In the wake of 9/11 and the rise of global terrorism, Dr. Amir Hussain’s Muslims and the Making of America
(2016) addresses the two main stereotypes that follow all Muslims wherever they go. One is that all Islam followers are violent extremists who wish to eradicate the American way of life. The other is the trendy misconception that Islam is a new religion in the United States. An American, Hussain asserts that Muslims have played an essential role in the creation and evolution of culture in the United States. He attests that there is no time in history when America has existed without Muslims.
Hussain recounts the history of Islam in America bringing to light the significant cultural influences of Muslims on the American way of life. He focuses attention on the overall culture and, more specifically, music and sports – some of the major areas of Muslim influence. Though Muslims are often viewed as having little impact on early American ideals, history tells us differently. Religious studies scholars have lauded Muslim contributions that changed the course of the U.S. There is compelling evidence of Muslim influences interwoven within the major components of early American development. This evidence can be found in government documents, newspapers, personal papers, books, and presidential diaries. From the earliest days of colonial America, to the foundational tenants of the Constitution, to the slave trade, to the early presidencies, through the Civil War and present day, Muslims have been both an influence and presence in America.
The places, events, people, and documents highlighted in Muslims and the Making of America
are part of a much larger and richer history of which we have only scratched the surface. Hussain offers a greater and more complete understanding of our nation’s true story, which undeniably includes Muslims. It is one of the things that makes America a true melting pot.
The first documented Muslims in the United States were slaves of the Spanish conquistadors. After that came the transatlantic slave trade; it is estimated that 10 percent of the slaves coming from West Africa were Muslim, among them, per Hussain, was Job ben Solomon, who was brought to Annapolis in 1730.
Muslims emigrated from the Ottoman Empire. The first mosque in America is most likely to be found in Biddeford, Maine. It was built in 1915 by Albanians who came to this country to work at a textile mill. Muslims were, at times, recruited and brought to America to work. In other words, Hussain points out, they were invited here.
Hussain debunks the myth that Muslims are a part of a new wave of immigrants to the United States. He shows how the earliest Muslim communities expanded both among whites and African Americans. Even the civil rights, with leaders such as Malcolm X, movement is connected to the growth and popularity of Islam. Hussain has a unique perspective, keeping the focus on Muslim people instead of on Islam, focusing on people, not religion. These distinctions help to quell the rash of misinformation rampant in the media and print.
The later chapters of the book showcase key individuals in sports, music, and culture who identify as Americans, the most famous being Muhammad Ali. There is also a section dedicated to Muslin music, particularly hip hop and jazz. There are discussions, though to a lesser degree, on other areas of Muslim influence on areas such as art, politics, architecture, and even the military. These areas connect all Americans and serve to foster larger communities. The history of our country is a multi-religious, multi-ethnic, and multi-cultural one. This history often goes untold. Entering the wider conversation with this book, Hussain hopes to bring to light this unknown history through the telling of many stories of connection.
Dr. Amir Hussain is a scholar of religion. He specializes in the study of Islam at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, California. He was born in Pakistan and was raised in Canada before moving to the United States.