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GISC Lecture. “Old Islam in Detroit: Rediscovering the Muslim American Past.”

Wednesday, February 18, 2015
12:00 AM
2609 International Institute/SSWB, 1080 S. University

Please note that this event has been rescheduled, as it was cancelled due to the U-M emergency closing on February 2.

Islam is portrayed as a religion of immigrants, converts, and cultural outsiders, yet Muslims have been part of American society since the colonial era. Detroit is home to several of the nation’s oldest, most diverse Muslim communities. In the early 1900s, there were thousands of Muslims in Detroit. Most came from Eastern Europe, the Ottoman Empire, and British India. In 1921, they built the nation’s first mosque in Highland Park, and by the 1930s, new Islam-oriented movements like the Nation of Islam had taken root among African Americans. When U.S. immigration laws were liberalized in 1965, new immigrants and new African American converts rapidly became the majority of U.S. Muslims. For them, Detroit’s old Muslims and their mosques seemed oddly Americanized, even unorthodox.

In this lecture, Howell will explore the rise of Detroit’s earliest Muslim communities and discuss the culture wars and doctrinal debates that ensued as these populations confronted Muslim newcomers who did not understand their manner of worship or the American identities they had created. Looking closely at this historical encounter, this talk will illustrate how Islam has become American in the past and how the anxieties many new Muslim Americans and non-Muslims feel about the place of Islam in American society today are not inevitable, but are part of a dynamic process of political and religious change that is still unfolding.

Sally Howell, assistant professor of history, U-M Dearborn