Sociology and Anthropology

Muslim Commitment in North America: Assimilation or Transformation?

The purpose of this paper is to examine the current debates within the American Muslim community regarding the expression of Muslim religious commitment in American life. The size of the community is now estimated to exceed four million (Stone 1991), and the number of Muslim immigrants entering the United States has more than doubled since 1960. During the same period, the number of American converts to Islam has also risen. Both the growth of the Muslim community in recent yeas, in the United States and worldwide, and the increasing number of Muslims in "diaspora" as Muslim labor migration continues, which has resulted in a heightened sense of "minority" status among Muslims (Haddad 1991), have raised many crucial questions concerning religious expression: Should Muslims remain marginal to secular power relations in accordance with the teachings of classical Islam or adopt a strategy of assimilation which, in the American context, includes the p d t of claims to equal protection under civil law? What happens to a religious community, such as the Muslim community, as it develops the institutional organization it needs to preserve its identity in a non-Islamic society? Can it still remain open to the source of inspiration and spiritual guidance located in the fold of the Islamic world? Or does the locus of authority shift? Changing circumstances require adaptation, and yet that adaptation involves the risk of losing the connection to the heart of the original insight and culture.

Conflicting responses to these and related questions raise issues of self-representation and lifestyle. The resulting theological and ideological debates within the Muslim community itself provide and refine various models for Muslim minority life in a non-Islamic environment. They also illustrate the tension between alienation and integration.

This paper proceeds in three parts. The first provides a description of the American Muslim population. This is followed by an examination of the influences of American legal institution on Muslim corporate life. The third part presents research in progress on the contemporary discussion of models for Muslim minority life and draws upon Muslim periodical literature and books devoted to this topic.

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