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African American Islam  

Herbert Berg

The first Muslims arrived in the American colonies and later in the United States as African slaves. Although a few and noteworthy Muslim American slaves left written records of their lives, Islam was largely extinguished by the white slave owners. Sectarian and racial forms of Islam were introduced into the United States, particularly within urban African American communities, by Ahmadiyya missionaries and the Moorish Science Temple. The rise of the Nation of Islam under Wali Fard Muhammad and Elijah Muhammad and its bifurcation under the latter’s son, Warith Deen Mohammed, and Louis Farrakhan deserve special attention, as do the initial appeal of the Nation of Islam’s racial formulation of Islam and, decades later, the willingness of most of its members to move to Sunni orthodoxy after Elijah Muhammad’s death. The second major, though not entirely separate, strand of Islam in the United States, though often interacting or competing with the first, comes from Muslim immigrants. This group brings unique issues, such as living in a largely Christian society, competing with the Nation of Islam, refuting stereotypes in the media and popular culture, finding a political voice, and coping with post-9/11 Islamophobia, all leading to the consideration of the prospects for a uniquely “American Islam” that reflects U.S. pluralism and (supposed) separation of “church and state.”

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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.

Article

Islam and the Middle East in the American Imagination  

Brooke Sherrard

Americans have utilized Islam as a rhetorical device for articulating various understandings of American identity from the time of the earliest Anglo-American settlers. In every period, many rejected Islam and Muslims as oppositional to American identity, accusing Islam of inherent despotism that conflicted with American liberty. Others, though, used perceived traits of Islam to critique American behaviors or focused on similarities between Islam and Christianity. Many citizens of the early American republic assumed their country was essentially Protestant, but founding figures such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and James Madison indicated their support for a more inclusive polity by listing Muslims among the varieties of people they believed could be good citizens. These men meant this abstractly, as they believed there were no Muslims in the United States at the time and did not know some African slaves were Muslim. American Protestant organizations sent missionaries around the world starting in the early 19th century, including to areas of the Middle East where the Muslim majority was legally protected from proselytization. Therefore, missionaries tended to work with native Christian populations. American missionaries, travelers, and explorers had a great interest in the Holy Land. A frequent theme in their writings was a desire to see this area reclaimed from Islamic rule. They believed the Holy Land could be regenerated through Protestant influence and often suggested Jews could be relocated there. Over time, liberal Protestants moved away from seeking conversions and became more interested in educational and medical aspects of missions. American discussions about Islam intensified again after September 11, 2001. Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis argued that Western civilization and Islamic civilization were inherently incompatible. Others, like John L. Esposito and Feisal Abdul Rauf, focused on the historical and theological similarities between Christianity and Islam to suggest common ground.