It’s hard to pin down Trump’s most offensive and un-American statements during his campaign, but the idea of deporting or preventing immigration by Muslims…by performing some sort of vague religious test…might well qualify. In his latest book, Muslims and the Making of America, professor and scholar Amir Hussain sets out to show just how tightly Islam and Muslims are woven into the fabric of America.
Hussain’s text is not an exhaustive account of every Muslim American’s contribution to art, culture, science, and politics. That would be impossible. However, he points out the All Stars, so to speak, some of whom, like Ali, will be familiar to most readers, while others, like Ahmet Ertugan, won’t. Ertugan was the founder of Atlantic Records and, therefore, responsible for shaping much of the history of American music.
Hussain makes a powerful claim: “There has never been an America without Muslims.” he backs this up with historical accounts of Muslim slaves brought over from West Africa and then traces the history of Muslims from those oppressed beginnings to reveal the myriad ways in which they have enriched American history and culture from politics to sports to art to architecture. In the process, many American Muslims have risen to solidly middle or upper-middle class communities, an achievement that, he argues, is more difficult in other parts of the Western world (114).
Hussain’s chief aim is to refute the idea that Islam and Muslims are anti-American with all the baggage that that critique brings. He points out that even though there are around seven million Muslims in the United States, most Americans claim that they don’t know any Muslims. One of the many strengths of Hussain’s work is the way in which he shows that violence hasn’t been the defining nature of the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world. Along those same lines, he consistently reveals the diversity of Islam and Muslim practice. Hussain writes, “[…There] are lots of Muslims who do things that we are not supposed to do as Muslims” (43). Of course, this is true of most Christians I know…including myself!
Muslims and the Making of America is an extremely accessible book and one that should be required reading for Christian communities across the country. It’s a well-researched work with a bibliography that points to sources for further reading. Hussain argues that America would be completely different without Muslims in it…and not for the better. Similarly, most of our lives would be different…and no doubt better…if we made the effort to get to know members of that faithful, and very American, community.
Muslims and the making of America (Baylor University Press, 142 pp.) is available on Amazon.