Despite the fact that many American Muslim families have lived in the United States for generations they are often thought of as foreigners. I have witnessed on several occasions someone asking an African American Muslim when they converted to Islam or what drew them to the religion. Or asking Muslims from Middle Eastern or Asian descent where they are from or when they came to America. These questions are not always intended to be malicious but they do underscore some of the assumptions about Muslims in American discourse: Muslims are new members of the United States, whether through immigration or conversion.
Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, professor of religion at Reed College, challenges these preconceptions by thoroughly outlining the long history of Muslims in American. His new book, A History of Islam in America: From the New World to the New World Order (Cambridge University Press, 2010) maps the activities of various communities of Muslims from the colonial and antebellum period to the present. His account is rich in detail and offers a vibrant portrait of the encounters and exchanges between Muslim communities and their non-Muslim neighbors. It is by far the most comprehensive historical treatment of the Muslims in America and calls for new approaches in the study of Muslim minority populations more generally. GhaneaBassiri situates Islam within the broad context of the American religious experience and displays the complexity and diversity of American Muslim history. This rigorous and richly documented account also challenges and transcends the flat and monolithic presentation of American Muslims that is typically offered in the current politicized discursive dichotomy between Islam and the West. A History of Islam in America should be essential reading for anyone interested in Muslims in the United States and American religions more generally.