained and often assume positions of leadership in American Islam.


Shi’ites make up about one-fifth of the Muslim population of the United States, which is predominantly Sunni. Shi’ites are concentrated in New York, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Chicago, as well as several major cities in Canada, with some seventy mosques and Islamic centers. Little attention was paid to the Shi’ite community in America until recently, partly because Muslims wanted to play down sectarian divisions in Islam and partly because only a relatively small number of Shi’ites emigrated to America before the 1979 revolution in Iran and the Iran-Iraq war. As a result of these events, the number of Shi’ites in America has swelled. More have come since the Lebanese civil war and the Israeli invasions of Lebanon in 1982 and 2006, as well as the recent invasion of coalition forces in Iraq. California and Michigan have become major areas of settlement for Shi’ites.
Most of the Shi’ites in America are members of the Ithna ‘Ashari (Twelver) branch of Islam, who believe that the twelfth Imam disappeared in the tenth century and will return at the end of time to establish justice in the world. In the mean- time, Twelvers acknowledge the authority of their religious scholars (ayatollahs) in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, although one of the issues currently concerning the American community is the extent to which Shi’ism in this country can be defined in distinction from such allegiances. Substantial numbers of Iranian Twelver Shi’is who have settled in areas of Texas and southern California hope that eventually Prince Reza Pahlavi, son of the late shah, will be restored to power in Iran.
The other main Shi’ite group in America is the Isma’ilis (Seveners), under the leadership of Prince Karim Aga Khan. More than 80,000 Isma’ilis live in Canada, especially in Vancouver and Toronto, and small communities are located through- out the United States, particularly in New York and California. There are also small number of ‘Alawi Shi’ites from Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey, and Zaydiyah from Yemen, in various parts of the United States.


As immigrant Muslims started to become visible in the early twentieth century, some American blacks, only recently freed from slavery, began to adopt forms of Islam in their effort to find an identity and a place in American society—another example of two of the major themes in this volume: the theological base of popular religious movements, and the history of racialized religion and the desire for a universal god. The charismatic Noble Drew Ali (Timothy Drew), for example, preached that the true religion for “Asiatics” (blacks) is not the white man’s Christianity, but Islam. Drew founded the Moorish American Science Temple in 1913, in Newark, New Jersey, claiming to have discovered a Koran that was, in fact, completely different from the Holy Qur’an of Islam. The movement spread to such major areas as Detroit and Philadelphia, eventually weakening after Drew Ali died. Small pockets of Moorish Americans can be found today in more than seventy cities of America.
It was not until the rise of the Nation of Islam (NOI) that Americans really began to take notice of Islam as an American religion. The beginnings of the Nation are still obscure. In Detroit, Michigan, in 1929 W. D. Fard began to preach that the true identify of American blacks was Islam. Like Drew Ali, he argued that blacks have been separated from their Eastern homeland, describing what came to be known as “The Lost-Found Nation of Islam in the Wilderness of North America,” or simply the Nation of Islam. Fard’s message was particularly persuasive to a preacher named Elijah Muhammad, born Elijah Poole, who soon became the movement’s leader, or “Messenger of God.” Elijah worked to help the community build up its self-respect, ethical integrity, and economic independence from whites.
While the Nation of Islam performed a real service to American blacks, it is questionable as an Islamic movement. Some of its doctrines are clearly antithetical to orthodox Islam, such as Elijah assuming the title of Messenger, a role reserved for the Prophet Muhammad. Against the egalitarianism of Islam, Elijah taught that the problem for blacks lies in the fact that the white man is the really the devil. Blacks can succeed only by separating themselves from their longtime oppressors, which requires ethical responsibility, moral uprightness, and hard work. This twin message of identification of the cause of their suffering and the means of alleviating it appealed to many members of the black community.
Nation of Islam temples were established in many urban areas, with the headquarters moving permanently to Chicago. In its time of greatest popularity, the NOI attracted a number of prominent African American leaders. By the 1960s, however, problems began to plague the community. Elijah and his most articulate spokesman, Malcolm X, who had converted to Islam in prison and became a deeply committed member of the Nation, had a serious falling out. That, along with his experience of the universal nature of Islam while on pilgrimage to Mecca, brought Malcolm to break with the Nation. Malcolm was assassinated at a religious rally in 1965, a crime for which two Nation of Islam members were later convicted.
When Elijah Muhammad died, the fortunes of the Nation of Islam changed significantly. His son Wallace, well trained in classical Sunni Islam, assumed leadership under the Islamic name Warith Deen Mohammed. He began to lead the community away from the separatist teachings of his father and closer to the egalitarian understanding of Sunni Islam, insisting that the former focus had been essential to the recovery of the black community in America at the time, a necessary transitional step in their movement from a slave mentality toward accepting true Islam. Warith Deen Mohammed immediately began to lead the movement through a number of name changes. From Nation of Islam, it became the American Bilalian Community (after the first black convert to Islam), then the World Community of Islam in the West (1976) and the American Muslim Mission (1980). Later it was called the Muslim American Society, the Ministry of W. Deen Mohammed, and then the American Society of Muslims. In 1985. the community was urged to integrate into mainstream Sunni immigrant Islam, where it remains. Warith Deen Mohammed’s broadcasts are heard every weekend on more than thirty radio stations across the country.

At the death of Elijah Muhammad, some of the members of the NOI elected to remain with Minister Louis Farrakhan, who is still the titular head of the Nation although he is in waning health. The NOI has remained dedicated to the establishment of a strong black economic system in which members can be independent of the dominant white structures. Nation of Islam members are well known for their efforts to combat drugs and drug-related crime in local communities. The main headquarters of the Nation is still in Chicago, although several other groups claim to be the authentic Nation of Islam under different leaders in Baltimore, Detroit, and Atlanta. Although small in number, the Nation still has a strong appeal to some blacks, especially those incarcerated in large urban prisons. African American and immigrant Muslims for the most part have maintained separate communities in the United States, although there are increasing efforts at cooperation. Significant issues remain to be resolved between the various communities that make up the body of American Islam. Some African Americans believe that they are more diligent than their immigrant brothers and sisters in observing the strict codes of diet, dress, and other forms of practice. Immigrants often tend to think that as lifelong Muslims they have a better understanding of Islam than do those who recently have converted. Some immigrant groups are still not clear about the distinction between African American Sunnis and the Nation of Islam. Roughly one-third of the Muslims in continental America are African Americans who have decided to join either mainstream Islam or one of the sectarian movements—such as Dar al-Islam, the Five Percenters, and the Ahmadiyya—that are
directly or loosely identified with Islamic doctrines.


Leaders in the Islamic community estimate that there are between 50,000 and 100,000 white converts to Islam in the United States. Most of them are women, sometimes having married Muslim men and adopting the faith themselves and sometimes converting because they feel that Islam holds more advantages for women than other religions. A number of Americans who have found themselves at odds either with their own religious tradition or with the prevailing norms of American culture have looked to Islam to provide alternatives. Most recently, an increasing number of Latino/Latina men and women have been adopting Islam, often because they see similarities between traditional Muslim cultures and their own heritage and values. Proportionally, however, converts other than African Americans remain small in number.
Some Americans have been attracted to Islam because Sufi groups offer a more mystical, and sometimes musical, way to approach God. Although many Sufi groups have not been recognized by immigrant Sunni Muslims as legitimate, they are coming to be acknowledged as belonging to the complex fabric of Muslim life in the United States. The resurgence of interest among young Americans in religions of the East, most prevalent in the 1960s, contributed to the popularity of these Sufi movements. Today interest in Sufism is increasing among the college- age children of immigrants as they search for a moderate Islam in the post–September 11 atmosphere in the United States. White Sufi converts—such as Hamza Yusuf of the Zaytuna Institute in Hayward, California—attract young seekers who at times take a year or two off from their academic studies to immerse themselves in Islamic knowledge.


The largest communities of immigrant Muslims in America today are from South Asia, the Arab world, Iran, sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia, and the former Soviet Union. For the most part, and increasingly, they are highly educated, successful professionals who are leaders in the development of a transnational, transethnic American Islam. In contrast to those Muslims are the growing numbers of refugees from Africa, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union, and the many African American Muslims who still have not been able to share fully in the American dream.
Among the first Muslim communities in the United States were those in the Midwest. In the earliest years of the twentieth century, Muslims organized for prayers in North Dakota, Iowa, and Indiana. Many came directly from the Middle East to Dearborn, Michigan, to work at the Ford Motor Company plant. Together with Arab Christians, Muslims in Michigan (both Sunnis and Shi’ites) form the largest Arab-American settlement in the country. The shipyards in Quincy, Mas- sachusetts, have provided jobs to Muslim immigrants since the late nineteenth century. Islam has been present and visible in New York City for over a century. Home to a rich variety of ethnic groups, its Muslim population has included a broad spectrum of nationalities from virtually every country in the world, and mosque-building activity has flourished there.
By the early twentieth century, Chicago is said by some to have had more Muslims in residence than any other American city. Chicago Muslims, immigrant and African American and other, now form one of the most heterogeneous Islamic communities in the country. They are active in promoting their faith, providing a range of services to the Islamic community, and interacting with one another as well as with non-Muslims. Similarly, Muslims in Los Angeles and San Francisco have flourished. They represent most areas of the Muslim world, most notably Iranians and representatives of a number of African countries. The Islamic Center of Southern California is one of the largest Muslim entities in the United States, known for its publications and community leadership.
In the earlier part of the twentieth century, many Muslims, as has been true of other immigrant communities, found that the “American melting pot” did not actually work to include them. For many years, the response of American Muslims was to attempt to hide their religious and ethnic identities, to change their names to make them sound more American, and to refrain from participating in practices or adopting dress that would make them appear “different” from the average citizen. Gradually, as the Muslim community became larger, more diversified, better educated, and more articulate about its own self-understanding, attempts to blend into American society have given way to more sophisticated discussions about the importance of living in America, but still retaining a sense of one’s own religious culture.


By the middle part of the twentieth century and the end of Western control over most Islamic states, Muslims originally from the Middle East tended to subscribe to the ideologies of Arab socialism or nationalism. Muslim in name, they usually were more secular than religious in orientation. Since the Six-Day War of 1967 and the general rise of a more conservative Islam in the Middle East and other parts of the world, Muslim immigrants have begun to reflect the growing Islamic consciousness that has developed, largely as a result of American foreign policy, in many Muslim nations. More recently, particularly since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, far greater numbers of immigrants from the Arab world, Southeast Asia, and Africa profess themselves to be Islamically committed. Rarely extremists, they are interested in living as responsible Muslims in the American context, although they may differ sharply with American foreign policies. The majority are well-educated professionals who often belong to and contribute to solid religious communities in the United States.
Most American Muslims today are grateful for the freedom of religious thought and practice made possible because the United States is founded on principles of secularism, and some are building a case for a new kind of American Islam that can flourish in such an environment. On the whole, the freedoms allowed by the Constitution have worked well for American Muslims. Yet some still perceive secularism itself to be an anti-religious ideology. As such, it is the antithesis of all that Islam stands for, and therefore may sometimes be seen by those who are committed to an Islamist philosophy as the enemy against which the walls of American Islam must be fortified.
In fact, however, while it can be argued that American Muslims have become more religiously observant since September 11, 2001, it is still true that many think of themselves as secular by definition. One of the great difficulties that Muslims have faced since the terrorist attacks is the public assumption that the only two alternatives for being Muslim in America are moderation (according to the U.S. government’s definition) or extremism. Like members of all religious traditions in America, Muslims locate themselves at many points on a scale from “not religious at all” (secular, “unmosqued”) to “very religious” (observant). Secular American Muslims who have played prominent roles in education, business, politics, medicine, science, social and philanthropic organizations, and many other aspects of public life may never be recognized by other Americans as being associated in any way with Islam.
Most Muslims who come to America from overseas, or whose families were immigrants in the twentieth century, choose to live in this country not only for its economic and educational advantages but because they value the freedom of its citizens to speak publicly without worrying about recrimination. Today, however, many fear that they are unable to exercise that very freedom because of American public and governmental backlash. Muslims worry that such realities as the USA Patriot Act, profiling in airports and other public places, and freezing of the assets of Muslim charities are resulting in a loss of Muslim civil liberties.
The proliferation of Muslim organizations in America—religious, political, professional, and cultural—has both helped structure Muslim life and contrib- uted to the complex issue of leadership. The Muslim Student Association (MSA) in the United States and Canada was founded in 1963 by a small group of stu- dents to provide services to the many thousands of Muslim students from over- seas enrolled on American campuses, many of whom have returned to play major leadership roles in national and international Islamic movements. Increasingly active today, the MSA regularly sponsors Friday prayers and other events and services for Muslim students on college campuses. The organization is international in perspective and advocates an Islam that transcends all linguistic, ethnic, and racial distinctions.
The single largest Muslim organization is the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which grew out of the MSA and today coordinates a large number of mosque communities. Somewhat smaller and more socio politically conservative is the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), known for its adherence to the spirit and law of Islam. For many Muslims, however, these “religious” voices are less authoritative than others advocating for Muslim civil rights. Groups such as the American Muslim Council, a nonprofit sociopolitical organization working to develop increased political power for Muslims, and KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights are speaking with increasingly authoritative voices in the emerging conversation about Islam in America. Islamic organizations are proliferating, representing the different social, political, ethnic, and professional interests of their members.
Also rapidly changing is the public face of Muslim worship in the United States. The earliest immigrants to continental America often were single, young, and not well informed about Islamic practices or doctrines. Busy with their economic pursuits and often seeing their stay in America as only temporary, they did not attempt to locate religious communities or identify structures for worship. Gradually, however, small groups gathered for prayer, often led by someone in the community who was not educated in the essentials of the faith. A number of communities began to consider the importance of establishing a mosque in their area, and soon new structures were built as Muslims started to develop organizations and institutions. Finding or erecting buildings to serve as mosques or Islamic centers began in the 1920s and 1930s; by 1952, more than twenty mosques formed the Federation of Islamic Associations (FIA) in the United States and Canada.
The number of Islamic institutions in the United States has now risen to more than 2,500, of which nearly 1,500 are mosques and Islamic centers. Many mosques are converted houses or office buildings, but new purpose-built structures are going up rapidly. Both the construction of mosques and the creation of Islamic organizations have been aided in the past several decades by support coming from oil-rich Gulf countries. The process of mosque-building, however, is not without its problems. Financing is often difficult, and communities must decide if they want a “foreign” or an American-looking building. Many neighborhoods are not eager to have a mosque erected in their midst, particularly if it involves a public call to prayer. Especially since September 11, Muslims have adopted a more public face of Islam, and increasingly are looking for appropriate physical and institutional structures through which they can practice their faith.


The question of leadership—religious, political, communal—is a major concern to Muslims, particularly since September 11. The American public, suddenly aware of the presence of Islam in the United States and wanting to know more about the religion, has wondered who speaks for Islam. Muslims from religious, professional, and academic perspectives have all risen to public prominence as they have attempted to distance Islam from terrorism and to participate in the effort to present an honest, realistic, and contemporary interpretation of the faith. Muslims worry about the lack of well-trained religious leadership, specifically imams, who know both the Islamic sciences and American culture. They hope to develop Islamic seminaries and institutions of religious education in this country and to expand the important area of training chaplains for ministry in prisons, universities, hospitals, police forces, and other institutions. In many mosques, the imam plays an important role in the ritual and spiritual life of the community, but cedes organizational leadership to its professional and well-educated lay members. Leadership is no longer the province only of males. Many American Muslim women are beginning to challenge the dominance of male leadership. Women have long played important roles in the development of mosques in America and are increasingly visible as members of its boards of directors and in other leadership positions. Many women’s organizations, both local and national, are assuming the roles of interpreters of Islam legally, socially, and religiously. Muslim women are prominent in American intellectual life and are taking their place on the faculties of major colleges and universities. However, not all Muslims approve of this emerging female presence in positions of authority, and it is clear that questions about appropriate public roles for women will continue to be high on the agenda of American Islam. The theme outlined in the introduction—male hierarchies and the feminization of American religion—applies as much to American Islam as it does to other religious traditions.
Both women and men are taking advantage of the new opportunities for communication provided by the Internet, as well as other technological means of communication. While many American Muslims still listen with great seriousness to the opinions of internationally known scholars and sheikhs, many are also beginning to incorporate the opinions of “everyday Muslims” who share their interpretations and understandings in chatrooms, on Web sites, and in other public accessible technological ways.
The question of religious education is a major one for many in the Muslim community. Islamic schools, while growing in number, are not available for most children and cannot always claim to compete academically with good public or private secular institutions. Muslim young people attending public schools (still the great majority) often find themselves isolated from their classmates, particularly if they wear forms of Islamic dress. Practicing Muslim students need to ask for accommodation to do ablutions and pray or to have time for religious holidays, requests that are not always granted. Many Muslim parents fear that when their children make non-Muslim friends in school they may lose touch with the ethics of their own faith and be tempted by the socialization of American youth culture. Observant Muslims struggle to come to terms with how to honor Islamic restrictions in financial transactions. The average Muslim income is higher than the American average per se, although Muslims have seen a significant drop since September 11. Since making interest on one’s money is forbidden by Islamic law, they are reluctant to deposit their money in banks that give interest, as they are to take out mortgages, buy on time, or take capital gains on investments. Muslims have devised creative ways to pay for their homes and businesses, called “hahal [acceptable] financing,” including the opening of Islamic banks in several American cities. With the closure by the government of some charitable Muslim agencies overseas suspected of having terrorist connections, Muslims must rethink their religiously required zakat contributions to charity. Muslims may be expected to pledge money to mosques, a concept unknown in the Islamic world but increasingly requested in America as mosques are coming to function more like churches and synagogues. Organizations such as the North American Islamic Trust are being developed to help observant Muslims better understand the options and obligations for use of their money.
Extremely important to American Muslims is the complicated set of relationships they maintain with Muslim cultures, movements, and religious entities abroad. The 1970s and 1980s saw serious efforts on the part of Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia to finance minority Muslim communities in various parts of the world. Some American Muslims benefited greatly from these efforts as the recipients of trained religious leadership and of money to build new mosques and centers. That funding has lessened, and at the same time American Muslims are struggling to decide whether they want it anyway, insofar as it may entail expectations of certain ideological commitments.
One of the issues of deepest concern to Muslims has been the persistent and heightening instances of prejudice in North America against Islam, Arabs, and Muslims. Muslims are concerned about the distorted and inaccurate picture of Islam presented by the media and the biased treatment of Muslims in textbooks, news coverage, and entertainment programming. The events of September 11 and the backlash they set in motion have resulted in increased levels of discrimination and hate crimes. Muslims have been jolted out of any complacency that they might have felt about being considered full and accepted members of American society. The negative press has made it necessary to organize to meet the increasing demands to persistently and constantly prove their patriotism. Every time violence in the name of Islam is committed anywhere in the world, American Muslims pay a price in terms of discrimination, despite their efforts to explain the essentially peaceful nature of Islam.
More women then ever before in America are choosing to wear some form of Islamic dress, from a simple headscarf to an enveloping robe. Americans generally find it very difficult to understand why anyone would want to dress in what seems to be such a restrictive fashion and hard to believe that it really represents a woman’s choice. Muslim women wearing Islamic dress encounter discrimination in public and in the workplace. Some school systems do not allow female teachers to wear even headscarves, and women face discrimination in hiring, promotion, and retention in many kinds of businesses. Young women on college campuses find that they are more comfortable with Muslim than non-Muslim friends and often adopt the scarf as a show of solidarity and belonging.

On the whole, Muslims have found the United States to be a place where they can prosper, can live Islamic lives to the degree they are comfortable with, and, by taking care about their choices, can raise their children in the manner that they feel is appropriate. The question remains, however, whether the democratic and pluralistic principles espoused by the West will really allow for a non–Judeo- Christian religion with a distinctive culture and alternative values to flourish in its midst. Muslims are posing a challenge to America’s vision of itself and its publicly professed values. They are demanding that America live up to its values of plural- ism and freedom of speech and religion and make room for its Muslim citizens, allowing them to be Muslim and to define their own religion. The answer, ironically, may lie not in the actions of Muslims in America themselves but of their co- religionists in other parts of an increasingly turbulent world that is growing short on patience with the United States.


Until fairly recently, most of the studies on Islam in the United States focused on particular cities, areas, or communities. Generally, these were presented in an anthropological framework. In the past decade, a number of attempts have been made to consider the phenomenon of Islam in the United States as a totality, reflecting a maturity in American studies as well as an acknowledgment of the establishment of Islam as a legitimate claimant to the status of an American religion. A number of these studies venture comparisons of Islam in America with that in Europe, paying special attention to the phenomenon of so-called Islamophobia, and particularly to the reasons why it appears less likely that American Muslims will succumb to extremism than may be true of their European counterparts.
Scholars of Islam in America are now relying on a much wider range of disciplines for information and material than was true only a few years ago. In addition to history, anthropology, and sociology, information is being drawn from the arts, literature, socioeconomics, education, political theory, and many more disciplines. Studies are being done not only about adults and their circumstances, but also about youth and the new ways—for instance, through dress, music, and religious study—in which they are finding their identity as Muslim Americans. For the first time in recent years, Muslim and non-Muslim scholars are building on the work of each other, and the resulting scholarship is richer for it. The bibliography for this chapter gives a short listing of some of the major recent works that readers will want to consult.
The most serious tension in the study of American Islam today is between those who see the Islamic religion and culture as a threat to their country’s way of life and those who proceed from the assumption that Islam is an established and respectable American religion. This tension has resulted in acrimony and mutual accusation, and is accentuated whenever an international terrorist event suggesting the complicity of Islamist forces takes place.
Many areas of study still need serious attention as the American Muslim com- munity is challenged to address new circumstances. Among these are the various forms of African American Islam, the demise of old forms of Islamic leadership and the creation of new forms, the question of Islam as an ethnicity as well as a religion, the new forms of religiosity being developed by Muslim youth, responses to the need for religious education for both youth and adults, and the challenge posed by the Internet to all of these, and many other, issues. Literature on Islam in the United States is growing to the point where it is now quite abundant, and it is clear that a rich new field of religious study has come into its own.


Athar, Shahid. Reflections of an American Muslim. Chicago: KAZI, 1994.
Barlas, Asma. Islam, Muslims and the U.S.: Essays on Religion and Politics. New Delhi: Global Media, 2004.
Bukhari, Zahid H., Sulayman S. Nyang, Mumtaz Ahmed, and John L. Esposito, eds. Muslims’ Place in the American Public Square: Hope, Fears, and Aspirations. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 2004.
Cesari, Jocelyne. When Islam and Democracy Meet: Muslims in Europe and the United States. New York: Palgrave, 2004.
Clegg, Claude Andrew. An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad.
New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.
Dannin, Robert. Black Pilgrimage to Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Gomez, Michael. Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the
Americas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
——. Exchanging Their Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colo- nial and Antebellum South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck. The Muslims of America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck, and John L. Esposito. Muslims on the Americanization Path?
New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck, Jane I. Smith, and Kathleen M. Moore. Muslim Women in America: The Challenge of Islamic Identity Today. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Hasan, Asma Gull. Why I Am a Muslim: An American Odyssey. London: HarperCollins, 2004.

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