Acontroversy – American Sons – Reflections On Being Muslim In America 1-6
Channel: Sherman Jackson
File Size: 14.20MB
Good evening, everybody and
welcome to the Ann Arbor District Library. My name is Tim Grimes. I'm the Manager of Community Relations and Marketing for the library. And thank you so much. This is a wonderful crowd. Thank you so much for coming out this evening. Tonight's program is co sponsored by the Interfaith Council for peace and justice. The title is American sons refract reflections on being Muslim in America. And it is my great pleasure to introduce Ron Greg from the interface Council, who will introduce tonight's program. Thank you.
Thanks, Tim. I am a member of the common ground working group of the Interfaith Council for peace and justice. And we want to also welcome each of you and tell you how much we appreciate your coming tonight.
We also are grateful for the Ann Arbor District Library and their hosting of this program.
This is a discussion tonight with a very distinguished panel on what it means to be Muslim and unite in North America.
The panel will be moderated by Dr. Sherman Jackson, well known and very honored professor of Near Eastern Studies, law and Afro American Studies at the University of Michigan. Previously, he taught at Texas, Indiana, and Wayne State University's not only does Dr. Jackson teach and do research, and lecture, but he also writes a lots of books, the most recent being Islam, and the problem of black suffering, which was published just last year. That same year, Dr. Jackson was named one of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world,
by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in Amman, Jordan, and was also recognized as one of the 10 leading experts on Islam and America.
It's hard to do any better than that. So please help me welcome Dr. Jackson.
Thank you very much for that very kind introduction.
I'm told that I have about 10 minutes to try and to introduce the whole topic of Islam in America. Anybody who knows me knows that it usually takes me longer than 10 minutes even say my name.
But I'm going to try and to do so in a way that will be coherent.
The history of Islam in America is actually a quite long history. At the same time, it is a somewhat an even history. The presence of Muslims in America goes back to the very beginning, not simply of the Republic, but actually of the settlement of America as part of the new world.
We know that among the population of both slaves were brought from Africa, and even some of the indentured servants who came along with the Spanish and others included a population of Muslims. And this goes back to the very early centuries, the numbers of Muslims would increase somewhat after that, as importation of slaves from Africa, reached full time in the 18th century. And so we have the presence of Muslims quite early on in America. And this is not simply mythical. It's a very interesting phenomenon, in that we actually have
Arabic manuscripts that are survivals, from African slaves who were actually in America in the 18th and 19th centuries, and there actually been scholars who have worked on some of these manuscripts. So their presence is not simply mythological. We have tangible concrete evidence of of their presence. These are, of course, the first Muslims to come to America. Now, what we are seeing today in terms of the presence of African American Muslims, oddly, does not go back to the beginning of the presence of African Muslims in America. The African Muslim community on American soil is not
aren't able to perpetuate itself. And so we're, whereas if you get a mother or a father from Africa, who happens to be Muslim, nine and a half times out of 10, the children would not survive as Muslims, of course, they weren't allowed to sustain marriages and families, and they were not allowed really to establish even places of worship. So it was a very difficult task to perpetuate Islam within that slave community. So if nine out of nine and a half out of 10 times, you would lose the son or daughter 10, out of 10 times you will lose the grandchildren. And so what we have is a situation whereby Islam in the African community is not able to perpetuate itself on American soil.
What we're seeing today in terms of the spread of Islam among African Americans, is actually a 20th century phenomenon. And I'll come back to that in just a minute. In the meantime, I want to talk about two separate waves of immigration from the Muslim world. The first wave actually begins in the late 19th century and
extends into the early parts of the 20th century. Most of the Muslims who came to America from the Muslim world came from the Fertile Crescent. They were subsidiaries of the Ottoman Empire, and they came to America, for the same reason that everybody else came to America to find a better life. At that time, however, they were not really critical masses of immigrants from the Muslim world. And you get small pockets of immigrant Muslims attempting to reestablish or reconstitute Muslim communities in America. But that's a very difficult process. One of the reasons for that is that, unlike the situation, in the late 20th century, in the late 19th, and early 20th century, most of
the Muslims who came from the Muslim world came from more rural areas. They weren't they were farmers, and artisans, and sort of what you might call blue collar workers. And therefore, they did not have either sort of the cultural sophistication in every instance, or the surplus income to really build and sustain institutions, the real change would come in 1965.
And 1965, of course, the American government
prorogue, what was called the national origins Act, the national origins Act, was an act of Congress, that was basically designed to ensure that the population of the United States remain predominantly Northwest European, and 1965, the Johnson administration rescinded that bill, and this opened the floodgates for emigration from the Muslim world. And this is the beginning of the phenomenon that we are witnessing, in large part today in terms of the large numbers of Muslims who emigrated to America, and then were getting second and third generation, immigrant Muslims, while they're no longer immigrant Muslims, but second, and third generation Muslims from those kinds of
backgrounds. Now, those Muslims are in a very real sense, very different from the first wave of Muslims who emigrated from from the Muslim world. And they are different in that they, ie the second wave of immigrant Muslims, are highly educated. And therefore, they become
capable community. They're able to generate surplus income, they have education and sophistication. They have contacts, of course, because they're going to the best universities in which they're intermingling with other Americans, and they are networking with other Americans. And this puts them in a position to build institutions, schools, mosques, Islamic centers, and to perpetuate and sustain themselves. And so what we have is a situation that's very different from what we saw in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Now, alongside this, I want to bring back up to speed, the African American contingent because these are two very different trajectories of the historical
development of Islam in America, the African American community in terms of the establishment of critical masses within the black American community, actually
goes back to the beginning of the 20th century.
It's a very rich and detailed history. But I'm going to try and condense it in, I guess the two minutes that I have left.
Going back to the beginning of the first decades of the 20th century,
the spread of Islam in the black community actually begins with what we might call the proto Islamic movements. Now, these were movements among black Americans that had, for one reason, or the other, become disaffected from Christianity, and began to search for alternative modalities of religiosity. In America, Islam was something that they found, but more as an idea in orientation, and perhaps most importantly, an alternative vocabulary, you have to go back to the 1910s and 1920s, to remember to recall that at that time, black Americans are still in the stage of trying to carve out a sort of identity that would enable them enable them to escape the negative implications of blackness that
have been imposed upon them by the dominant culture. Islam provided a an avenue to that, because Islam was looked upon as being an entity over which the dominant culture, exercise, no control. And so blacks would be free to engage in this process of self identity formation, as Muslims, or as people associated with Islam in ways that they would not quite be able to do so as Christians at that time, all right. Now, it's important to note here, however, then, again, that the Islam that they attach themselves to was more an idea, and an ideal than reality. And this is why I call it the proto Islamic movements. These were movements that were not founded in doctrines and religious
practices that historical Islam would recognize as being orthodox. In fact, they were quite heterodox in orientation. Nevertheless, this phase of the development was extremely important, in as much as it had the effect of ingratiating, the black community in general, with the idea of Islam, which is to say that it's not very long before Islam in the black community comes to be recognized as a legitimate form of an alternative mode of American blackness. All right, in other words, where as an assistant probably still the case today, culturally, civilization only or historically, one might say, one might assume a certain amount of
Oh, contradiction, shall we call it between American whiteness and Islam. The problem of Islamic movements led to a situation where all dichotomies, all contradiction between being black and being Muslim, had been removed.
Even for people who were not, were not Muslims. In other words, Islam became a legitimate expression of blackness within the broader black American community. All right. And what this does is it opens the way for what I like to refer to as communal conversions. That is to say that not the entire community converts, all right. But it produces a situation whereby it becomes quite natural for an African American to be a Muslim in ways that would not quite apply in the same degree to white Americans. And so what we have are two large arteries entering into the basin of American Islam. We have the African American community evolving out of this sort of heterodox history, which itself
transforms into orthodoxy. All right, between the 1960s and the 1980s. So by the time we get to the late 1980s, all of the black Americans who had entered into the heterodox representations of Islam, upwards of 95% of them would now be orthodox Sunni Muslims. And so what we have are black American orthodox Sunni Muslims coming from there