Islam in Urban America: Sunni Muslims in Chicago

Ethnic Studies Review, April 3, 2004 | Go to article overview

Islam in Urban America: Sunni Muslims in Chicago


Islam in Urban America: Sunni Muslims in Chicago is a well-researched, carefully nuanced, and timely contribution to our understanding of Muslim Americans and an excellent corrective to the all-too-common tendency to homogenize both Islam and Muslims. This study stresses the multiple elements of diversity in American Islam by focusing on how ethnicity, class, gender, class, age, and ideology have influenced the presentation and practice of Sunni Islam among immigrant communities in Chicago during the 1990s. Garbi Schmidt is currently a researcher in the ethnic minorities program at the Danish National Institute of Social Research in Copenhagen. This book is a revision of her Ph.D. dissertation and is the result of fieldwork among immigrant Muslim Americans that she conducted in the Chicago area over the course of a year and a half in 1995 and 1996.

Schmidt portrays a Sunni Muslim community in Chicago that is torn between two powerful conflicting impulses. On the one hand, many Chicago Muslim immigrants and their children have been deeply influenced by the pan-Islamic ideals of such twentieth century Islamic revivalist movements as the Muslim Brotherhood and Mawlana Mawdudi's Jama'at-i Islami that vigorously promote a transethnic and transnational Islamic identity. Indeed, some American Muslims see their experience in the United States as a golden opportunity to create a form of Islam in America "that transcends differences and ethnicity (77)." On the other hand Schmidt points out that the Chicago Muslim community is nonetheless deeply fragmented along ethnic and even racial lines. For example when Chicago Muslims choose which particular mosque that they will attend, this choice is almost always based on the individual's ethnic affiliation. Bosnian Muslims will go to the mosque whose membership is predominantly Bosnian and Arab Muslims will go to a mosque with a predominantly Arab membership. Schmidt's research also shows that the Chicago Muslim community exhibits profound cleavages along racial and social class lines. Thus she notes that even though around forty percent of Chicago's Sunni Muslims at the time of her research were African-American, contacts and alliances between African-American Muslims and the immigrant Muslim communities were surprisingly infrequent. Indeed, despite lip service to transethnic Islamic ideals, the more affluent suburban Arab and South Asian Muslim immigrant communities displayed an almost complete indifference to the economic and social plight of their poorer inner-city co-religionists and some even justified this indifference by claiming that African-American Muslims were responsible for their own misfortunes because they had not practiced Islam correctly. …

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