Can an American Islamic Culture Arise on These Shores?

By: Muhammed Abdullah al-Ahari

What is the future for an American Islam that is able to be seen as a full component part of the larger Muslim world? In other nations Muslims were able to be Malay and Muslim, Berber and Muslim, Indian and Muslim, or even Turkish and Muslim.

Muslims have been in the Unites States ever since Columbus “discovered” the New World and claimed it for the Crown of Spain. During the time of slavery, Muslims were here and some were able to preserve some of their culture for a short time. We see this in Selim the Algerine attending the first Continental Congress and in the Arabic writings of al-Hajj ‘Umar ibn Said and Bilali Muhammad and his selections from the Maliki fiqh text al-Risalah.

When slavery ended we had some false starts at an American Islamic Community. The most noteworthy, from the beginning of the 20th century, was from a Missouri born convert – Muhammad Alexander Russell Webb – who founded an Islamic journal and press and wrote the first text for propagation of Islam in America.

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire and World War I, large numbers of Arab, Turkish, Albanian, and Bosnian immigrants came to America. Most assimilated quickly and only further immigration kept the number of Muslims growing.

In the general American society many ills were occurring such as Racism, Sexism, etc. The abused saw Islam as a solution but the immigrant (for the most part) were not spreading the Message of Islam. Therefore, sects and schisms arose that spoke more of solving social ills than of practicing Islam.

In the late 1950s the Sunday School Movement was started in Toledo by the Bosnian scholar Shaykh Kamil Yusuf Avdich – a graduate of Sarajevo’s Gazi Husref Bey’s Madressa and Cairo’s al-Azhar. He also helped to start four Islamic journals in America and to open the Northbrook, Illinois Islamic Cultural Center (ICC) and the Bosnian American Cultural Home formerly on Halsted in Chicago from which the ICC grew.

From that humble center on Halsted, MCC (Chicago’s Muslim Cultural Center) and Mosque Foundation were given birth. Today we see the fruit of the pioneers, but we are still chasing after every identity but that as American Muslims.  The tragedy of September 11th should have opened our eyes. As American Muslims we were harmed also. Our brothers and sisters were killed in the twin towers.

How to we achieve the American Muslim Identity?

Several scholars have provided answers such as Dr. Ismail Farooqi and the “Islamization of English” and many social scientists that are beginning to see Islam as an American phenomenon. However, like all cultures, we need an Islam that is a reflection of the culture we are in. Muslim societies have done this in the past by the use of prose, poetry, novels, and other literary devices. Food, clothing, and change in language are other ways this can be affected. It is hoped that we as American Muslims can find a path to develop as a cultured people.

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