Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 August 2012
In the last chapter I argued that the challenge facing American Muslims in the future is not to settle a struggle between a “good Islam ” and a “bad Islam, ” but to bridge the gap between the reality of their lives and the stigmatizing context in which they were interpolated by a polarizing discourse on “Islam and the West. ” Just as Muslims face the challenge of conforming their circumstances to the realities of their day-to-day lives, the academic study of Islam in America also faces a challenge in developing effective analytical categories and a vocabulary that allows for a representation of the historical realities of Islam in America. Much of the existing scholarship furthers the politicized dichotomy of “Islam and the West ” by inquiring primarily into the assimilation of Muslims in the United States rather than focusing on the histories of their institution and community building efforts, which, as I have shown, were persistent and significant.
In the nineteenth century, increased travel and communication between cultures and the greater accessibility of visual and textual sources on the lives of others forced any understanding of an American national identity to necessarily grapple with alterity. During this time, however, very few Americans actually interacted with the non-Christian other. Americans ’ contact with Muslims at this time was limited for the most part to their interactions with enslaved West African Muslims. Most Americans only encountered non-Christians in the abstract, in books and magazines.