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Mohammed, Warith Deen  

Zaid Adhami

Also known as Wallace D. Mohammed, W. D. Mohammed, or Imam Mohammed, was a renowned African American Muslim theologian as well as a religious and civic leader. He was the son of Elijah Muhammad, a longtime leader of the Nation of Islam who was regarded in the movement as the “Messenger of Allah” and referred to as the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Upon his father’s passing in 1975, W. D. Mohammed assumed leadership of the Nation of Islam (NOI) as Supreme Minister and immediately began a transition away from many of Elijah Muhammad’s core teachings. He spoke of this transition as an evolution toward “Al-Islam,” or “the religion of Islam.” Mohammed thereby made a claim to a more authentic understanding of Islam. In effect, Mohammed shifted the organization toward the teachings of Sunni Islam (the predominant branch of Islam throughout the world). Under his leadership, congregations from around the country that were part of the NOI joined in this transition. From 1975 through the 1980s Mohammed instituted many drastic changes in the movement, not only theologically but also politically and institutionally. He moved away from the separatist and Black Nationalist orientation of his father’s movement and in certain ways aligned the movement with national immigrant-based Muslim organizations. He also changed the name of the organization several times and decentralized its leadership structure, while adopting the title of “Imam” instead of “Supreme Minister.” Despite changes he introduced, Imam Mohammed identified his teachings as a continuation of the legacy of the Nation of Islam, and he continued to address the particular concerns and realities of African Americans. Congregations following Imam Mohammed maintained a sense of collective belonging to a shared heritage and national community. A unique tradition thus developed with its own historical memory as well as an identifiable style of religious discourse and set of norms, all drawing heavily on the teachings and guidance of Imam W. D., particularly his interpretations of the Qur’an. These congregations have thus preserved an overarching community and tradition associated with Imam W. D. Mohammed, locating themselves historically in the unique African American experience of the NOI, while also aligning themselves with the global ummah (community of faith). Even after W. D. Mohammed’s passing, these congregations have continued to maintain a sense of shared identity and heritage.

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

Mexican Islam in the Perspective of Islam in Latin America  

Sylvie Taussig

The very idea of a Mexican Islam is paradoxical: this religion comes from outside, through the migration of people from Arab Islamic countries or through the circulation of symbolic goods fed from outside and circulating ever more easily with the rise of new technologies. However, in the early 21st century, Islam in Mexico and, more generally, Latin America is not a “foreign” or outsider religion. On one hand, sociologically, its followers are equally migrants and converts. On the other hand, Islamic organizations are working hard to think about their territorialization. Finally, like any social fact, the Muslim form of the religion does not exist absolutely but inflects itself according to the context in which it is situated: in this case, if it is true that Islam is one, the practice of Islam is necessarily delineated differently in a Mexican context. The paradox of the Latinity of Mexican Islam needs to be explored in its different dimensions, historical, sociological, ideological, and metapolitical. In fact, tension arises from the double claim of a transnational ummah (whether it is the universalism of Islam as a monotheism that does not take into account races, genders, classes, nations, and so on or the constitution of a community through its religion) and of a Mexican Islam. The Latin perspective has to be addressed by proceeding with the identification of commonalities between the Muslim realities of Latin countries and examining the very claims of a Latinity and then of a Hispanicity of Islam in order to consider the no less paradoxical question of Mexico as an opportunity for renewal for Islam.

Article

Sufism in the Modern World  

Marcia Hermansen

Sufism, the mystical expression of the Islamic tradition, has been for centuries a major cultural, social, political, and, of course, religious influence in diverse Muslim cultures. With modernity Sufism has been subjected to increased criticism, and in some cases repression and violent hostility, on the part of certain Muslim opponents. From another direction, secularizing reformers such as President Kemal Atatürk (d. 1937) of Turkey view Sufism as a repository of decadent behaviors and superstitions that are incompatible with modern values and rationality. It is also noteworthy that, in response to internal and external reactions to violent extremism especially post-9/11, political leaders in Muslim majority countries such as Morocco and Pakistan have attempted to promote Sufism as a potentially moderating and peaceful influence and therefore encouraged it in their societies. This approach has also been promoted by Western political interests that present Sufism as a moderating counter to violent extremism. These latter examples highlight the importance of the modern nation-state as it engages with Sufism and its institutions, especially in the postcolonial period. Pre-modern forms of Sufism emphasized pledging allegiance (bay‘a) to a spiritual master and affiliating with a Sufi order (Arabic: ṭarīqa, pl. ṭuruq). Being part of a Sufi order was thus a communal, as well as a personal, commitment, and the hierarchy and sense of belonging they entailed led the orders to play an important social, and in some cases, political role. With modernity, esoteric elements of Sufi thought, as well as traditional folk practices of making vows and faith healing, along with earlier social forms of clientage and patronage, have become less relevant in increasingly urban environments. Some scholars of Sufism have therefore characterized the modern era as a time of decline and degeneration in Sufi social and political influence, as well as in Sufi intellectual production and literary and artistic creativity. However, expectations that Sufism is on the wane are challenged by observations of how Sufis have adapted to changing circumstances in modernity, both in Muslim-majority societies and in the West. For example, some scholars document a Sufi renewal involving the rise of charismatic teachers and practices and the reach of new global networks. Sufi teachings are promoted through Internet sites and social media, while today’s Sufi teachers may draw on 20th century Western psychological frameworks to explain the spiritual and therapeutic impact of Sufi practices on individuals. Meanwhile Sufi ideas are disseminated to broader publics through music videos, conferences, and other cultural events, such that Sufism in these new configurations continues to inspire significant, if more diffuse, loyalties, both locally and globally. In an age of networking and social mobility, flows of individuals and ideas have created new transnational spheres for the influence and impact of Sufism. At the same time local conditions vary considerably in shaping its diverse contemporary expressions and adaptations.

Article

Muslim Chaplains in North America  

Harvey Stark

As a relatively new profession, the North American Muslim chaplaincy (NAMC) has seen significant growth since the mid 1970s the hiring of the first paid Muslim chaplains in the United States approximately twenty-five years ago. There are three observable waves of chaplains to consider as the NAMC has developed: the first wave with the hiring of the first paid prison chaplain; the second with the founding of the Islamic Chaplaincy Program at the Hartford Seminary; and the third which began shortly thereafter as chaplains develop an Islamic approach to pastoral care, create networks, and cultivate a public persona. The Muslim women and men who serve as chaplains in secular North American institutions such as prisons, the military, educational institutions, hospitals, and community centers, among others, have made it their goal to serve Muslims and non-Muslims in these North American institutions. From humble beginnings, this profession grew out of the desire to provide needed services and care to Muslims in these institutions and has evolved into a uniquely North American profession suited to the needs of all religious communities served by these institutions. North American Muslim chaplains represent an Islamic American voice, one that speaks to American cultural and legal norms. To varying degrees, these chaplains have challenged and embraced North American traditions, such as pluralism, interfaith relations, freedom of religion, and non-establishment. In addition, as they move into the third decade of the profession, chaplains have been moving into leadership roles within American communities. These roles have created an alternate form related to, but significantly different from, the role of the imam. This provides a space for a distinctly North American engagement with the Islamic tradition. It has also opened new spaces for women’s leadership within the North American Muslim community, adjusting and reaffirming traditional practice. These chaplains perform their profession, and their “ministry of presence,” in ways closely connected to institutional, regional, and personal contexts. Because of this multitude of sites, identifying points of connection, when desired, can be difficult. As such, there is no monolithic approach to the chaplaincy or how chaplains envision their Muslim identities. This diversity, which extends to a diversity in gender, race, ethnicity, and branch of Islam, is not without its challenges.

Article

Shi‘i Communities and Networks in North America  

Liyakat Takim

The need for a centralized leadership (called marja‘iyya) that could furnish the religious, social, and financial demands of the Shi‘i community first emerged in the late 19th century. With time, the marja‘iyya has evolved into an institution that has engendered a sense of affinity and loyalty between a marja‘ (religious guide) and his followers. In recent times, the maraji‘ have sensed the need to provide for the social and religious needs of the community in the North American diaspora. Consequently, the maraji‘ have reached out to their followers in the West through social media, the Internet, and other modes of communication that propagate their distinctive teachings. The presence of followers in North America has also required the maraji‘ to deduce new rulings and, at times, to reinterpret the Islamic sources in order to respond to religious issues raised by the Shi‘is residing in a non-Muslim milieu. The maraji‘ exert influence in far-flung areas through agents who act as their intermediaries with the laity. It is through the networks established, whether in the religious, political, or social fields, that they are able to connect with their followers. The transnational nature of Shi‘ism means that the community encompasses different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The ethnicity of a group is contingent on the beliefs and practices that distinguish it from the dominant culture. Other distinguishing factors include language, distinctive clothing and other products, acceptable demeanor, and attachment to the ethnic community. Ethnic markers of a community become visible as more people migrate from their home countries and the processes of self-identification, self-differentiation, and separation from others begin to express themselves. Boundaries of separation are constructed and expressed in many ways, especially in the form of institutions based on ethnic considerations. In the diaspora, Shi‘i communities often fragment based on their homeland culture. Since the events of September 2001, some community members in North America have established privately run national organizations. The Universal Muslim Association of America (UMAA), which was founded in 2003, holds annual conferences and seeks to foster unity within the Shi‘i community. Among UMAA’s stated aims are to encourage dialogue among North American Shi‘i Muslims. UMAA also seeks to advance the community’s political, social, economic, and religious goals and participate in civic responsibilities. Another important North American Shi‘i institution is the Muslim Congress. It was established in 2005, and, according to its website, it aims to promote and propagate “the true teachings of Islam as guided by the Holy Prophet and his purified progeny.” Existence in North America has compelled the Shi‘i community to seek a proper response to the new pluralistic environment. Globalization and improved modes of communications have led the maraji‘ to play active roles in North America. Due to the social media and advanced technology, the religious leadership is able to permeate the lives of American Shi‘is more closely.

Article

Islamic Women’s Organizations in North America  

Samaneh Oladi Ghadikolaei

Muslim women are an integral part of North American society. However, these women face challenges as they expand on their identities independent from the ones delineated by Western and Muslim communities. Muslim women across North America face multiple tiers of discrimination rooted in patriarchy, Orientalism, and challenges associated with migration. On the one hand, they are confronted with neo-Orientalist portrayals of Muslim women that reduce their identities to submissive subjects and their religion to violence and extremism. On the other hand, these women encounter different intersections of oppression, including sexism and racism, both within and outside of their religious communities. Muslim women have responded to these challenges by actively participating in North American civic and religious discourses. It is crucial to acknowledge that Muslim women’s civic participation is not merely a reaction to the challenges posed by Orientalism, sexism, or racism, but it is also driven by their religious beliefs and values. Muslim women actively participate in civic affairs as a means of fulfilling their faith commitments, and they are active agents of change, motivated by their faith commitments to create a more just and equitable society. The current article examines women-led Islamic organizations in North America that provide services and support Muslim women in the region in different capacities. These women face unique challenges that are not adequately addressed by Muslim and non-Muslim civil rights advocacy groups and women’s rights organizations in North America. By establishing such organizations, women-led Islamic organizations are attempting to fill this gap and offer interventions in support of Muslim women that disrupt the popular discourse of representation and interpretation of Islam in North America. The services offered by these female-led organizations range from battling sexism in their communities to supporting domestic and sexual abuse survivors to offering Islamic education to Muslim women regarding their rights with the aim of advancing gender justice. The rise in Muslim women’s activism is redefining and paving the way for the emergence of new identities that bring aspects of these women’s Western and Muslim identities into conversation. While women have contributed to their communities in a myriad of ways without necessarily adopting a reformist agenda, there is a visible increase in activism and involvement in civil society organization that can be interpreted as an emerging impetus for reform in traditionally male-dominated spaces of leadership. Considering that Islamic scholarship and leadership has traditionally been governed by men, women’s activism unsettles normative assumptions about gender hierarchy and marginalization of women in Islamic organizations and communities. By actively engaging in the formation and restructuring of these organizations, Muslim women advance gender justice, both intentionally and inadvertently, in the Islamic tradition and their communities. In a departure from the approach adopted by secular organizations that support women, Islamic women’s organizations regard religion as a means to empower women and an alternative frame of reference for understanding and addressing their unique needs. By addressing women’s issues within an Islamic framework and tackling the central causes of women’s disempowerment and grievances, women’s organizations informed by Islamic principles empower Muslim women to actively participate in constructing their identities and meaningfully contributing to society. Muslim women’s activism and their exercise of authority as leaders of organizations and interpreters of religious knowledge have left a mark on the civic, religious, and political landscape of North America. A steady surge in women’s involvement in Islamic organizations is taking place organically, and women’s contributions to Islamic knowledge carry important implications for societal development and gender relations.

Article

Muhammad, Elijah and Sr. Clara Muhammad  

Rosetta E. Ross

Elijah and Clara Muhammad’s work advancing the Nation of Islam (also “the NOI” and “the Nation”) was the most significant in a series of developments of Islam among African Americans. The earliest Muslims in the United States were enslaved Africans who brought Islam as an indigenized practice during the colonial era. Some left legacies written in Arabic. A later development was Noble Drew Ali’s Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA) that emerged around 1913 in New Jersey after Timothy Drew (aka Thomas Drew) encountered Islam through travel to North Africa and the Mediterranean region. By the time of the NOI’s origin, Islam was not only a heritage of African religious practices brought to the hemisphere of the Americas. It also was partially linked to the MSTA and, like the MSTA, reflected the black religious consciousness that objected to enslavement and its Jim Crow legacies of subjugation, exclusion, and violence. In 1930, during the Great Depression, silk merchant W. D Fard introduced Islam to Black Detroiters. Some of the most materially challenged African Americans in Detroit embraced the NOI as as a response to their desperate circumstances and as their conscious objections to what they were experiencing. Fard’s teaching met readiness for a message, deity, and religious tradition that responded directly to the social and cultural challenges black persons faced. Elijah Muhammad is routinely described as the leader of the NOI who took up and propagated the teachings of W. D. Fard to build the NOI into a national organization. However, Clara Muhammad, Elijah’s wife since 1919, was de facto cofounder and co-leader. Her contributions were essential during the two foundational decades of the Nation’s formation. Together Elijah and Clara built the NOI into a movement with a membership that numbered over one hundred thousand persons and assets in excess of US$50 million. Under their leadership, the NOI helped overcome the perceived total hegemony of Christianity as the only legitimate expression of religiosity, not only for African Americans but also for other peoples of the United States. Through the Nation, they offered African Americans an opportunity to take up a separatist disposition. Moreover, preceding the heyday of the civil rights and Black Power movements, the Muhammads emphasized affirmation of black identity that precipitated expressions of black pride during the civil rights and black power movements and that persist as generative ideas that deepen and become more complex in successive iterations of African American discourses about black identity.

Article

The Expansion of African American Muslim Movements beyond the United States  

Philipp Bruckmayr

Following the emergence of a variety of African American Muslim movements in the United States since the 1920s, Islam began to spread among African American and African Caribbean communities in a number of states in the Americas and the Caribbean as well as in Great Britain. There is little evidence for the expansion of early African American Muslim movements, such as the Moorish Science Temple and the Nation of Islam (NOI), beyond the United States in the first decades of their existence, but the process gained traction in the second half of the 20th century. By the 1970s, different originally US-based African American Muslim movements had acquired followings in Canada, England, and various Caribbean and South American states. These included not only the NOI, and its successor organization, the World Community of al-Islam in the West (later known as the American Society of Muslims), but also the Islamic Mission to America, the Dar-ul-Islam movement, the Ansaaru Allah Community, and the Islamic Party in North America. In addition, African Americans and African Caribbeans in different countries embraced Islam on a more individual basis, inspired by famous African American Muslims, such as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. This transnational expansion of African American Islam represents a conversion process among African-descended populations, which has radiated not from the Muslim world but the United States across the western hemisphere and into Europe. Despite the international connections of some of the concerned movements, African American and African Caribbean Muslim communities outside the United States initially exhibited only limited discursive and personal links to either the Muslim world or established local Muslim communities of South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Middle Eastern descent. By the 1980s, however, many of the US-based movements were in a state of disarray and disintegration. As a result, the ties of African American and African Caribbean Muslims to the United States were weakened and local tendencies toward emancipation from US organizations and models intensified. Concomitantly, at least in some locations, interactions with larger and longer-established local Muslim communities of South Asian, Southeast Asian, and/or Middle Eastern descent increased. Another major development during the period was the general growing exposure to transnational impulses from the Muslim world, particularly from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya, Iran, and South Asia. Against this background, African American and African Caribbean Muslim communities outside the United States have embarked on various paths of transformation, including toward more widely recognized Sunni (including Salafi) and Shiite expressions of Islam. Many communities have nevertheless retained a distinctly Afro-centric character, either in orientation or just in membership, without subscribing to a racialist theology. Notable cases in point are Trinidad’s Jamaat al-Muslimeen, the Afro-Colombian Shiite community of Buenaventura, and Suriname’s Sadaqatul Islam, as well as London’s Salafi Brixton Mosque. Individual African American and African Caribbean Muslim scholars and leaders, such as the Trinidadian Shiite Shaykh Ahmed Haneef or the Jamaican Jihadist preacher Abdullah el-Faisal, have, however, acquired followings and influence extending way beyond African-descended constituencies. Arguably, the most well-known African Caribbean scholar to date is the Jamaica-born Bilal Philips, one of the key figures of Salafi preaching in English.

Article

History of Muslims in the United States  

Yasmine Flodin-Ali

During the transatlantic slave trade, enslaved Muslims were brought from North and West Africa to what would become the United States. Many of these African Muslims were literate in Arabic. Even in the face of formative obstacles, enslaved people and their descendants continued to observe their faith and to adapt Islamic and Islamically influenced practices in the United States. In the mid-1800s to early 1900s, Muslims began to immigrate to the United States from the Middle East and South Asia. Muslim immigrants used a variety of tactics to establish communities in the United States while navigating segregation, miscegenation, and restrictive citizenship laws. A few small-scale Muslim institutions were established, including mosques and cultural centers. Prominent Muslim and Islamically influenced movements flourished in the early 20th century, such as the Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA) and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community movement. The MSTA was an African American–majority movement born of the Great Migration. The Thesophist movement was largely white. Both movements were similar in terms of their exploration of the occult and emphasis on bodily control as a means of spiritual purification. The Ahmadiyya produced and translated much of the religious literature that circulated in the United States across Muslim sects in the first half of the 20th century, including the most popular translation of the Qur’an, often without attribution. Sunni and Shi’i communities were also present in this time period. The Nation of Islam (NOI, 1930–1975) surpassed the MSTA and Ahmadiyya to become the largest and most influential Muslim American movement in the secondhalf of the 20th century. The NOI emphasized communal economic empowerment and self-reliance for Black Americans in order to achieve the goal of separation from Whites as a means of achieving racial justice. Prominent figures from the NOI, such as Malcolm X, are frequently invoked by different Muslim American groups in the 21st century. When Elijah Muhammad died in 1975, NOI members went in different directions. Elijah Muhammad’s son, Warith Deen Muhammad, led a large portion of the community to Sunni Islam. Other members joined Louis Farrakhan’s NOI. The Harter-Celler Act of 1965 opened up non-European immigration, leading to a large increase in Muslim immigrants from the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. Due to the law’s stipulations, these immigrants were largely upper-class and well-educated. In the 1960s and 1970s, there was also a push by many different Muslim American groups toward Sunnism. The 1979 Iranian Revolution and hostage crisis increased anti-Muslim hostility in the United States and created the stereotype that all Muslim Americans were immigrants from the Middle East. The 9/11 attacks amplified this backlash, but also led to the creation and strengthening of nationwide Muslim civil rights and advocacy organizations. Advocacy campaigns and heated debates have also taken place within the Muslim American community in the 21st century. Professor of Islamic Studies Amina Wadud has been particularly influential in shaping conversations around gender and Islam, both in the United States and globally. Wadud is also well-known for leading a mixed-gender congregational prayer in New York City in 2005, which sparked a global debate over the permissibility of women leading prayer. In the early 21st century, so-called third spaces proliferated, including art spaces and gatherings facilitated through online groups such as Meetup, where Muslims who felt left out of more traditional mosque spaces found community. This entry ends in 2010, almost a decade after 9/11 and before the rising presidential candidacy of Donald J. Trump.