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Amir Hussain on Muslims and the making of America

Muslims and the Making of America, by author Amir Hussain, takes on common stereotypes of Muslims and delves into history and culture in the U.S.
Muslims and the Making of America, by author Amir Hussain, takes on common stereotypes of Muslims and delves into history and culture in the U.S.
Kauthar Umar, Photo courtesy of Amir Hussain and Baylor University Press

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There has never been an America without Muslims. So begins the premise to a new book called Muslims and the Making of America that charts the history of the U.S. and Muslims' often misunderstood role in it.

"The average person thinks Islam is a new religion here in the United States," said Amir Hussain, a professor of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University. "We've been here, documented, since at least since the slave trade."

From early settlements to slavery, to music, sports and science, Muslims have always been a part of the development of America, said Hussain. But that sense of history is often overlooked in the heated political rhetoric today.

"The danger with our country now is that we've fallen into these 'us versus them,' 'either you're with us or you're against us' kinds of things, rather than [saying] we're Americans," he said. "How do we decide to live together as Americans?"

Excerpt from "Muslims and the Making of America" by Amir Hussain:

One often hears talk of “Islam and the West” or “Islam and America”. This brings up an image of two mutually exclusive realities. If we change one simple word, we get instead “Islam in the West” or “Islam in America”. That simple change makes all the difference. Instead of posing two warring factions, “Islam” and “America”, we see the reality of their interconnectedness. Islam is, of course, a “Western” religion, sharing deep roots with Judaism and Christianity. Muslims are much closer religiously to Jews and to Christians than we are to “Eastern” religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Muslims are also a strong presence in “the West”. Islam is the second-largest religion in Canada, Britain, and France, and may well be the second-largest religion in the United States. “Islam in the West” recognizes the entwined heritage of Islam and the West. The West as we know it would not be what it is without the contribution of Muslims. Think quickly of our number system, for example, and ask yourself if it is easier to do multiplication and division with Arabic numbers or with Roman numerals. To be sure, the number system came from India, but it was the Arabs who named it. Yet we often don’t see our connections, and people here in America often have a fear or hatred of Muslims.
American Muslims have served in our military since the Revolutionary War. There were some 300 Muslim soldiers who served during our Civil War. That’s not a large number, certainly, but it also gives the lie to the oft-repeated claim that Muslims are newcomers to this country. We were here before this country was founded, we fought against the British, and we fought in the war that defined who and what we were as a country. At the end of 2015, ABC News reported figures from the US Department of Defence that some 5,896 Muslims were serving in the military. That number may be higher, since some 400,000 service members did not self-identify their faith. So almost 6,000 American Muslims serve in our armed forces, helping to defend our country.

From Muslims and the Making of America by Amir Hussain. Copyright © 2016 by Baylor University Press. Reprinted by arrangement with Baylor University Press. All rights reserved.