Islam in America – Keynote

Karen Leonard on race and religion.

Moorish identity first. Noble Drew Ali, etc.

Turks were classified as Asiatics and Arabs (associated with Ottoman Empire) and therefore denied citizenship based on race. South Asians were also disqualified.

All S. Asians were initially referred to as “Hindoos,” but not used in religious sense. S. Asian and Arab identity is internally ambivalent about identifying as white.

New racialization of Muslims. Imposition of Arab phenotype. US Dept. of Transportation issued in Oct., 2001 indicates Arabs, S. Asian, Muslim and Sikh passengers should not be singled out for searches. None are racial categories.

Islam is multi-racial, but there is a power dynamic behind being “white.” Will return to this point. Some Muslims are already racialized because they are black.

Mentions studies like “How the Irish Became White,” etc..

Role of women in religious practice; culture issues define religious identity.

Early Af-Am Muslim movements were separatist, identifying with an overseas identity. Often denied belonging to the greater Muslim ummah. W.D. Muhammad recognized, but unique.

Arab-Am. Muslims are arguing inclusion in mainstream American understanding of self b/c of size of population and commonality of Abrahamic faith. What does it mean for Buddhists whose numbers are about the same? How does use of religious identity impact civic discourse?

Recently received call from UC Irvine police dept. who had received a booklet from an Australian police dept. about how to deal with various faiths and what acceptable behavior is. Was asked to review for accuracy.

Religious communities in US, even in intra-Muslim discourse, are not converging but are getting defined.

Women are playing a bigger role in American Islam. Were key in establishing mosques in Michigan and Toledo. Intellectually there is a “gender jihad” going on, and if other faith communities hold as a model, women here will impact debates in other countries.

Political coalitions are moving from conservative ideology into liberal discourse and trying to bring more Muslims together.

Construction of the nation: NOI and MST gave up on the nation; some still remain separatists. Af-Am Muslims remain more critical of US than other Muslims, but also show up as more engaged in politics and social service. In the 1980s, immigrant Muslims began to take citizenship in large numbers [unclear if she said there were a religious shift or cultural shift; seems to indicate it became “Islamic” to become American].

Current politics: Faith-based initiatives are splitting the community. Pluralistic discourse is allowing new groups to come to the fore. Insistence on civil rights and freedoms; cuts across religious identities.