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

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

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

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


In Islam 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 Country investigates the meaning of American citizenship and the place of Islam in a global age.


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 of 2007, I barely took notice of the cameramen setting up on the street corner. But then I came upon a swarm of police cars blocking off the street for at least a mile. Anxiously, I craned my neck to see what the gathering onlookers were fixed on. I could hear muffled cries in Arabic and a growing crowd of teenagers waving Iraqi flags further down Warren Avenue. Hoopties with boys piled on the roofs and Arabic radio stations blaring were slowly circling the police lines, Iraqi flags and outstretched arms hanging out the windows. In the distance, drums pounded. A little boy darted between the squad cars waving his Iraqi flag and ignoring the reprimands of the police.

I scanned through the car’s radio stations for news coverage of the war in Iraq. A white police officer directing traffic off Warren Avenue waved me toward a side street. Leaning out of my car window, I asked him, “Did something happen?”

He studied the amorphous mob of Arab teenagers in the distance. “A lot of things are happening right now,” he muttered.

The fear in his eyes made my thoughts race. A few months earlier, I consulted on a major survey on Muslims in the US for the Pew . . .

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