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The Muslims of America.

The Muslims of America addresses a wide variety of issues that are important to those concerned with the development of Islam in America. It is a book that scholars of this topic will use repeatedly as a reference.

The reader will find estimates of the number of Muslims living in the United States and descriptions of organizations that they have founded. This information is followed by analyses of how Muslims are perceived and how they perceive themselves. There are then three biographical articles of acclaimed Muslim academics in American universities. The following section is entitled "Islamic Activity in America" and includes an article about political attitudes and activities, one on missionary work, and an article about the rights of Muslim prisoners and another about education for Muslims. Two articles about Muslim women and a section on how Muslims fit into the American political landscape conclude the work.

It is unfortunate that the articles are loosely connected and that their quality is as uneven as the subject matter is diverse. Many would have benefited from substantial editing both for content and for grammatical and spelling problems. For example, Gutbi Ahmed (whose name is spelled in the book at one time with a "G" and another with a "Q") speaks of the mosque in "High Park," rather than Highland Park, Michigan, and states that Islam came to America before Columbus, as if this were a generally accepted fact. He also states that the mosque in Ross, North Dakota, was the first mosque in the U.S. although this is debatable, as some, including Alixa Naff, believe that the mosque in Highland Park had this distinction.

One is left bewildered by statements such as that found in Steve Johnson's article on political activity, in which he says, "Salafis ... have recruited as converts editors, leaders, and students of Arabic and Islam in Medina, Saudi Arabia. Thus, the Salafis have had so many converts that they have begun to hold more conference lectures in English and are publishing one of their newsletters exclusively in English that was formerly only in Arabic". Why Saudis need their newsletters translated into English is never explained. Beverly McCloud, in her article on African-American Muslim women, uses the seemingly inappropriate term "self-hypnosis" as though it were obvious to the reader what it meant, thereby detracting from her fascinating data.

Nimat Hafez Barazangi devotes three pages to descriptions of the various communities that she used for her sample, yet there is no reference to them when she presents the results of her study. Her findings are indeed very difficult to follow. One problem is that in one short article she both attempts to present a scientific study and design an educational curriculum for Muslims.

A serious misstatement is made by Steve Johnson when he refers to the Dearborn Shi'ite community and its leader, Imam Jawad Chirri, as being "politically radical". The Islamic Center of America of which Chirri served as Imam for nearly thirty years has hardly been known for its political radicalism. Indeed, the people associated with this mosque have generally been quite traditional in their approach to Islam. In fact, two other mosques in Dearborn broke away from this mosque because the leadership was seen as too assimilationist. This is important as Johnson would have us believe that to be Shi'ite is to be radical. Such an error also makes one wonder about the thoroughness of the research cited in this work.

The fact that this collection of articles addresses a large spectrum of the Islamic community in America is both an advantage and disadvantage. The obvious advantage is that the reader can see that Islam is a religion of a diverse population in America. It is not simply the religion of immigrants. On the other hand, a collection of articles that attempts to cover the life experiences of those Muslims immigrating from countries with large Islamic populations and carrying with them a long history of Islamic tradition are so different from those who are indigenous to America that to try to explain the lives of both groups is to do a disservice to everyone. Beverly McCloud's article on African-American Muslim women suggests just how different the worlds of Black Muslim women and Muslim women of other cultures are. She comments: "That there is a 'women's world' in Islam is known. What is not known is that there is little place in it for African-American Muslim women. The carefully built structures of security and power among Muslim women in Islamic countries have no gates of entry for outsiders. These groups of women are extremely ethnocentric".

Abubaker al-Shingiety's account of the development of Islam in the black community also underscores the gap between the African-American Muslim community and that of the immigrant Muslims. Consequently, to have indigenous communities discussed in the same rather short collection of articles with Arab and other immigrant communities can be confusing. One is not often sure whether the experiences spoken of are those of Black Muslims, Muslims in America as a whole, or only certain groups of Muslims. If African-American communities are to be included in the same text with other Muslim groups, then I believe more is needed to indicate how Black Muslims and those of other groups interrelate.

Sulayman S. Nyang, recognizing that Muslims are not a monolithic group, discusses the common challenges facing all Muslims in the United States. As he states, issues of identity, the building and defense of Muslim institutions, the establishment of economic structures that allow for conformity with Islamic law and involvement in political life are all issues of concern to Muslims. However, how these concerns will be addressed will vary widely from group to group and even within groups. The societies from which Muslims originated vary drastically. Furthermore, they continue to develop in different directions when established in America.

It seems that we are not yet ready to discuss Muslims in America as a group. Too much research needs to be done on individual communities before we can begin to make generalizations. The two articles on women in this collection help substantiate this point in that they present strikingly different portrayals of African-American women. We need to define carefully whom we are studying and to give serious consideration to the milieu from which they originated and in which they currently live.

In spite of its shortcomings (and the fact that this book lacks an index is one of them), The Muslims of America is certainly not a work without merit. It is most helpful to have a listing of Islamic organizations and an outline of their development in the United States. Larry Poston's article on da wa contains an interesting discussion of the ways Islamic scholars have looked at the problem of being a small minority group in an alien land and how Muslims might approach the task of establishing Islamic ideals in such a society. The biographical sketches of Al-Faruqi, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, and Fazlur Rahman are excellent and, presented together as they are, highlight the various approaches Islamic scholars can and do take in their efforts to present Islam to the world. One of the most provocative statements in this book appears in Jane Smith's article on Seyyed Hossein Nasr. She writes, "A deeper concern comes out of Nasr's writings that I think must be addressed--his emphasis on context, atmosphere, and ambiance. What does it mean for Muslims to live in an environment that is not part of an ongoing tradition, in which there are not even remnants of Islamic civilization, art and architecture, history and philosophy?"

John Voll, in his article, "Islamic Issues for Muslims in the United States," does address Smith's question to some degree. He gives an interesting example of Muslims in Brooklyn carrying on what he refers to as "a type of jihad" against drug sales and drug-related crimes in the city. Calling upon Faruqi's writings, he also suggests that Muslims could find meaning in living in the West by looking upon it as the new Medina, i.e., a place in need of transformation.

The development of Islam in America deserves careful, scholarly research. It seems to this writer that the issue of Muslims trying to build a life in an environment that is not part of a longstanding Islamic tradition is an important one to carry with us in our studies. The Muslims of America offers a beginning in this process.
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Author:Walbridge, Linda S.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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