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Islam Is a Foreign Country

Islam Is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority

Zareena Grewal
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 409
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  • Book Info
    Islam Is a Foreign Country
    Book Description:

    InIslam Is a Foreign Country, Zareena Grewal explores some of the most pressing debates about and among American Muslims: what does it mean to be Muslim and American? Who has the authority to speak for Islam and to lead the stunningly diverse population of American Muslims? Do their ties to the larger Muslim world undermine their efforts to make Islam an American religion?Offering rich insights into these questions and more, Grewal follows the journeys of American Muslim youth who travel in global, underground Islamic networks. Devoutly religious and often politically disaffected, these young men and women are in search of a home for themselves and their tradition. Through their stories, Grewal captures the multiple directions of the global flows of people, practices, and ideas that connect U.S. mosques to the Muslim world. By examining the tension between American Muslims' ambivalence toward the American mainstream and their desire to enter it, Grewal puts contemporary debates about Islam in the context of a long history of American racial and religious exclusions. Probing the competing obligations of American Muslims to the nation and to the umma (the global community of Muslim believers),Islam is a Foreign Countryinvestigates the meaning of American citizenship and the place of Islam in a global age.Zareena Grewalis Assistant Professor of American Studies and Religious Studies at Yale University and Director for the Center for the Study of American Muslims at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-0019-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Unmapping the Muslim World
    (pp. 1-28)

    On a sweltering July afternoon, I absently drove through a neighborhood known as the heart of Arab Detroit. The quiet suburb of Dearborn, Michigan, is famously home to the headquarters of the Ford Motor Company and also home to at least thirty thousand Arab Americans. “The Middle East in the Midwest,” as Dearborn is often dubbed, is a regular stop for journalists and TV crews searching out Muslim man-on-the-street sound bites or exotic b-roll footage—the street signs along Michigan Avenue written in Arabic, halal McNuggets at McDonalds, or burqa-clad women rollerblading. That is why, driving along in the summer...


    • 1 Islam Is a Foreign Country: Mapping the Global Crisis of Authority
      (pp. 31-78)

      With the first blue light of morning, Usman waits at Damascus International Airport for a young Muslim American stranger.¹ As always, Usman will help him with the heavy suitcases; he will find him a suitable, furnished, and reasonably priced apartment and make the introductions to appropriate tutors; he will escort him to the embassy and patiently go through the red tape; he will take him on guided tours of the city and share its secrets; he will act as translator and, when a faux pas is committed, a diplomat; he will listen to daydreams deep into the night and impart...

    • 2 Islamic Utopias, American Dystopia: Muslim Moral Geographies after the Great Migration
      (pp. 79-124)

      Over and over, Omar stumbles through the same difficult letters, his mumbling accompanied only by the buzz of fluorescent lights and the clicking ofmisbahbeads in Ahmad’s hand. Hours dragged by: Omar at the uncomfortable classroom desk, head in his hands, and his teacher Ahmad, leaning back in a chair with his eyes closed, listening and nodding. Drill after drill. The Arabic letters:kha, sad, ‘ayn, hamza, dad, andqaf. Mistake after mistake.

      “Ka, ka, ka, ka.” Omar nearly coughs out the sounds, knowing without looking up that Ahmad is shaking his head no, no, no, no.

      Omar always...

    • 3 Imaginary Homelands, American Dreams: Sunni Moral Geographies after 1965
      (pp. 125-174)

      Usman remembers his arrival to Damascus—on a one-way ticket, with only his ambitions, a small suitcase of books and clothes, and a list of classical books he wanted to study—with some embarrassment. “In college, you read, say, five books in a course in any given semester. So I thought I’d get through six books offiqh[law] and get a basis inusul[legal theory], you know. I thought it would take a year or so. Of course, I was completely wrong.”

      It was seven years ago when Usman, still sleepy with jet lag, presented his list of...


    • 4 Retrieving Tradition: Pedagogical Forms and Secular Reforms
      (pp. 177-218)

      After a long semester in Jordan, Richard’s tutor, Amin, announces that he has to return home to Damascus before his wife has their baby. Richard likes Amin, and since he already has a tourist visa, he decides to follow him to Syria. Richard finds the ugly beauty of Damascus’s dusty, winding roads and aged, crumbling buildings far more appealing than Amman’s expansive highways and sparkling neighborhoods of newly constructed white apartment complexes. Damascus looks the part of a historic Islamic city better than Amman does, but Richard remains unsettled by the gaps between his expectations for his studies abroad and...

    • 5 Choosing Tradition: Women Student-Travelers between Resistance and Submission
      (pp. 219-252)

      Maryam and I make our way across the cool marble courtyard of Al-Azhar Mosque, passing young boys from all over the world reciting Quran in small circles and older students frowning into thick manuals. We enter the room marked “The Turkish Corner” and approach Maryam’s Malaysian girlfriends, books tucked under their arms, sharing stories and flaky pastries in whispers and small bites by the shoe rack. As we wait for Shaykh Ali Gomaa to arrive, one of the girls asks Maryam to tell them the story of her conversion dream.

      In Cairo, just like in the villages in Pakistan and...

    • 6 Transmitting Tradition: The Constraints of Crisis
      (pp. 253-291)

      The familiar flat is noisier and more crowded than usual because today is a party, celebrating Fawzia’s successful recitation exam and her receipt of anijaza. A large sheet cake congratulates her in pink icing on the dining-room table. Cold drinks are passed from hand to hand, and the young children, usually restricted to a bedroom and a babysitter, are running around in their socks between the small circles of students. The ansa’s own son, a long-legged boy with freckles and messy red hair, is wearing a Spiderman costume two sizes too big, hanging from the stair railing, showing off...

    • 7 Muslim Reformers and the American Media: The Exceptional Umma and Its Emergent Moral Geography
      (pp. 292-346)

      “Be in this world as though you were a stranger traveling a path.”

      Paths wind, paths twist.

      Usman came back to the US with his wife and two sons. He got a graduate degree and a job as an imam in a leafy, suburban mosque community. But he never felt satisfied; he never felt as though he was putting what he had learned to its proper use. As an imam, he helped some troubled couples patch things up, taught a few law classes, oversaw the Islamic studies curriculum at the local Islamic K–8 school. He traveled and gave sermons...

  7. Epilogue: American Muslims and the Place of Dissent
    (pp. 347-356)

    On January 25, 2011, Egyptians from all social backgrounds—young and old, men and women, Christian and Muslim, gay and straight, middle class and working poor, Islamists and Marxists—marched in cities across Egypt and began an eighteen-day protest that captivated the world. Their calls in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and in public squares throughout Egypt, rang out around the world: “Dignity, Freedom, and Social Justice!”

    I used to pray that someday my children might live to see a more just, a more stable, a more peaceful Middle East in their lifetime than the one I knew in mine. I never...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 357-388)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 389-394)
    (pp. 395-395)