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Shi'ism in America

Shi'ism in America

Liyakat Nathani Takim
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 295
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  • Book Info
    Shi'ism in America
    Book Description:

    Shi'ism in America provides the first general overview of the Shi'i community in America, tracing its history, its current composition, and how Shi'a have negotiated their identity in the American context.There are over two million Shi'is, who differ from Sunni Muslims in their understandings of the early line of succession after Muhammad, in the United States. With community roots going back sometimes close to one hundred years, Shi'is can be found in major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, and Dearborn, Michigan. Early in the century, Shi'is and Sunnis sometimes arrived at the same time, worshipped together, shared similar experiences, and confronted the same challenges despite their sectarian differences.Both tracing the early history and illuminating the more recent past with surveys and interviews, Takim explores the experiences of this community. Filling an important scholarly gap, he also demonstrates how living in the West has impelled the Shi'i community to grapple with the ways in which Islamic law may respond to the challenges of modernity. Shi'ism in America provides a much-needed overview of the history of this United States religious community, from religious, cultural, and political institutions to inter-group relations, to the experience of African American Shi'is.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8424-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    The twentieth century witnessed a dramatic increase in the migration of Muslims to the American shores. The increased presence and visibility of Muslims in America means that Islam can no longer be characterized as a Middle Eastern or South Asian phenomenon. Given that it is the fastest growing religion in America, Islam is now a very American phenomenon.

    The composition of the American Muslim community is far from homogeneous. In fact, American Islam is a mosaic of many ethnic, racial, sectarian, and national groups. Most scholars who have studied Islam in America have limited their research to the majority, Sunni...

  5. 1 The Origins and Early History of the American Shi‘i Community
    (pp. 11-48)

    The origins and experience of the early Shi‘i settlers in America must be contextualized within the broader framework of the presence of the early Sunni Muslims in America. Shi‘is and Sunnis arrived at about the same time, worshiped together, shared similar experiences, and encountered the same challenges. In fact, as we will see when we discuss Sunni-Shi‘i relations in America in chapter three, the symbiosis between these two communities meant that many early Muslim settlers were not even aware of the sectarian differences that distinguished them.

    Scholars of Islam in America have amply documented the presence of early Muslims in...

  6. 2 The American Shi‘i Community: Ethnicity and Identity
    (pp. 49-96)

    Immigrant Muslims who came to the United States in the early twentieth century sensed the need to create communal prayer spaces and mark important religious holidays. By 1920 Muslim spaces or associations existed in New York, North Dakota, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Maine, and Ohio. These were informal gathering places frequently located in coffee shops, the homes of community leaders, or, on rare occasions, in the workplace. In most cases, the communities left little or no documentation of where they conducted their religious services, making it difficult to trace the activities of the early Muslim community.

    The first mosque built in...

  7. 3 Sunni–Shi‘i Interaction in America
    (pp. 97-144)

    The Shi‘i experience in America has to be understood within the context of the community’s relationship with both non-Muslims and fellow Muslims, the Sunnis. This is because, from the very beginning, American Shi‘is have had to contend with both groups. They have had to interact and cooperate with and, at times, respond to accusations from fellow Muslims.

    Shi‘i–Sunni dynamics in America have to be contextualized within the framework of the history of the early Muslim community, which, as we have seen, comprised both groups. Faced with the challenge of assimilation to American culture, the early Shi‘is sought to keep...

  8. 4 Shi‘i Leadership and America
    (pp. 145-184)

    An important aspect of American Shi‘ism is how members of the community have drawn upon their religious leaders, who are based in the Middle East, to shape and guide their religious and sociopolitical lives in America. The Shi‘i leadership is predicated on a highly stratified hierarchical system called themarji ‘al-taqlid,ormarji ‘iyya. The term refers to the most learned juridical authority in the Shi‘i community whose rulings on Islamic law are followed by those who acknowledge him as their source of reference ormarji‘. The followers base their religious practices in accordance with his judicial opinions. Themarji‘...

  9. 5 Shi‘i Outreach Activities in America
    (pp. 185-230)

    As the number of Shi‘i immigrants increased, they envisioned the need to establish institutions that could reach out to non-Muslims and challenge the negative portrayal of Islam in the media. Until the 1980s, most of the outreach work had been undertaken by members of the Sunni community. For the Shi‘is, the need to proselytize and depict a positive image of Islam in general and Shi‘ism in particular became more acute after the Iranian revolution in 1979 and the ensuing hostage crisis because many, if not most, Americans had associated Shi‘ism with militancy and terrorism.

    The emergence of Hizbollah after the...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 231-232)

    American Shi‘ism is interwoven with different cultures, for, like other religious communities, its structures and rituals are impacted by the cultural markings of its members. The community is constituted in an environment in which its members form a conglomerate of disparate ethnic groups. This confluence of Shi‘is sharing common space has proved to be problematic. Shi‘is face the challenge of reconstituting themselves into more Islamic and less ethnically stylized institutions. They also face the challenge of cultural homogenization, meaning coming to terms with a common culture that is evolving among the second-and third-generation Shi‘is. The youth seek to foster interethnic...

  11. Appendix
    (pp. 233-236)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 237-264)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 265-278)
  14. Index
    (pp. 279-284)
  15. About the Author
    (pp. 285-285)