Cover image for Islam in America
Islam in America
Smith, Jane I.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Columbia University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xvi, 251 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Muslim faith and practice -- Contributors to the development of Islam -- Islam comes to America -- Islam in the African American community -- Women and the Muslim American family -- Living a Muslim life in American society -- The public practice of Islam -- Looking to the future -- American Muslims of note.
Reading Level:
1460 Lexile.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BP67.U6 S6 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Most Americans are only vaguely aware of the Muslim community in the United States and know little about the religion itself, despite Islam's increasing importance in international affairs and the rapid growth in the number of Americans who call themselves Muslims. This text introduces the basic tenets of the Muslim faith, surveys the history of Islam in America and profiles the lifestyles, religious practices, and worldviews of American Muslims.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

This new series, written by leading scholars for students and general readers, portrays the diversity and complexity of religious life in America, focusing on the influence of Western society as a major challenge that religious groups will face in the 21st century. Both works contain profiles of noteworthy individuals, suggestions for further reading, glossaries, chronologies, and a list of web sites. Gillis (theology and Catholic studies, Georgetown Univ.) provides an excellent survey. In the chapter "Who Are the American Catholics?" for example, he breaks down types of Catholics by geography, ethnic background, and income; charts and informative statistics supplement the text without becoming tedious. This title includes a detailed synopsis of the history of Catholicism, with special emphasis on Vatican II and the tensions between Rome and AmericaÄpartially due to issues such as women's ordination, birth control, and abortion rights. Smith (Islamic studies, Hartford Seminary) writes a general introduction to Islam as practiced by American Muslims. Islam in America outlines the influences of a secular and materialistic Western culture, the keenly felt prejudices on the part of non-Muslims, and the misunderstandings between Muslims that often arise when they try to balance cultural expectations with the value system of the conservative Middle East. Of special interest is the chapter on African American Muslims and other smaller groups. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries. [For more on Islam, see "Bridging the Gap: Islam in America," LJ 10/1/98, p. 59-63.ÄEd.]ÄMichael W. Ellis, Ellenville P.L., NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This second edition by Smith (Harvard), a founding mother of the study of American Muslims, updates her 1999 edition. Then and now, the book offers a broad-stroke introduction to the tenets of Islam and to Muslim history, followed by overview chapters of the history of Islam in America, African American Islam, issues of public religious practice, women and family, and the challenges of living as a Muslim in American society. The new edition updates material in several chapters and offers an additional chapter on Islam in the US after 9/11, including a discussion of future prospects. Smith has retained both the assimilation paradigm (Islam is assumed to be alien to American society; thus Muslims need to adjust it in order to integrate) as the theoretical foundation of the volume, and the call for inclusion of Muslims in the American religious landscape. The volume offers annotated suggestions for further reading to each chapter, but no references in the text. Considering recent and important theoretical and empirical developments, this introductory volume now covers much less of the breadth and depth of this growing field than it did in 1999. However, it remains useful entry-level reading. Summing Up: Recommended. Especially for libraries that lack the first edition; lower- and upper-level undergraduates, general readers, and practitioners. J. Hammer George Mason University



Copyright information Chapter 8: Islam in America Post-9/11 Nothing prepared the Muslim community in America for September 11, 2001. The violence perpetrated on that day shocked and horrified Americans in general, and it is now clear that the event has had devastating consequences not only for the United States but for the world. Americans, Iraqis, Afghans, and many others continue to be killed in the resulting wars. The economy of the Western world has staggered while deficits rise as quickly as oil prices. It is difficult to characterize the consequences of the violent acts of a tiny number of Muslim extremists on that September morning. But none have been affected more directly than the Muslim men and women who live in America and who have had to answer again and again for the decisions of terrorists that they don't even recognize as coreligionists. Imams and others have been asked countless times since 9/11 why Islam fosters violence, and why no Muslims speak out against acts of terror, and why Muslims hate the West. Answers about the essentially peaceful nature of Islam never seem to suffice, or never seem to be heard, as the American public fixates on each new piece of news at home or abroad that might be viewed as justifying a growing fear of the presence of Muslims in America. Some non-Muslims, of course, have gone out of their way to help Muslims present their case honestly and reasonably, and have spearheaded efforts at better interfaith relations. In the meantime, polls indicate that many Americans still do not understand Islam, still worry that cells teaching and planning for violence against the United States are growing, and still assume at heart that the country would be better off if most of its Muslim population were simply to "go home." African American and other American-born Muslims are in the terrible position of having to defend not only their religion but their rightful identity as Americans who are, in fact, already home. Some Muslim leaders are now recognizing that to keep responding with the platitude that "Islam means peace" simply will no longer suffice, if it ever did. They are asking themselves, as non-Muslims are asking, whether in fact there might be something within their faith that really does allow for violent action, and whether new interpretations of classical texts are essential for Islam to be a viable faith in the twenty-first century. They are looking again at each other, wondering where are the common bonds that render Islam a single faith, albeit with a wide range of possible interpretations and understandings, within the whole complex of multi-faith America. And they are looking at Islam in relation to other religions, analyzing the Qur'an and Sunna for an understanding of how Islam views Judaism, Christianity, and other religions and rethinking that understanding in light of a new world and new mandates to live together harmoniously as fellow citizens. The reality of a post-9/11 America in which government sanctions still weigh heavily and American public opinion still registers caution and even fear of Muslims frames the context in which both private and public discussion about the future of American Islam must take place. Muslims on a daily basis have to deal with what actually has happened to them since the 2001 invasions. The U.S. Government and Muslim Civil Rights Some observers, both Muslim and non-Muslim, have likened the treatment of Muslims and Arabs by the U.S. government since 9/11 to that of Germans during World War I and of Japanese Americans during World War II. Legal protections and civil rights have been taken from many Muslim and Arab American citizens for the reason that they are seen as a direct threat to America and its freedoms. It is ironic that the very president to win the first (and only) Muslim bloc vote because of his promise to protect Muslim civil rights, George W. Bush, should have been the one to preside over the abandonment of those rights and the subjection of Muslims and Arabs to humiliation, deportation, and in some cases forms of torture. It is an often repeated assumption that when the Soviet Union collapsed, the U.S. government needed a new enemy, and Islam was just right for the job. Such an association, of course, was strongly supported by the Israeli lobby and by American Jewish intellectuals such as Daniel Pipes and Steven Emerson. A series of measures were taken to "protect" American citizens that have resulted in great difficulty for Muslims and Arabs who also hold citizenship in this country: 1. The USA PATRIOT (Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act of October 2001 effectively took away all legal protection of the liberty of American Muslims and Arabs. Numerous civil rights agencies have protested this act and worked to have it lifted, as yet to no avail. 2. The U.S. government has been vigilant in monitoring NGOs, civic, charitable, and religious organizations that might be suspected in some way of harboring terrorism. The assets of some have been frozen. This has served to deprive U.S. Muslims of one of the most important ways in which they can fulfill the obligation of paying zakat , through support of charities that give to the poor, widows, and orphans. 3. Government raids on the homes and offices of Muslims in positions of national leadership were carried out shortly after 9/11, particularly in northern Virginia. The raids have been interpreted as part of the government's effort to remove former Islamic leaders and encourage a new kind of leadership that will fit its own definition of "moderate Islam." 4. A few males have been arrested and deported from the country, a reality that has resulted in some cases in women occupying public positions both because the men are gone and also to protect other men from such public attention. 5. Other government activities have included profiling, censoring of Islamic texts, monitoring mosques, and instituting procedures for search and seizure. Muslims are alarmed at the increased vigilance shown by the American government since 9/11 in identifying potential terrorists. Measures such as these have made them fear for themselves, their families, and their communities. In addition, Muslims are suffering from the pain of seeing a few of their coreligionists act in extremist ways that they strongly disavow, some even saying that they feel true Islam has been hijacked by those who do violence in the name of the faith. At the same time that Muslims are rethinking what it means to be Muslim in America, they feel constrained by the reality that their deeds are constantly being observed and their words analyzed. The Muslim community is clearly still under scrutiny. Many feel the necessity to restrict their sermons to devotional topics and to avoid all political conversation. Public discussion of anything having to do with decisions and policies of the American government is strongly curtailed in some quarters, and Muslims fear that the freedom allowed in the use of the Internet might result in freedom of speech by some that could lead to more repressive measures for the community in general. In addition to scrutiny from the top, Muslims face the constant reality of anti-Muslim feelings on the part of much of the American public. The term now most often used to describe those feelings, coined in England in the early part of this decade, is Islamophobia. Islamophobia Despite the concerted efforts of Muslims and many non-Muslims to present an image of Islam as moderate and peaceful, polls as recent as 2008 make it clear that many Americans continue to be uncomfortable with the presence of Muslims in America. The fact that some of the most prominent U.S. Christian evangelical leaders have portrayed both the Prophet and his religion in extremely unflattering ways -- Muhammad as a wild-eyed fanatic and a killer, a terrorist, and a demon-possessed pedophile, and Islam as an evil religion -- has not helped the cause of better interfaith understanding. The Prophet of Islam serves as a model for Muslim belief and behavior, and for Muslims such images are deeply humiliating, as have been many of the cartoons and other depictions of Arabs and Muslims throughout the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Their images changed from fools and knaves to oil-rich sheikhs with beards and huge bellies (and harem girls in the background), and now have evolved into machine-gun-toting terrorists and suicide bombers. Words and images of hate have sometimes led to acts of violence, and a number of American Muslim mosques and public buildings have been the targets of crime and vandalism. Even before 9/11 Muslims generally identified American prejudice against Islam as the major concern they face in trying to live in the United States. The stakes continue to be raised, and polls consistently show that Americans do not understand the religion of Islam. A majority of Americans report that they are either "somewhat" or "very" worried about radicals within the American Muslim community. While they don't believe that most American Muslims condone violence, they do worry that an increase in the number of Muslims allowed to immigrate may lead to the growth of radical cells or even to advocacy of shari ' a law. (In fact the government has made it difficult for Muslims to emigrate; only a small number of Iraqis have actually been admitted.) Public voices are still heard on radio, TV, and videos propagating the myth that Muslims indoctrinate their children into a "culture of hatred," as portrayed, for example, in the 2005 documentary film Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West . More than 28 million copies of the work on DVD have been distributed free of charge. The film, in which radical Islam is equated with Nazism under the convenient label "Islamofascism," ends with a map of the world with a swastika superimposed on it, followed by scenes of carnage caused by "Islamic radicals." Muslims are particularly concerned about the potential for even greater misinformation and propagation of prejudice with the rapid development of Internet use. Increasingly, schoolchildren and teenagers can access the "Net" for school reports and other projects, and much of what they find is propaganda fostering a negative image of Islam. The threat of Islam is real, warns a book available on the Internet, more than communism was, because Muslims are willing to die for the cause of Islam, spreading their faith through "jihad," or holy war. We must work to stop the spread of Islam before it is too late, warns the author. Those concerned with the easy dissemination of such materials note that Islam is the only monotheistic religion that has become the object of such insults and false accusations. Other instances of anti-Muslim prejudice can be found expressed more informally, but no less effectively, if one accesses Internet chat rooms. One of the primary tasks of many of the Muslim organizations mentioned in this book is to identify ways in which prejudice against Islam and Muslims continues to be present on the American scene. Consistent efforts are being made to ensure that information about Islam in textbooks and other curricular materials in the public schools is accurate and unbiased. Much work remains to be done. A 2008 review of texts adopted for use in California and available to schools nationwide, for example, revealed that students are still unlikely to get a complete and accurate understanding of contemporary issues in Islam, including terrorism, or of the historical context of the religion. Some organizations work to identify ways in which the public media regularly distort and misrepresent information about Islam in America as well as on the international scene and to call to public attention instances in which U.S. and Canadian Muslims experience prejudicial or unfair treatment in the workplace or other public arenas. Primary among the organizations specifically dedicated to identifying and combating anti-Muslim prejudice in the United States and Canada is the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Washington, D.C. Its American-Muslim Research Center (ARC) documents incidents and events that affect Muslim civil rights in America. Recognizing that most Americans are woefully ignorant and misinformed about Islam, ARC encourages local Muslim communities to reach out and educate other segments of American society through the dissemination of accurate information. CAIR regularly publicizes, on the Internet, incidents in which Muslims in the United States have received unfair or prejudicial treatment. (Anyone may request to join the read-only mailing list of CAIR-NET.) Descriptions of these incidents are often followed by specific information as to where readers may write or be in contact with an appropriate party to influence positive resolution of an issue. Muslim parents who are concerned about the effects of anti-Muslim prejudice on their children can go to the web and find a number of helpful sites. Parents are strongly encouraged to be as candid as possible in discussing prejudice with their children, helping them to realize that they are not alone in their fears and worries and that families and communities can be a strong support. Not all Muslims living in the United States, of course, are concerned with efforts to protect Muslims from unfair treatment, as not all participate in the various forms of Muslim religious life that are increasingly evident in communities across America. Yet for a growing number of those who consciously identify with Islam and want to live in ways that support their understanding of the faith and its requirements, more and more structures are being put in place. Prejudice against their religion is a reality with which all American Muslims must deal in one way or another, but both Muslim and non-Muslim individuals and organizations are stepping up efforts to identify and address incidents of misrepresentation and unfair treatment. Local and national groups provide instruction and support, and information is available in a variety of forms to help Muslims deal with virtually any concerns. In the meantime, Muslims are finding increasing support in many segments of American society for their efforts to present Islam fairly and reasonably. With the help of colleagues in education, other religious organizations, and even some quarters of the political establishment, they may eventually find that combating anti-Muslim prejudice and offering a picture of a reasonable religious community working for the betterment of American society will become easier to accomplish. Can There Be an "American umma "? As we have seen, a great range of interpretations of Islam characterizes its faith and practice in the United States. Each group must continue to ask itself if its own interpretation of Islam, and the corresponding implications for how its members choose to live and comport themselves, is indeed relevant in contemporary American society. Will other Americans find it acceptable and if not, to what extent does it matter? Will the youth of their community continue to find it relevant? Those who up to now have tried to lead lives of relative isolation, fearful that too much contact with America will compromise their own faith and culture, now recognize that current generations are finding it necessary to be more open, more receptive to the culture of which they have become a part. And those who choose more "secular" solutions to questions of Islamic identity in the West are sometimes finding that they may have lost some of the clarity and distinctiveness of what it means to be Muslim. American Muslims have tried for many years to avoid the kind of terminology that polarizes them into "isolationists" on the one hand and "accommodationists" on the other. Neither alternative has been satisfactory to Muslims who are searching for guidelines and principles that can speak to the majority of the members of the complex body that is American Islam. Such potential polarization is less an option in the post-9/11 climate, in which the government and its people are insisting on the emergence of a moderate Islam that avoids the extremes that seem so potentially troublesome. A major task for Muslims now is to clarify what matters are flexible and may be reinterpreted in the Western context and what issues are so clearly part of God's design for human life and response that they cannot be negotiated. What kinds of adjustments to classical interpretations of Sunna and shari ' a must be made by those living in the United States and how can the limit of flexible interpretation be determined? Which elements of law and custom are mandatory for all faithful Muslims, no matter where they live, and which allow for some reasonable degree of interpretation? What does constitute a modern Islam, and how can non-Muslims be made to understand its viability in the America of today? Muslims in all American communities are asking these questions with interest and concern, and advisors representing a range of perspectives, cultures, and interpretations are attempting to provide answers. Many Muslims living in the United States, both the more recently arrived and members of second- and third-generation Muslim families, do want to assimilate as much as possible into American culture and try not to emphasize elements of their identity that would differentiate them from others. This disinclination to over-identify with Islam has characterized a significant number of American Muslims since the early days of immigrant arrival, fostered, as we have seen, by such factors as the search for employment, intermarriage, dissatisfaction with mosque leadership, and various forms of engagement with American culture. For some, the increase in anti-Muslim prejudice in light of terrorist activities, pro-Israeli sentiment, anti-American rhetoric from many Arab Muslim leaders, and a number of other highly publicized international realities in the last several decades has encouraged this assimilation. For other members of America's Muslim community, however, these very factors, including the rise in revivalist Islam in many parts of the world, have reinvigorated their religious awareness and responsibility. Encouraged by the challenge that Islam poses internationally to Western secularism and worried about the influences of that secularism on their children in America, they have increasingly looked to and advocated Islam as both a faith and a way of life. Certainly, many first-, second-, and third-generation Muslims do not want to identify themselves too openly in American society for fear of becoming, or having their children become, targets of prejudice and discrimination. Many others, however, are tired of what they see as the biased and unfair representations of Islam and Muslims in the American media and take the opportunity to correct those images by providing in their own lives public examples of what "real Islam" looks like when practiced by conscientious and faithful adherents. For these Muslims -- including immigrants, African Americans, and others who have converted to Islam -- it is essential to find ways in which to live and express their faith and their Islamic identity at the same time that they acknowledge the necessity of adapting to and participating in American life. They are working out many different modes of participation, and American Islam is now at what many would consider a crucial stage as Muslims attempt to move toward a viable future in the American context. The search for what, if anything, unifies all Muslims in America is an ongoing concern with a great many dimensions. The question is asked in a great variety of ways: Is there anything that distinguishes American Islam such that there can be an identifiable American umma ? We have seen in the previous chapters many of the ways in which the quest for such unity is elusive. Immigrants have squabbled over differences in culture and custom. Some newly arrived Pakistanis, for example, may think second- and third-generation Arab Muslims are too liberal in their practice of Islam, and the Arabs in response may resent the "bossy" way in which the Pakistanis tell them how to be Muslim. Many Sunnis vigorously affirm that relations between Sunnis and Shi'ites are wonderful in America, while voices within the Shi'ite community protest that indeed, all is not harmonious. Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and others struggle to find their identity both under the greater umbrella of American Islam and also specifically as members of their respective racial-ethnic groupings. While most national Muslim organizations are predominantly either immigrant or African American, and while there is still lingering resentment among some blacks that they are not directly included in the work of an organization like ISNA, it is also true that a number of coordinating councils now include both immigrant and African American Muslims in positions of leadership. There is no question that continuing the efforts already under way to foster better appreciation, understanding, and cooperation among the different groups that constitute American Islam is an issue extremely high on the agenda for Muslims in the United States. Almost a decade has now passed since the tragedies of September 11, 2001. While the U.S. government continues to be wary, as do many of its citizens, no violent acts have been perpetrated by Muslims in America, although some arrests have been made. Tensions have eased a bit, though we are still in Code Orange, and Muslims have at least some reason to hope that their constant vigilance in promoting better understanding of Islam, and their responses when injustices have been perpetrated against Muslim Americans, are bearing some fruit. Nevertheless it still is not easy to be a Muslim in America. "I keep my physical and my mental bags packed all the time," says a female Egyptian college professor, "in case anything crazy should happen. Any incident of terror in which a Muslim is implicated, and I'm out of here back to Cairo for good." Many other Muslims of immigrant background feel the same way, while African Americans bear the double burden of being the recipients of both continuing racial prejudice and the knowledge that further Muslim violence in America would leave them nowhere to hide. Some Muslims would argue, however, that for all the atrocity of 9/11 it may have opened some important doors for them. All indications are that before that time few Americans had much awareness of the presence of Muslims in America. With the attacks Muslims were forced out of anonymity, so to speak, and into the spotlight. Despite the resulting discomfort, and the constant need to have to respond to questions of whether Islam is a religion of violence and why Muslims hate Americans ("If I have to answer those questions one more time I really will scream," said a Muslim called on repeatedly to defend his faith), there came also the opportunity to seriously engage with the issue of Islam as a truly American religion. As Muslims have had to defend their faith, and as they have moved from invisibility to visibility, many have responded with more overt forms of public acknowledgment of Islam. Veiling has increased among women, as have other forms of Islamic dress for men. Attendance at Friday services has increased, more people are observing Ramadan, and the essentially public nature of Islam is no longer hidden but is publicly affirmed. There is no question that since 9/11 Muslims have rallied, have begun seriously to address tough issues related to living Islamically in America, and -- perhaps most importantly -- have gathered the courage to seriously ponder their own religion and its roots. It has become a truism to say that if the religion of Islam is to experience any kind of reformation it is most likely that it will happen in the United States, where freedom of religion in general and the absence of state Islam in particular allow more flexibility of interpretation than is true in most other places in the world. It may be that 9/11was the single most energizing force in encouraging the kind of deep intellectual reflection on Islam that was most evident in the early centuries of the faith. Tensions in the American House of Islam Clearly, if there is to be an American umma with a sense of integrity and definition, its members must be honest about the differences that cause strain and tension as well as those that give it clarity and commonality. Many rifts exist within American Islam, and the strong attempts at unity expressed in the face of post-9/11 responses may paper them over temporarily but not really solve the issues at stake. On the contrary, it can certainly be argued that part of the task of Muslims in this new twenty-first-century Western location is to be honest about the distinctions that inevitably constitute such a heterodox multicultural Islam and to face up to the fact that all is not entirely happy within the house of American Islam. Following are a few of the potentially contentious arenas: 1. While they may not feel comfortable with the labels, American Muslims are being forced to think in terms of "liberal" and "conservative" in identifying streams of thought in their midst. Are the more conservative voices of Saudi Wahhabism, so influential in immigrant communities, especially in the 1980s, going to be dominant in the American context? A great deal of literature is being developed arguing that this kind of conservative ideology has no place in twenty-first-century America. Are the attempts to stretch Islam into a more liberal position exemplified, for instance, in the mixed-gender worship service led by Amina Wadud or the online defense of gays and lesbians going to be trendsetting for American Muslims? The answer is probably not, evidenced by the fact that the very liberal "Progressive Muslims" movement that appeared to be ascendant only a few years ago has faded from view, replaced by a range of more "moderate" attempts at interpreting Islam and its texts. The American Islamic Congress, for example, promoting tolerance and the exchange of ideas among Muslims and with others, subtitles its Web site "Passionate About Moderation." 2. Throughout the history of Islam, Sunnis and Shi'ites have often experienced severe tensions, generally more for political than theological reasons. That has not been the case in the American context, where until recently the two groups and their subsets have lived together in relative ease. The range of problems that all Muslims encounter in finding their identity in the United States has tended to overshadow internecine difficulties. The American invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, however, seem to have initiated some significant changes in the Sunni-Shi'ite relationship in the United States. Sectarian tensions in Iraq have been reflected in some instances in a worsening of mutual attitudes in America, and in several instances have resulted in Shi'ite mosques being vandalized. Mohamed Sabur, codirector of the Shi'ite advocacy group called the Qunoot Foundation, founded in 2007 to address the problem of intrafaith relations, looks to the destruction in 2006 of the golden dome of the Al-Askariya Mosque in Samarra, Iraq, as a turning point in rising sectarian tensions. Even Saddam Hussain himself would not have committed such an attack on one of Shi'ism's holiest shrines, says Sabur. Some Sunnis in America now condemn Shi'ites as heretics, and Shi'ites profess themselves increasingly uncomfortable with praying in Sunni mosques. Shi'ite leaders are becoming more assertive in claiming their rights within the American Muslim community, a movement that is supported by some Sunni imams who are raising funds to help rebuild the Samarra shrine. The ultimate course of the Iraq war, still in question at this writing, may strongly influence the future relationships of Sunnis and Shi'ites in America. 3. While demographics and the flow of time have blurred the lines between what used to be called "immigrant Islam" and "African American Islam," some blacks are becoming more vigilant in calling to the attention of their Muslim brothers and sisters the fact that they sometimes still feel left out of the conversation. For many years ISNA and the African American national conference were held at the same time, thus emphasizing the separation. The 2000 presidential election fiasco, in which members of the immigrant community chose a candidate for Muslim support without checking with their African American coreligionists, opened the door for some honest conversation about inclusiveness and racial equality within American Islam. A number of black academics have now begun to talk and write seriously about the hurt and anger that they have felt at being "shut out" and not considered true Muslims by those of immigrant descent. This honesty has been jarring within American Islam, but has led to serious conversation about trying to bridge the divide often felt between blacks and Muslims of other heritage. The efforts of people like Imam Siraj Wahaj at Masjid Taqwa in New York, working with youth to erase lines of color and culture, may pave the way for better intra-communal understanding and appreciation. 4. Another area of tension within American Islam, though one steadfastly denied or unacknowledged by most Muslims, is that between men and women. As we have seen, even Muslim women (or men, of whom there are a very few) who want to adopt the identity of feminist, insist that their feminism is markedly different from that of predominantly white, upper-middle-class non-Muslim American women, and they also assert that men and women enjoy relationships of equity if not absolutely equality within the system of Islam. Nonetheless, voices are increasingly being raised drawing attention to the distinction between the parity enjoyed by men and women as described in the Qur'an and the actual practices of men in relation to women in cultures around the world and, in the case of a few Muslim feminist analysts, also in the American community. Gwendolyn Simmons of the University of Florida offers a straightforward critique of what she sees as the failure of Islam to stand up to its promise of gender equality. "Frankly," she says, "I am tired of the contortions, the bending over backwards, and the justifications for the oppressive, repressive and exclusionary treatment of women in majority Islamic societies as well as in minority Muslim communities in the U.S.A." New feminist interpretations of the Qur'an are contributing to the frank conversation about women in Islam, as are honest descriptions of the treatment that some American Muslim women are beginning to acknowledge does not measure up to the rhetoric about male-female relationships. That story, too, is still in the early stages of its telling. 5. One more area of potential contention for Muslims in America is the complex set of relationships between themselves as residents of a Western country and the individuals and groups who have continued until now to be influential on their thinking and, often, on their well-being. Will the Wahhabis and the Salafis continue through finances or ideology to affect the ways in which Americans interpret Islam? Will young American Muslims who may find themselves attracted to international ideologies such as Al Qaida develop quiet cells of opposition on American soil? Will Shi'ites whose lives are now so deeply indebted to the religious leaders of Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, and other areas of the world continue that dependent relationship, or will they begin to develop forms of American Shi'ite Islam free of such direct guidance? Will American Muslims in the near future be able to develop adequate training facilities for imams and religious leaders so that they do not have to depend on immigrant leadership often ill-equipped to speak English and unfamiliar with the contexts in which Muslims live and work? A great deal of energy today is going into thinking through these kinds of relationships between Muslims in America and the communities of influence in their homes of origin. Community Relations If Muslims are being challenged in this post-9/11 environment to look more carefully at relationships within the Islamic community itself, they are also turning outward to establish and cement other kinds of relationships with those outside their immediate circle. While immigrant Muslims, or those of immigrant heritage, were once reluctant to enter fully into American public life, that situation has obviously changed in recent years, especially since September 11. Although they have not repeated the attempt to establish a national election bloc, Muslims are getting involved in politics at all levels. They are beginning to work through various avenues to exert their influence locally and nationally. While formerly they may have donated money and had it returned because the recipient feared that it would not "look right," Muslims are strategically planning their contributions in such a way that they can be part of the system of influence. They are active on town and city commissions, on local school boards, and in many other venues that allow them to become contributing members of American society. "Concept and Vision -- Awareness and Steady Progress" is the motto of the Maryland Muslim Council, for example, as it not only creates grassroots Muslim councils but also works to establish credibility with the larger community and makes plans for the future building of hospitals, shelters, and food banks that will be open to everyone. Some Muslims who are part of the medical profession are establishing free medical clinics in urban areas. "Caring for Our Neighbors: How Muslim Community-Based Health Organizations Are Bridging the Healthcare Gap in America" is the title of a major new study released by ISPU, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. Muslim community-based health organizations, which the study tracks in Los Angeles, Detroit, Houston, and Chicago, are providing an important safety net in health care access for what the report calls the most underserved communities in America. The study helps shed light on the demographic populations served by Muslim health care providers and the growing role of clinics in maintaining American public health and fostering community building. Lance Laird, author of the report, notes the similarity of these Muslim health organizations to Christian and Jewish hospitals established earlier in U.S. history. The same efforts at connection outside the community are being extended in the realm of religion. As we saw earlier, soon after the Twin Towers destruction Muslims began to try to repair relations with non-Muslims by holding mosque open houses. Many hundreds of mosques invited Christians, Jews, and others to visit with them, see where and how they pray, and hear about an Islam that is nonviolent. While for many years Muslims were the recipients of invitations to participate in interfaith dialogue, increasingly they are themselves becoming the initiators and the hosts of dialogues among Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Sayyid Saeed of the Islamic Society of North America works for better interfaith relations out of his office in Washington, D.C. Saeed, who has received an award for his work on dialogue, has established connections with Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, Lutherans, and others. Muslims and Jews have been participating in local discussions in a number of places under the general rubric "We Refuse to Be Enemies," centering on the hope to reconcile Jews and Palestinians. Members of the Muslim Student Association are inviting their non-Muslim friends to attend what are known as Fast-a-thons during Ramadan -- participants donate the money that they would have spent on food to homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Muslim campus chaplains, who are increasing in number, are regularly providing programming that invites non-Muslims to share in the activities of their Muslim groups. Project Nur, sponsored by the American Islamic Congress, is another example of an initiative designed to help build bridges between Muslim and non-Muslim students on university campuses by promoting coexistence, tolerance, and understanding. In July 2008 Yale Divinity School hosted the first public dialogue launched by Muslim intellectuals for Christian leaders in the United States. It was a follow-up on what is known as the "A Common Word" document, signed and issued a year earlier by 138 prominent Muslims around the world calling on Christian and Muslim leaders to lead the way in helping to promote peace between Islam and the West. Christians in attendance at Yale were mainly Protestant theologians and church leaders, with some evangelicals, Catholics, and Jews also present. Both Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims came from many international locales to participate. The core of the "A Common Word" project is the affirmation that Islam and Christianity share the common values of love of God and love of neighbor. The group is scheduled to meet with Anglicans in October and Pope Benedict in November. Observers of the July gathering felt that one of its most interesting aspects was the opportunity for Christian evangelicals, whose stated purpose is the conversion of Muslims to Christianity, to talk with representatives of the Islamic faith, for whom conversion is apostasy. For now the project is aimed at Christians and Muslims, although it is anticipated that eventually Jews will be drawn in. Intellectually, serious efforts have been made since 9/11 to address the question of pluralism in Islam. While Americans who are not Muslim are asking Muslims whether their theology/ideology allows for their full participation in a multi-religious America, Muslims are themselves looking at their texts and their interpretations to understand whether pluralism is actually a viable alternative to Islamic exclusivism. Many of the best Islamic scholars in America are arguing that pluralism is the best term to describe the conditions at the time of the Prophet and the revelation of the Qur'an, the history of Islam in its relations with other communities of faith, Islam itself in the contemporary world, and Islam within the culture of the United States. Only a few writers, however, have tried to distinguish between pluralism as a description of multiplicity and pluralism as an attitude affirming that such multiplicity is God's choice for humanity. The bottom line of the discussion, of course, is whether Islam is in fact open to accepting religions such as Judaism and Christianity on their own terms. Part of the discussion of pluralism tries to prove that Islam is compatible with liberal democracy, and thus belongs in contemporary America. A great deal of discussion has been held showing that Islamic values do promote democracy, human rights, and political pluralism. The discourse is also serving as a vehicle for those who want to argue that the kind of repressive Islam that fostered the ideology behind the 9/11 attacks has no role in genuine Islam, and certainly not in American Islam. Sherman Jackson of the University of Michigan identifies what he calls the "false universal" in Islam, meaning the construction of an Islamic ideology that sounds like Wahhabism and excludes black American Muslims. The reality of 9/11 has made it crucial that a reformed and pluralistic Islam be honed for inclusion in American society, Jackson says. The danger comes when the dominant is equated with the universal, i.e., when primarily imported and traditional interpretations of Islam (as in Wahhabi and Salafi) are offered to the exclusion of others (meaning African Americans). UCLA's Khalid Abou El Fadl in The Place of Tolerance in Islam (2002) also argues in defense of an Islam different from that propagated by exclusionary, intolerant Wahhabism. Others are attempting to come to terms with the fundamental theological question suggested by pluralism: Does Islam accept other religions? For the most part, those who try to respond to this question affirm the commonalities among faiths, at least at the spiritual level, and sometimes they point to the metaphysical unity of all faiths. Judaism and Christianity are accepted as being within the continuity of monotheism, underscoring the unity of the traditions. While most Muslims today, even in America, are reluctant to put any other religion on a par with Islam, some will argue that God has not granted a spiritual monopoly to any one religion, that the Qur'an in fact encourages competition in virtue and goodness among all people of faith, and that Islam is uniquely positioned to serve as a reconciling force among different religions because at its core it promotes tolerance and respect for all. While most of those addressing the question of theological pluralism in Islam affirm that it means acceptance of only Judaism and Christianity, the religions of the Book, as true and acceptable religions, a very few will go even further. The conversation should be extended to include Buddhists, Taoists, and members of other faiths, says Fathi Osman of the Los Angeles Institute for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World. Isma'ili Harvard scholar Ali Asani seems to take it a step further when he actually moves to expand the "People of the Book" category to include other religious groups such as Hindus and Buddhists, who were encountered by Muslims in the early days of the spread of Islam. Most American Muslims are not willing to make such theological concessions, though many are eager to think more deeply about what it means to affirm the faith of Islam in a culture in which other religions are being practiced and promoted. The Muslim community in America faces many questions as it looks to the immediate future. How will Muslims, and thus American Islam itself, change as second, third, and fourth generations of immigrants become more distant from their places of origin? Non-Muslim Americans can no longer talk about Islam as "foreign" or even as an "Eastern" religion. Islam has become part of America, and Muslims have become a growing and vital segment of its population. How will this affect both external and internal perceptions of Islam and Muslims? Will the majority of Muslims identify themselves as Americans who happen to be Muslim or as Muslims who happen to live in America? What differences will such identification make in their public and private lives? Will Islam in America achieve its currently stated goal of becoming a significant political force? Is it likely that American resentment and prejudice against Islam will subside as the result of greater contact with Muslims and better understanding of their faith and practices? Who will provide the authoritative voices for American Muslims as they are increasingly able to choose where to go for direction? The search for an American umma distinct from the racial-ethnic identities that have often served to divide and separate rather than unify is high on the agenda of many Muslims today and is particularly important to the youth who will be the new leaders of the community. The coming decades will be crucial as Muslims in the United States become clearer about who they are, what they need, and how they must organize to make their voices heard amid the competing claims of a diverse American society. Whatever patterns of religious, social, and personal life develop, clearly they will have to represent both a continuity with the life and faith of the Prophet and his community and the emergence of a new entity with its own qualities and characteristics -- a truly American Islam. *** COPYRIGHT NOTICE : Published by Columbia University Press and copyrighted © 2010 Columbia University Press. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher, except for reading and browsing via the World Wide Web. Users are not permitted to mount this file on any network servers. For more information, please e-mail or visit the permissions page on our Web site. Excerpted from Islam in America by Jane I. Smith All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

One Muslim Faith and Practice
Two Contributors to the Development of Islam
Three Islam Comes to America
Four Islam in the African American Community
Five Women and the Muslim American Family
Six Living a Muslim Life in American Society
Chapter Seven The Public Practice of Islam
Chapter Eight Looking to the Future Profiles: American Muslims of Note Chronology
Resources for the Study of American Islam