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‘Praying to the West’ affords have a look at America’s various Muslim communities

(RNS) — Analysis into early Muslim communities in America has lengthy attracted writers fascinated about how Muslims developed a way of id on this continent.

Within the Nineteen Nineties, Abdullah Hakim Fast, a Canadian author, penned “Deeper Roots: Muslims within the Americas and the Caribbean Earlier than Columbus,” which turned a staple of many Islamic bookstores. 

A brand new guide, “Praying to the West: How Muslims Formed the Americas,” by Omar Mouallem, might meet the wants of a brand new era of Muslims. Like Fast, Mouallem is Canadian, however his strategy is solely totally different. “Praying to the West” is an element travelogue, half investigatory journalism. The guide examines 13 mosques throughout North and South America, from above the frigid Arctic Circle to tropical Trinidad and Tobago.

Whereas the guide primarily contains reporting from modern Muslim communities or historic communities from the Twentieth century, earlier Muslim communities are a part of the creator’s story. The opening chapter visits a Brazilian metropolis, the location of an vital Muslim slave revolt within the nineteenth century. As many as one-third of all Africans delivered to the New World as slaves had been Muslims. 


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Born to Lebanese mother and father in western Canada, Mouallem attended a mosque as a toddler however was not at all times safe in his religion. The guide additionally displays his personal non secular journey as he attracts nearer to Islam.

“Till not too long ago, Muslim id was imposed on me,” he writes within the guide. ”However I really feel totally different about my spiritual heritage within the period of ISIS and Trumpism, Rohingya and Uyghur genocides, ethnonationalism and misinformation.” 

His guide is a reminder that myriad Muslim communities have existed within the Americas for hundreds of years.

Mouallem is an award-winning journalist who has written for Wired, The Guardian, The New Yorker and Rolling Stone. He spoke to Faith Information Service in regards to the previous, current and way forward for Islamic communities in North and South America. The interview has been edited for size and readability.


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What was the impetus for penning this guide now and doing the reporting through the presidency of Donald Trump?

I wished to enlighten individuals and myself in regards to the misplaced historical past of Islam within the West. It isn’t a brand new phenomenon, and it has at all times had cultural affect and intertwined with Christian societies over the centuries and in many various locations.

One of many important historic questions for the American Muslim neighborhood is which establishment deserves to be thought of the very first Islamic place of worship in America. How did you strategy this query?

Within the guide, I talk about my go to to Ross, North Dakota (based in 1929). I did an interview not too long ago the place this was known as the primary mosque, and I didn’t appropriate that. Actually, in my guide, I additionally use the time period “the primary mosque.” But, it’s an open query. I additionally spotlight the Highland Park Mosque in Detroit in 1921, which unraveled a yr later.

There was a bunch of Albanian Muslims who had been working within the timber trade in 1915 in Maine that some individuals say shaped the primary mosque. There’s additionally a bunch of Polish Muslims of Tatar heritage who based the American Mohammedan Society in 1907, and that neighborhood that has used a variety of prayer areas through the years nonetheless exists right this moment.

Sure, that Albanian group was utilizing an accounting workplace for communal prayers. You already know it’s additionally an identical state of affairs in Canada. In my guide, I have a look at the primary mosque in Canada, which is in Edmonton (the Al Rashid Mosque based in 1938). However there was truly an Albanian Muslim neighborhood in Toronto previous to that. After all, the primary mosque in the US was nearly actually within the South a century earlier attributable to legacy of the period of slavery — or not less than a spot the place congregational prayer was held by Muslims. I’m hopeful, with analysis into African American historical past and extra paperwork coming to mild by way of historic analysis, that at some point we uncover an vital Islamic website from this era in Islamic historical past when Muslims had been introduced enslaved to the Americas and the Western Hemisphere. It’s an open query.

One of many strengths of the guide is its investigation of schisms and mosque politics — one thing authors have averted up to now. Why did you suppose it was vital to debate these issues?

I don’t suppose it’s appreciated how a lot the varied trendy Muslim neighborhood we all know right this moment was formed by schism. I used to be in Trinidad and visited a mosque that, in so some ways, was rooted in one other mosque and felt they may not afford to thoroughly break free. It’s also possible to, for instance, view the Nation of Islam as a breakaway from the Moorish Science Temple.


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You approached this matter with plenty of background information. What was probably the most stunning discovering you present in penning this guide?

You are inclined to suppose that over time practices turned much less liberal however, that isn’t what I discovered. I feel in case you checked out companies at early Twentieth-century mosques in Edmonton, Canada, or Dearborn, Michigan, these companies had been much more like Protestant church buildings’. Indirectly, the practices of those communities roughly 100 years in the past had been extra uniquely Western of their traditions and festivities. … In the long run, we would see a return of kinds to a few of these earlier practices. Particularly as American Muslims from Era Y and Era Z search for a non secular residence that’s extra consistent with their political and social values.

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