Since 9/11, Islam in the United States has undergone a tremendous transformation, one which is still:
The changing face of American Islam

IMTIYAZ YUSUF   في الإثنين 09 يونيو 2008

I recently got back to Thailand after a one-and-a-half month stay in the United States, where I was a student of Islamic Studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, and where I spent seven years during the 80s and 90s. The tour revealed to me a very different Islam in the post-9/11 United States. In the face of widespread bias and prejudice, personal attacks, deep suspicion and misinformation about Islam marked by the prevalence of Islamophobia in the American mindset, Muslim society in the US has undergone a tremendous internal transformation, with the aim being to prove loyalty to the American nation by undertaking steps towards political, social and civil integration. The seven million-strong American Muslim community is emerging and evolving as both an integral part of the American socio-political milieu and a distinct section of the worldwide Muslim community. There is historical evidence to suggest that the presence of Islam in the Americas began around the 10th century, when Muslims from Spain and West Africa arrived in South America centuries before Columbus. Some Muslims are said to have accompanied Christopher Columbus to the Americas in 1492, as to have joined later explorations as well. With the end of Muslim rule in Spain around 1498 and the institution of the Inquisition in 1499, many Spanish Muslims fled to other countries, including America. There are two historical documents alluding to the presence of Muslims in Spanish American territories. The first was a decree issued in 1539 by the Spanish King Charles V which prohibited the grandsons of Spanish Muslims from migrating to the West Indies. The second was the order of 1543 which expelled Muslims from all overseas Spanish territories. Yet the immigration did not stop. The second major influx of Muslims came in the form of West African slaves between 1530-1850. It is reported that many of the African slaves were Muslims, that at least 16% of the slave population in North America in the 18th and 19th centuries were Muslims whose religious and ethnic roots went back to the ancient African Muslim kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai. It is believed that many of those West African Muslim slaves brought with them Islamic beliefs and practices such as having Islamic names, writing in Arabic, praying five times a day, fasting during the month of Ramadan and wearing Muslim clothing. It was also during that time that some white American Christians converted to Islam, one of the first being Muhammad Alexander Webb, an American diplomat stationed in the Philippines. Upon returning to the United States he founded the American Muslim Propagation Movement in 1893. Webb was the main representative for Islam at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Recently, a new detailed biography of Webb written by an eminent American Muslim scholar has appeared. African American Muslims who also make up a large Muslim community in the USA represent an important section of the American Muslim community. Among other things, Islam can serve as a vehicle in tracing their roots to Africa. In 1930, Wallace Fard Muhammad founded the Nation of Islam , which offered an interpretation of Islam which identified with Africa. It presented African Americans mostly confined to the ghetto a sense of hope by emphasising self-respect, economic independence and moral integrity. Wallace Fard Muhammad was succeeded by Elijah Muhammad, who led the Nation of Islam for three decades. The prominent African-American civil rights movement leader Malcolm X was a member of the Nation of Islam. After his famous hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964 where he experienced the non-racial and universalist character of the worldwide Islamic Ummah or community, Malcolm left the Nation of Islam to join mainstream Islam. He was assassinated in 1965. Following the death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975, his son and successor Imam Warith Deen Muhammad transformed the Nation of Islam into a mainstream Islamic body by forming the American Muslim Mission in 1980. Meanwhile, the former Nation of Islam continues to function under the leadership of Louis Farrakhan. 

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