How do Muslim Americans Practice Islam? Scholars, Community Members Contribute to New Book

Terrorism. Anti-Muslim prejudice. Sexism. Culture clash. Political controversy.

These concerns have so dominated the study of Islam in the United States, according to Edward Curtis, Millennium Chair of the Liberal Arts and Professor of Religious Studies at IUPUI, that we don’t have reliable, peer-reviewed research on how Muslim Americans pray, fast, get married, or welcome a child into the world.

Funded by grants from Indiana University’s New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities and the American Academy of Religion, Curtis’ new edited volume answers a basic question: how do Muslims actually practice their religion in the United States?

The just published The Practice of Islam in America: An Introduction, is accompanied by a website, which includes audio-visual aids and discussion questions ideal for use in the classroom or community groups.

In addition to depicting life passages and ethical decision-making about what to eat and what charities to support, the book vividly portrays Muslim holidays such as the festival that celebrates the end of Ramadan; the commemoration of Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Husayn, during Ashura; the holiday that marks the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday; and Eid al-Adha, which remembers God’s commandment to Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael.

“We want readers to feel what it is like to practice Islam, to smell the food cooking for Eid al-Fitr, to see what Americans see on hajj,” said Curtis, who is author or editor of nine other books on Muslims in the United States and African Diaspora. “This will be the first book that I know of where the average reader can go to learn about the diversity of the living Muslim American religious traditions.”

The book’s twelve chapters are penned by scholars from around the country, most of whom came together for a summer writers’ meeting at IUPUI. Contributors gave one another constructive feedback on their chapter drafts, and then presented some of their conclusions at a dinner and dialogue with representatives from central Indiana’s diverse Muslim communities.

Drs. Hussein Rashid, Amir Hussain, and Rose Aslan meet at the IUPUI Campus Center to discuss their respective chapters on pilgrimage, funerals, and prayers.

Several IUPUI Muslim students, faculty, and staff joined members of five religious congregations at the event: al-Huda Foundation, the Islamic Society of North America, Masjid al-Mu’mineen, Muslim Community Center, and the Nur Allah Islamic center. Guests included Marion County Judge David Shaheed and City Controller Fady Qaddoura.

Writers and community members gather to discuss some of the book’s chapters. Pictured in the immediate foreground are members of Nur Allah Islamic Center.

“Being able to share the results of this project with and get feedback from IUPUI’s community partners really enhanced the final result,” Curtis remarked. “It helped to make sure that the book reflects the diverse voices and experiences of Muslim America.”