Kambiz GhaneaBassiri’s History of Islam in America

I have been tardy in writing lately, although so much has been going on, certainly in the US, but also in Germany, the country of my birth. Here is a review of a book I finished reading last week.

For years, I have been looking for a book on the history of American Islam, especially after I had started teaching in South Carolina where up to a third of all slaves deported before 1800 came from an Islamicate environment. I became fascinated by the ways in which Islam changed as it arrived on the shores of the US.

I wanted a book that did not just tell the story of Islam but considered the specifically American setting. Kambiz GhaneaBassiri’s History of Islam in America does precisely that. While also telling the often moving stories of individuals, the book considers the broader context of the American religious experience. Its sweep is impossibly broad—from the 16th century to 2006, and it cuts corners by necessity. I would for instance have loved to hear more about contemporary strategies of adaptation, or about the music scene, movies or theater plays (if there’s stand-up comedy, there must be theater) , or more about gay Muslims. I would have appreciated to hear the author’s outlook for the future but GhaneaBassiri is too careful for that. Immensely readable, this book satisfies the discerning reader and should become a classic.

Look here for an article by the author on “Is Religious Freedom a Casualty at Ground Zero?”over at  Religion Dispatches.

To quote briefly “Regardless of how one views the decision, the controversy surrounding the project is a reminder of the fact that while religious pluralism was a founding ideal of the United States implicit in the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom, Americans historically have edged toward it kicking and screaming.”

Indeed. But so far, they have come through, so let’s hope for the best.

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