Islam and the Americas

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Aisha Khan
New World Diasporas
  • Gainesville, FL: 
    University Press of Florida
    , February
     360 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Adding to the growing field of scholarship on Muslims and Islam since September 11, 2001, the edited volume Islam and the Americas offers a novel look at these topics within the context of the Caribbean, Latin America, and the United States, outside of binaries such as “East” versus “West,” “traditional” versus “modernity,” and “indigenous” versus “foreign.” This volume seeks to challenge stereotypical views of Islam and Muslims by demonstrating the ways in which “Islam is a discourse tradition … that engages culture, religious discourse, class, gender, race, and realpolitik, through which Muslims and non-Muslims create identities of self and other, belonging, and estrangement” (4). In this way, Islam and the Americas delineates the becoming of Islam and Muslims as situated and contextualized within the histories, societies, cultures, and communities found across the Americas. 

Islam and the Americas consists of case studies reflecting interdisciplinary methodologies, from archival material to ethnographic approaches, that span across time and geographies in the Caribbean, Latin America, and the United States, by authors who may adhere to religious commitments and those who may not. Each chapter aims to present Muslims as agents in the active creation of their societies without subscribing to a particular “authentic” Islam that views all Muslims as monolithic subjects. By organizing the volume this way, the editor, Aisha Khan, intends this volume for a wide variety of audiences, including, but not limited to, “scholars, sundry publics, and policymakers in order to attempt to understand Muslims’ historical and contemporary presence in and contributions to this hemisphere” (28). Khan is an associate professor of anthropology at New York University. Her research interests include the Caribbean, Latin America, race and ethnicity, religion, theory and method in diaspora studies, and creolization. Khan has authored and edited many books, including Callaloo NationMetaphors of Race and Religious Identity among South Asians in Trinidad (Duke University Press, 2004). This current volumeproves to be quite a significant contribution to the field as it presents the stories of communities that remain largely invisible despite the ever-growing literature on Islam and Muslims in North America.

After a list of figures and acknowledgments, Islam and the Americas consists of an introductory chapter and a “Contours” chapter, both by Khan, which explore the key issues of Islam within the New World, ultimately highlighting the landscapes and contours of studying Islam and Muslims within the Americas. Following these are the main eleven content chapters, which are divided into three themes: 1) Histories: Presence, Absence, Remaking; 2) Circulation of Identities, Politics of Belonging; and 3) Spatial Practices and the Trinidadian Landscape. The first section includes four chapters that illuminate the ways in which Muslim identities, traditions, practices, and frictions are produced and tied to history as well as to the act of historiography. In this way, these stories offer a perspective into the becoming and making of “Muslims” as part of the overall narratives that shape the New World. The second section includes three content chapters that take place around periods of globalization in the late 20th and early 21st century, underlining notions of distancing, belonging, knowing, and claims of authoritative representation in an increasing deterritorialized world. The final section of the book includes four chapters and focuses on Trinidad and the politics of visibility, as well as the meaning of space and spatial practices of Muslims and Islam in a society formulated through the power dynamics of colonial encounters and the formation of the nation-state. 

Ultimately, Khan’s volume proves to be an outstanding and critical project that aims to complicate and collect the various experiences of the everyday as well as the effects that are associated with the quotidian in order to produce a type of knowledge, creating meaning and interpretative categories to delineate the myriad possibilities of being for Muslims and Islam within the Americas. Through this assemblage of chapters, Khan seeks to illuminate the way the New World is made and remade by these minority populations of Muslims and how, in turn, Muslim identities are being reshaped in the process. Although Khan maintains that this volume was not intended to be a comprehensive depiction of Islam and Muslims in this hemisphere, her project could have benefitted from greater engagement with American Islam and American Muslim scholarship and ethnographies in order to position her work more securely as part of the larger genealogy of the study of Muslims and Islam in the New World. Despite this, the scholarly contribution ofIslam and the Americas must not be dismissed or undervalued. This collection of essays has proved itself an invaluable addition to the field of Islam in the Americas and begins to fill the overwhelming silence of Muslim peoples, stories, histories, communities, and subjectivities within the Caribbean and Latin America.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Hinasahar Muneeruddin is a doctoral student in Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Date of Review: 
June 16, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Aisha Khan is associate professor of anthropology at New York University. She is the author of Callaloo Nation: Metaphors of Race and Religious Identity among South Asians in Trinidad.


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