Developed by Kambiz Ghanea Bassiri, Reed College.
While the large presence of Muslims in the United States dates to the 1960s, Muslims have been a part of the history of America since colonial times. American Muslims’ stories draw attention to ways in which people of varying religious, cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds interact to shape both their communities’ identities and our collective past.
Although Muslims did not attain a sizable presence in the United States until the 1960s, they have been part of American history since colonial times. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, tens of thousands of Muslims were captured in Africa and brought to America to be sold as slaves. Through their religion, these Muslims fought both to survive slavery and to make sense of their new circumstances.
By the 1910s, an estimated 60,000 Muslims from South Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East had immigrated to the United States, finding employment as factory workers, farmers, and merchants, and it was not long before they began rooting themselves in the United States by founding mosques and community centers. This was also a time when many black Americans converted to Islam; some would even form distinct movements in its name (e.g., the Nation of Islam).
History books often divide the world into a “modern West” and a “traditional Orient,” ignoring the history of Muslims in America. American Muslims’ stories fly in the face of that strict opposition of East and West. By virtue of being both American and Muslim, the stories listed here draw attention to the ways people of varying religious, cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds interact with one another to shape and reshape their individual lives and American society. As such, they open new vistas on the formation of Muslim and American identities in the modern world.