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Graduation Date

5-2015

Abstract

The current discourse on Islam in the U.S. separates Islam from American history and creates a binary between two entities that are in fact very much intertwined. When we forget the history of Islam in America it becomes easy to create conceptual dichotomies and draw clear distinctions between Islam as one category and “the West” as another, and argue that they are incompatible. Instead of breaking down the categories of “Islam and the West,” “Islam and modernity,” or “Islam and democracy,” scholars have attempted to show how the beliefs, values and practices of Islam are complementary to western liberal values such as freedom, democracy and tolerance. They have attempted to make Islam palatable for non-Muslim readers instead of questioning the very foundation for the claims that Islam and democracy or modernity are two juxtaposing categories in the first place. However, through examining the history of American Muslim’s experience in America, I attempt to demonstrate that Islam and the “the West” are not mutually exclusive, static and immutable categories, but rather traditions that are dynamic, relational and can be re-thought and re-configured according to different historical contexts. I examine the psychological and social implications of being identified as an “other” in society and how this works to degrade and demoralize not only minority groups, but society as a whole. It is necessary to listen to people’s voices and acknowledge the complexities and subtleties in their understandings of gender, forms of empowerment and religion, for once we start to define people based on our own assumptions and prejudices, it becomes exceedingly easy to either speak for disempowered groups or oversimplify their self-understandings and their religion so that it becomes detached from their actual experiences.

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