Review: Latino and Muslim in America

Since 2016, the issues of immigration, religious freedom, and the question of the compatibility of Islam and the West have been hotter-than-usual issues in the United States. In the narrative of Latino Muslims (a term I will later problematize) in the US, these various strands intersect and overlap. 

According to Harold Morales’s own previous research, there “are likely between 50,000 to 70,000” Latino Muslims in the US. Regardless of numbers, there is a pertinent need to study religious minorities such as Latino Muslims for their ability to “de-naturalize and de-essentialize, to broaden and to push our varied and unfixed understandings of and relations” (211) to various categories of religion, identity, ethnicity, and issues such as immigration, religious freedom, and Islam in and of the West. This need is what Morales seeks to address in his latest book, Latino and Muslim in America: Race, Religion, and the Making of a New Minority.

Islam as part of, rather than as foreign to, the West

Islam in the West. A simple enough statement, but one with multiple derivative implications. For this volume’s purposes, editor Edward E. Curtis IV makes it clear from the start that Islam is to be imagined “as part of, rather than as foreign to” to that which is referred to as “the West” (1).

This point may seem subtle, but it is vitally important in a climate—both popular and academic—that imagines Muslims as outsiders to “Western culture,” and as unassimilated foreigners in matters of national Western polity.

The Bloomsbury Reader on Islam in the West stakes an important position by not only including readings that exhibit this current bias against Muslims as part of a vision of some trumped-up “clash of civilizations,” but also by showcasing work that highlights the specific and textured ways in which Muslims have long been part of the West and been intimately involved in its political, economic, social, cultural, and religious make-up.

Exploring the presence, and effect, of Muslims in the lands now collectively called “the West” from 711 (when Muslim polity ruled the Iberian Peninsula) to 2015 (amidst the “Global War on Terror”), the book is ambitious in scope and diverse in its contents. It is divided into two parts: “Islam in Western history,” and “Islam in the contemporary West.”

Turning our eyes to Islam in Latin America & the Caribbean

A paradox lies at the heart of the contemporary study of global Islam.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent “war on terror,” which has recapitulated the Huntingtonian clash of civilizations thesis and its emphasis on the false dichotomy between “Islam” and “the West" there has concomitantly been an increase in the academic attention afforded to the study of Islam. 

Although the number of Islamic studies degrees conferred has more than doubled in the past decade, Islamic studies has also been remained largely confined to the regions of the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia, leaving Muslim communities in Africa, Asia, Oceania, Europe, and the Americas to the wayside. In a word, even with the rise of the study of global Islam, its scope has failed to fully incorporate other geographies and the study of Islam beyond the Middle East is still underrepresented. Thus, there is still a pertinent need to globalize the study of “global Islam.”

For over a thousand years, Islam has been integral to what is known as "Western civilization." Even so, it is too often assumed assumed that Islam is a foreign element and Muslims in the West are doomed to be out of place and in perpetual conflict. The need for accurate, reliable scholarship on this topic is terribly urgent.

Thus, this has become the focus of my academic research on Islam in the Americas. I am convinced that understanding currents in global Islam -- peaceful and violent, widespread and vernacular, popular and institutional -- must be understood from a truly global perspective, while at the same time being embedded in local histories, tensions, movement, and exchanges. Exploring American Islam -- from Canada to the Caribbean, from Phoenix, Arizona to Patagonia, Argentina -- is a prime manner in which to do so. 

Recently I published a book chapter and a peer-reviewed journal article to that effect. The first is titled, "Exploring Islam in the Americas from Demographic and Ethnographic Perspectives." This chapter in Brill's Yearbook of International Religious Demography: 2016 discusses some population data concerning Muslims in the Americas and offers pathways for further research based on these statistics. These demographics invite a more thorough study of under-appreciated religious populations that present ample opportunities for research in cultural studies, sociology, anthropology, and specifically apropos to the ethnographic study of religion.

The latter work was recently published in the Waikato Islamic Studies Review Vol. 2, No. 2 out of New Zealand. The aim of this paper is to intermesh prevalent theories about globalization with the study of Islam, both historically and contemporaneously. It is, effectively, an attempt to globalize the study of Islam in the Americas and offer several brief examples of avenues to approach this study in the hope to not only feature existent work in the field, but offer further areas for consideration and future research. It covers Islam in Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Latina/o U.S.A., and in the "digital borderlands" of Latina/o Muslim specific Facebook pages. 

Thank you for taking the time to learn more about American Islam's history, contemporary manifestations, and linkages to global Islamic dynamics. Also, for those of you wondering...I am still in my "comp cave." My exams last from mid-October until mid-December. I look forward to returning to the world of writing, analysis, and news commentary in January 2017! 

The forbidden passages of Americas' first Muslims

Forbidden Passages: Muslims and Moriscos in Colonial Spanish America, written by Karoline P. Cook, reviewed by Ken Chitwood in Reading Religion from the American Academy of Religion (AAR). 

Emigrants from the Atlantic world came to the Americas for various reasons, with many motives, and precipitated by myriad circumstances. Some were forced, some came to escape an old society or to build a new one, others came to acquire riches or set-up shop. Yet, as J.H. Elliott wrote in his tome Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830, “they all faced the same challenge of moving from the known to the unknown, and of coming to terms with an alien environment that would demand of them numerous adjustments and a range of new responses.” 

Furthermore, as Elliott continues, “to a greater or lesser degree, those responses would be shaped by a home culture whose formative influence could never be entirely escaped, even by those who who were most consciously rejecting it for a new life beyond the seas.” While the local context with its diverse ecological, material, political, socio-cultural, and religious environments shaped the contours of American colonization and conquest, the colonial world was simultaneously defined and influenced by its transatlantic nature. Significantly, the historical and legal dimensions of imperial statecraft conditioned the experience of various constituencies in even the most far-flung reaches of the American empires. 

It is within this transatlantic imperial nexus that Karoline P. Cook situates the narrative of “Muslims and Moriscos in colonial Spanish America.” Yes, that's correct; Muslims came to the Americas as early as the 16th-century...