Crescent Over Another Horizon

Islam in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latino USA

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Maria del Mar Logroño Narbona, Paulo G. Pinto, John Tofik Karam
  • University of Texas Press
    , November
     356 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


For the last twenty years, I’ve tried to explain to family, friends, and anyone curious enough to ask me about my religion that I’m a Cuban-American Muslim. It’s an interesting albeit challenging effort. Finding the right words is almost impossible and most of my interlocutors don’t get it. Cuban and Muslim. How? More importantly, why? The bewilderment surrounding my position as a Latino Muslim convert is unsurprising. There are too few occasions in the United States for thinking about Islam as anything but a religion of the “East.” For many Americans, Islam is the Middle East, South Asia, and maybe Southeast Asia. Anywhere but Latin America. 

Crescent Over Another Horizon lays the foundation for a new understanding of “the Muslim world” and undoing the confusion I and many Latino/a Muslims encounter as we disclose our religious commitments. Indeed, it is perhaps the single most important book (in English) concerning the subject of Muslims in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latinos in the US, and signals what is surely the beginning of an exciting area of new scholarship on the diversity of Muslim lives in the Western hemisphere. 

Divided into three sections, the book presents a diverse set of essays that offer both an illuminating and engaging introduction to a story largely untold in US scholarship. The first part, “Reconsidering History,” includes three chapters that explore the historical depth of Islam in the region reaching as far back as the early colonization of the Americas in the 15thcentury. In this section we learn how the Spanish prohibition on “Morisco” (Muslim converts to Catholicism) migration to the Americas created a context of suspicion that hinged on one’s potential status as a Muslim; how African Muslims maintained their religion across four hundred years of colonialism and played an active role in the region through community-building and acts of defiance; and how ethnic affiliations among Muslims in the East Indies and Suriname facilitated a history of mutual collaboration that mitigated religious differences. A common theme to these chapters is continuity, how Islam became central to long-term processes of community fragmentation (chapter 1) and formation (chapters 2 and 3).

The second section of the text, “Contemporary Cartographies,” is the longest and addresses questions of conversion, institutional development and change, and identity. Comprised of six essays, this part of the book offers various case studies that bring the experiences of older Muslim communities and the more recently converted to the center of the contemporary Islamic context. Through the analysis of Islamic institutions, for example, we see how transnational connections can influence the constitution of orthodoxy and authority among local Muslim communities. We also find that institutions provide avenues for a range of activities that can bring Muslims into closer relations with the larger society and state, or strengthen Muslim community ties through revitalization efforts. One of the more interesting topics of this section concerns the relationship between local conversions and identity. Reading these essays, we discover that conversion to Islam allows Muslims to take up new social positions within their societies that exceed the boundaries of a religious identification alone. In Mexico, conversion can mark a cosmopolitanism that challenges local taxonomies of class and marginalization; in Cuba conversion can facilitate new forms of social recognition that link Muslim converts to foreign embassies and Islamic delegations; in Brazil, conversion to Islam can represent a “conversion to globalization” that includes the adoption of Arabic names and language, sartorial practices of the Middle East or North Africa, and the creolization of Islam; and in Martinique conversion to Islam can mark an individual’s return to Africa and, more critically, the acceptance of ideas and practices that subvert legacies of slavery and inequality. 

The third and final part of the book, “Islam Latina/o,” takes the specific situations of Latina/o Muslims and the trajectory of American Muslims within a predominantly Latina/o context as its central focus. Perhaps the most theoretically engaged chapters of the book, chapters 10 and 12 offer important ways for thinking through the complexities of conversion among Latina/o Muslims. Through their conversion narratives, for example, we learn of two related processes that reconstitute the meaning and experience of Latina/os within their communities and the larger US society. The first is “dis-covery,” which describes a process by which Latina/o converts uncover the hidden story of Muslim Spain and, in so doing, reposition themselves as returnees in a history where Islam is central, rather than peripheral, to Latina/o identity. The second process situates Latina conversion to Islam within a theory of “oppositional culture” in which the adoption of Islamic beliefs and practices allows Latinas to both cope with and challenge diverse subjugations within US society, Latino culture, and Muslim communities. For these women, we learn that Islam is a form of empowerment that enables flexible identities and forms of agency across multiple communities. 

Crescent Over Another Horizon is a compelling and timely text. A critical resource for scholars and the general public alike, it not only challenges the exclusion of the Americas and Caribbean from Islamic scholarship but also demonstrates that understanding the historical and contemporary complexity of the Americas and Caribbean must include Islam. Both a resource and a provocation, it is a text that will undoubtedly set the standard for research to come.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Michael Vicente Perez is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Anthology at the University of Washington.

Date of Review: 
April 11, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Maria del Mar Longroño Narbona is assistant professor of Modern Middle Eastern History at Florida International University.

Paulo G. Pinto is professor of anthropology at the Universidade Federal Fluminense, where he also directs the Center for Middle East Studies. His previous books include Ethnographies of Islam: Ritual Performances and Everyday Practices.



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