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.”