Muslims in America: A Short History

In This Review

Muslims in America: A Short History
By Edward E. Curtis IV
Oxford University Press, 2009
168 pp. $12.95

Less useful as a conventional history than as a glimpse into the process of how American Muslims are developing their identity, Curtis' book never quite manages to define its subject or tell a coherent story. In part, this is because the story is so inscrutable. Fragments of Islamic practice survived among slaves, but records are scarce and their meaning is hard to untangle. Many of the early Muslim immigrants to the United States either abandoned their religion or failed to pass it on to their offspring. And the earliest movements among African Americans to claim the title "Muslim" had little in common with recognized forms of Islam. All this changed in the 1960s, when Malcolm X helped lead a movement toward orthodox Islam among African Americans and new immigration laws opened the door to mass immigration from Muslim-majority countries. Unfortunately, Curtis' treatment even of this later era is scattered and unfocused. How many Muslims live in America? Where? What is the current relationship among Muslim immigrant groups -- and between African American Muslims and Muslim immigrants? Even though it dodges these questions, Muslims in America does provide an interesting and diverse sampling of Islamic theological reflection in the United States today.