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The Status of Minorities under Islamic Law  

Anver Emon

How are non-Muslims treated under Islamic law? “Tolerance” features as a key trope in contemporary writing on the topic in both the scholarly and popular literature. Writers are keen to determine whether one can assess whether “Islam” is tolerant of non-Muslims or not. An exploration of the limits of “tolerance” as an analytic device by illuminating the various rationales that informed juristic conclusions of law on non-Muslims shows that while some rules certainly evince a discriminatory logic, others are more accommodative and inclusive.

Article

Sufi Groups in North America: A History  

Jason Idriss Sparkes

North America is home to an extraordinary diversity of Sufi groups. This diversity is especially great in Canada and the United States, largely because of policies that have encouraged immigration from every part of the globe, including the vast regions of Africa and Eurasia where Sufism historically emerged. These liberal immigration policies, which began in the 1960s, opened the way for immigrants and foreign students to establish North American branches of Sufi groups from their countries of origin. It also allowed them to interact with Muslims and non-Muslims of other ethnic backgrounds, including the North American descendants of Western Europeans and Africans. New Sufi groups as well as groups partly influenced by Sufism were born from this interaction. These groups have evolved as a diverse minority within an equally diverse Muslim minority in Canada and the United States. As a result, each group tends to be relatively small and includes between a handful and a few thousand adherents. In Central America and the Caribbean Islands, there are fewer groups despite the presence of Sufism, which dates to the early colonial period. To understand contemporary expressions of Sufism in North America, it is necessary to examine the contested role of Sufism within the global Islamic tradition. For example, it is useful to consider how Sufis, who consider themselves specialists of the inner or mystical dimension of Islam, have engaged with specialists of other dimensions, such as jurisprudence and doctrine. It is also helpful to examine how Orientalist discourses associated with Western colonialism depict antinomian currents within Sufism as representing a universalist spirituality, closer to Christianity than the purported legalism of Islam. An understanding of this broader history is crucial to situate the history of Sufism in North America, from the 15th century until the early 21st century. Since the early colonial period, Sufis have been present in the Americas, mostly as a marginalized and discrete population among the millions of African victims of the transatlantic slave trade. From the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, practitioners of Sufism in North America tended to be largely of Asian origin. Since the mid-20th century , Sufi groups with adherents of extremely diverse origins have developed in a variety of ways, including universalist groups composed of both Muslims and non-Muslims and ethnically homogeneous groups of Muslims operating discretely within local mosques and immigrant communities.

Article

Athletics and Sports in North America  

Steven Fink

Many North American Muslims love sports because they are enthralled by the chance to compete and by the pleasure that pervades play. From professional Muslim athletes to participants in Muslim basketball leagues or mosque athletic activities, Muslims throughout North America have enjoyed sports’ intrinsic delights and physical fitness rewards. Additionally, sports have promoted two other important functions for North American Muslims. First, especially in mosques and other local contexts, sports have promoted the strengthening of both personal piety and Islamic fellowship. A basketball game at a mosque might strengthen a Muslim’s desire to attend the Friday prayer service at the mosque; an annual Muslim Sports Day might strengthen bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood among a diverse gathering of athletically inclined Muslim participants. Second, in contexts such as Muslim basketball leagues in which non-Muslims play alongside Muslims and through the accomplishments of professional Muslim boxers, basketball players, football players, and Olympians, sports have possessed the potential to overturn non-Muslims’ negative perceptions of Islam and Muslims. Considering both of these functions, sports have played a role within North American Muslim dawah, a concept that connotes both drawing Muslims to deeper devotion and giving non-Muslims a favorable impression of Islam. In line with the word’s etymological basis in an Arabic root containing the meaning “to invite,” dawah in the athletic setting serves as an invitation for Muslims to pour themselves into pious practices alongside fellow Muslims as ardently as they might dive on the floor to grab a loose ball or push themselves in the training room in hopes of enjoying victory in an upcoming game. At the same time, sports-based dawah invites non-Muslims to recognize Muslims as full-fledged North American teammates, seeking to improve myriad aspects of North American society.

Article

Shari’a Tribunals in North America  

James T. Richardson and Bryan S. Turner

Some North American societies, especially Canada and the United States, are experiencing increasing numbers of Muslim citizens, and those communities have grown and become more integrated into the two societies. Predictably, they have sought the right to practice their faith in ways similar to how other minority religions are treated within the relatively open societies in which they reside. However, tragic events such as the destruction of the World Trade Center has led to considerable animus toward Muslims within the two societies, thus impeding efforts to seek more acceptance of Islamic practices, such as when settling domestic disputes involving divorce, child custody, and inheritance. Controversies have erupted in both the United States and Canada over efforts to allow arbitration in the area of domestic affairs for Muslims. A number of scholars have addressed this topic, often using previously accepted treatments of Jewish minorities as a model. The pros and cons of such an approach have been presented, leading to the conclusion from many of those scholars that allowing, within certain limits, recognition of Muslim practices within the domestic relations area would be beneficial both to the societies at large and to the Muslim citizens residing within them.

Article

Islamic Relics  

Richard McGregor

Relics can be found in every era of Islamic history, throughout the Islamic world. In line with other religious traditions of the Near East, the Qur’an mentions several objects endowed with special power (e.g., Joseph’s coat, the Ark of the Covenant). The earliest Islamic literature, preserving the life and mission of Muḥammad, presents details of several revered objects. These include objects handed down from pre-Islamic prophets as well as the discards of Muḥammad’s person, including clothing, weapons, and hair. Saintly figures, descendants of the Prophet, and his companions have also been sources for relics. Relics are displayed and venerated in devotional contexts such as shrines, tombs, mosques, madrasas, and museums. Relics have been paraded on special occasions such as the festival days of the Muslim calendar, in medieval protest marches, as part of the rituals for relief from drought, and as talismans in battle. Despite the occasional objection from austere doctors of law, devotion to relics has remained commonplace. While a full inventory is impossible, five categories may be proposed for the Islamic relic: (a) Bodily relics include the blood of martyrs, hair, and fingernail parings. Shrines have been built over severed heads—the most famous being that of Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī (d. 680). (b) Contact relics, having collected the baraka (blessing) of their one-time owners, pass those blessings on to any pilgrim who touches them. Several staffs, lances, bows, shields, turbans, cloaks, and sandals attributed to the Prophet have been preserved, some of which were presented as symbols of authority in the early caliphate. (c) Impressions in stone made by feet, hands, fingers, posteriors, and even hooves are preserved. Muḥammad’s footprints saw a brisk trade in the medieval period, and his sandal inspired a minor tradition of devotional iconography first in manuscript copies and later in modern mass production. (d) Inanimate objects, miraculously endowed with speech or locomotion, constitute a fourth category. These animated relics could be speaking stones or moving trees, particularly in the sacred topographies of Medina and Mecca. (e) Many revered places which were the site of important events have been marked off and preserved. More than commemorations, these “stage relics” anchored sacred history and holy bodies in the landscape. The location of Muḥammad’s birthplace in Mecca was until recently a revered stage relic.

Article

Islamic Society of North America  

Iqbal J. Unus

The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is arguably the most influential of organizations and institutions that represent and serve the interests of the growing community of Muslims in the United States and Canada. ISNA evolved in the early 1980s from the Muslim Students Association of the United States and Canada (MSA), founded in 1963 by international students on North American college campuses. ISNA has secured its place among Muslim Americans by opening its membership to all Muslim Americans, regardless of ethnicity or sectarian persuasion. Further, its member-elected leadership facilitates timely and relevant responses to the changing civic and political environment. Headquartered in suburban Plainfield, Indiana, ISNA is governed by a board of directors and managed by an executive director as its chief executive officer. As an Internal Revenue Service–designated tax-exempt charity, ISNA is funded by contributions from members and donors and by revenues from its conventions and conferences. ISNA claims and promotes leadership and service as its guiding principles and draws from those themes for its most visible activities: an annual convention, its flagship bimonthly publication, two annual education forums, and its active engagement with governmental and religious institutions. A vibrant youth program, an inclusive orientation, a stewardship outlook, and membership open to Muslims of all sectarian persuasions have earned ISNA a prominent place in the American Muslim community. ISNA’s comprehensive work in many areas of Muslim-American life has enabled it to initiate and lead collaborative initiatives among Muslim organizations to advance common goals. Yet, during the nearly sixty years of their existence, MSA and ISNA have endured a few financial and operational challenges. Funding by core supporters and diligence by committed officers helped strengthen ISNA’s resilience and reinforce its ingrained appeal to North American Muslims. By thoughtfully collaborating with faith-based organizations, civic-minded activist groups, and governmental entities at national levels, ISNA has secured a preeminent position as the representative voice of Muslim Americans. ISNA’s annual conventions and flagship magazine are recognized as significant contributions to the maturity of the Muslim American presence in North America.

Article

Theology in Translation: Latin American and Iranian Efforts  

Ángel Horacio Molina and Luis Alberto Vittor

“Turkish” migrants , in fact Ottoman Arab who entered the American continent with identity documents issued by the Ottoman authorities and traveled with their languages or dialects, arrived at the end of the 19th century and in the first decades of the 20th century. However, the migratory wave extended almost until the middle of the 20th century after going through a complex political, social, and cultural process that substantially modified various aspects of the migrants’ lives. Their religious lives were progressively hampered in terms of ritual practice because their faith of origin was in the minority with no adequate spaces for collective prayer. They encountered the increasingly pressing need to translate their Islamic sources, on the one hand because of the gradual loss of the Arabic language in some communities and on the other because of the need to maintain it—not only through translation but also by teaching the language in mosques and community centers. The arrival of Iranian migrants to different destinations in Latin America starting in the 1980s enriched this process of translation and dissemination of Islamic texts (Arabic and Persian) in Latin America. The Muslim diaspora was the first group who, for various reasons, left their homeland while maintaining a close relationship with their language and culture of origin, and later, Muslim converts devoted themselves to the task of translating (inversely, directly, and indirectly) the Islamic theological texts from Arabic to Spanish or Portuguese. The very possibility of translation is a type of migration—a transfer that modifies a source language into a target language. One’s own language is poured into a foreign language. Translating is the disposition of language from the “I” that leads the reader to meet the “you” of otherness. This migratory process is also the inner journey made by the Latin American convert to the Islamic faith: their effort to first learn a language that is not their own in order to translate it into their own in the act of translating. Translation is a form of migration that has become an essential tool for mediation, conversion, knowledge, and dissemination. Both Muslim Arabs and converts devoted themselves to this task: for Muslim Arabs because of the progressive loss in the use of the language of their ancestors, and for converts, out of a pious duty to learn Arabic, the language in which the Qur’an was revealed in the Scripture that guides their new faith and to benefit those who do not know the language.

Article

Islam, Gender, and Sexualities  

Yafa Shanneik

Mapping a discussion on gender and sexualities in Islam needs to move beyond an understanding of Islamic law (shariah) and its interpretations that has traditionally been made by male religious scholars (ulamā). It is important to also pay attention to the lived experiences of people on the ground and move away from a homogeneous universal construct of what gender is and what sexualities are. It should include an examination of various power structures that highlights the experiences and voices of not only women but also other subjected and subaltern groups. What are the intersections and overlapping viewpoints and arguments on gender and sexualities in Islam? Who is talking on behalf of which group? The examination of gender and sexualities within Islam is a complex topic that needs consideration of socioeconomic and political shifts as well as ongoing processes of modernization and globalization. This includes the formation of nation-states, the codification of Islamic law, the shift in family relations and mobility, the increase in level of education and waged labor, and transnational migration. International organizations, such as the United Nations, also exert pressure on governments of Muslim-majority countries to adhere to established international human rights standards. This pressure has played a role in prompting changes in legislations particularly regarding the personal status law that affects women’s and other minority rights. The aftermath of the latest political uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) since 2011 has placed gender at the heart of not only religious but also political contestations. Displacement and the sociopolitical marginalization of minority groups have contributed to the changing understandings of gender orders within the MENA region and beyond. As a consequence, normative understandings of gender and sexualities have been renegotiated and readjusted and have resulted in new gender power relations. This disruption of conventional gender power relations creates tensions and causes divergences between what, for generations, has been perceived as traditional gender norms. This is primarily evident within familial structures and conjugal relationships where the lived realities do not always reflect current Islamic jurisprudence or the law set by the state.

Article

Muslims across Hispanic and Lusophone Geographies  

Paulo Pinto

Since the early colonization of Spanish and Portuguese America, Muslims were present as formal converts to Catholicism who were called Moriscos in Spanish and Mouriscos in Portuguese. They were often persecuted by the Portuguese and the Spanish Inquisition. Another important Muslim presence in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies in America was that of enslaved African Muslims, who constituted a significant part of the enslaved population in many areas of Mexico, Cuba, Peru, Colombia, Chile, and Brazil. In the last decades of the 19th century, a new Muslim population started to be created through the arrival of Arabic-speaking immigrants from regions that later became Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. While this influx reached all countries, Argentina and Brazil received the largest numbers of immigrants, with Mexico also receiving a much smaller contingent. These immigrants created the first Muslim communities and institutions in the early 20th century. After a period of decline in the 1970s, there was a religious renewal in the Muslim communities with the updates to religious tradition, revival of the Muslim identity among the younger generations, and conversions to Islam of individuals without Muslim background. By the 2000s, conversion to Islam became a well-established phenomenon in many Muslim communities in Latin America. New waves of Muslim immigration and transnational Islamic movements also arrived in Latin America in the late 1990s and early 2000s, creating more pluralism in the Muslim religious landscape. Therefore, the long history of Muslim presence across Hispanic and Lusophone geographies arrives at the 21st century with the consolidation of a diverse and complex Muslim presence.

Article

Theology, Issues in North America  

Candace Mixon

Muslims have been present in North America long before the transatlantic slave trade; Western and North African Muslims were an (involuntary) part of “New World” expeditions as early as the 1500s. Muslims who arrived enslaved during the transatlantic slave trade were often prohibited from practicing, writing about, or discussing Islam. Later, immigration waves, new religious movements, and eventually dedicated centers for teaching about Muslims and Islam and centers of Muslim education and debate yielded sophisticated responses to the specific challenges and benefits of North American Muslim life. Authenticity and connection to Arabo-centric Islam have often characterized theological movements, while the variety of North American Muslim communities developed an ever-changing pallet of Islams and identity markers that still do not coalesce neatly into traditional theological schools. The concept and translation of Islamic theology, or kalam, does not map onto its comparative Christian counterpart. Kalam has historically been employed to define modes of correct Muslim practice within Muslim communities while defending against questions, attacks, or degradations by other religious groups. Islamic theology can be considered from two directions: foundations of practicing Islam that form Muslims’ obligations derived from many Qur’anic interpretations and through the discipline of theology, focused on the rational and technical inquiry of doctrines and arguments to determine correct practice. Both approaches delve into intra-Muslim dialogues, which are vital to the outcome of believers’ performance in this world to prepare for the next. North American experiences inform Muslim approaches to theology, whether attributed to transcontinental migration or developed within the boundaries of North America. Such approaches may sometimes be disparate or even oppositional, accumulated through the lack of a singular religious authority. Numerous leadership groups, histories, informal leaders, and recognized pathfinders who could be considered leading the charge to promote particular theologically driven movements in North America can be pointed to. At the same time, many Muslims in North America do not belong to any particular Muslim organization; they may connect with ethnic or regional communities instead. Tracing the history of Islam in North America is a framework for following North American approaches to theological debates that serve to create, police, or multiply the variety of Muslim experiences in North America. The decentralized development and diversification of Islam in North America contribute to a diversity of theological practices that are better embraced in their multiplicities rather than treated as a cohesive body.