Article

Islam in North America

Amir Hussain

in Islamic Studies

ISBN: 9780195390155
Published online December 2009 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0057
Islam in North America

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Many North Americans are surprised to learn that Muslims have a long history on their continent. Historians estimate that between 10 and 20 percent of the slaves who came from West Africa were Muslim. Thomas Jefferson, to take a noted figure in American history, purchased a translation of the Qur’an in 1765, more than a decade before he drafted the Declaration of Independence. The first Muslim immigrants to North America other than slaves were from the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. Many were itinerants who came to make money and then return to their countries of origin. Some, however, were farmers and settled permanently. Mosques sprang up in 1915 (Maine), 1919 (Connecticut), 1928 (New York), and 1937 (North Dakota). In the late 19th century, the first Muslims came to Canada as Arab merchants who often landed in the east but wandered west to the frontier selling goods to remote farms and to the north selling to fur traders. This early population was small, with the first Canadian census of 1871 listing thirteen Muslims. The first established Muslim settlement was in Lac Labiche in northern Alberta. The descendants of those settlers helped build the first Canadian mosque, the Al-Rashid Mosque in Edmonton in 1938. The immigration policies of Canada in the 1970s meant that many of the Muslim immigrants were professionals or well-qualified business people. They often did well in their new country. Most of these Muslims emigrated either from South Asia or from the Arab world. In addition, however, there are Canadian Muslims whose ethnic backgrounds reflect immigration from almost every part of the world, from Bosnia to Indonesia. The 2001 Canadian census listed 579,600 Muslims in Canada, meaning that Islam became the second-largest religious tradition in Canada—well behind Christianity but ahead of Judaism. In the last half-century, the Muslim population of the United States increased dramatically through immigration (especially following the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965), strong birth rates, and conversion. The U.S. census does not ask the question of religious affiliation, so there is less certainty about the size of the U.S. Muslim population. Some estimates are as low as 2 million people and as high as 10 million. Research into America’s immigration patterns, birth rates, and conversion rates—similar to those of Canada—indicates that both of these estimates are extreme. Instead, many researchers estimate that there are between 6 and 7 million American Muslims as of the first decade of the 21st century.

Article.  4352 words. 

Subjects: Islam

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