العربية: الجمعية الاسلامية الامريكية - مسجد ديربورن, 9945 West Vernor Highway, Dearborn, Michigan English: American Moslem Society Dearborn Mosque, 9945 West Vernor Highway, Dearborn, Michigan

Reactionary Historiography: Post 9/11 Muslim Communities and Immigrants

(Featured image of American Moslem Society Dearborn Mosque by Dwight Burdette)

The following is a historiography that reviews literature covering Muslim immigration and communities in the United States after the events of September 11th, 2001 in New York City, NY, USA. Because of how cut & paste into WordPress from a Word file works, you’ll find all the footnotes at the end of the page.


Books Reviewed

Abdo, Geneive Abdo. 2006. Mecca and Main Street: Muslim Life in America After 9/11. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bilici, Mucahit. 2012. How Islam Is Becoming an American Religion: Finding Mecca in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Curtis IV, Edward E. 2009. Muslims in America: A Short History. New York: Oxford University Press.

Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck. 2011. Becoming American? The Forging of Arab and Muslim Identity in Pluralist America. Waco: Baylor University Press.

Hussain, Amir. 2016. Muslims and the Making of America. Waco: Baylor University Press.

McCloud, Aminah Beverly. 2006. Transnational Muslims in American Society. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.


When the World Trade Center (the “Twin Towers”) in New York City was attacked on September 11th, 2001, many Americans were understandably shocked and angry, but they also found themselves asking, what is a Muslim? Why would they want to attack us?[1] Setting aside the problem of conflating all Muslims with terrorists, these questions revealed a vacuum of knowledge about Muslims and Islam in the United States. Further, there was a lack of understanding that Muslims were and had been a part of American society since before the United States was founded. The rhetoric that flooded popular media painted a picture of Islam vs the West[2] and reinforced the idea that there was a hard dichotomy between the two.[3] One could not be American and be Muslim, one could only be Muslim in America. Scholars from multiple disciplines saw this as an opportunity to produce literature on Muslim immigration and Muslim communities living within the United States to correct the narrative being constructed around Muslims and Islam. Because of this, much of the recent scholarship on Islam has been defensive and apologetic in nature, presenting Muslims in a way that normalizes them and introduces them as typical Americans to the rest of society. Recent scholarship has focused primarily on establishing a Muslim American identity, rather than on placing Muslim immigrants and immigration in a historical context.

According to Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, a scholar on the history of Islam in America, this type of scholarship is not new. Writing in 2010, he indicates that both before and after September 11th, 2001, scholarship on Muslims in the United States has been primarily anthropological and sociological, dealing with questions of assimilation and identity formation.[4] He goes on to say that the historical studies that do exist focus primarily on African American Muslims and on how non-Muslim Americans perceive Islam.[5] Further, because of the positioning of Islam as being opposed to the West, most scholarship on Muslims in the United States has focused on how they are faring in a “foreign” society rather than on how they are actively participating in American history.[6] Much scholarship on Muslims in the US also aims to teach non-Muslim Americans about Islam to counter xenophobia and to reposition Muslims as being a part of “us”.[7] However, this focus on Muslim voices excludes the voices of other groups that have interacted with them. What I mean by this is that ethnic identity formation is both an external and internal process.[8] Muslim American identity formation occurred and continues to occur within a wider American social context. Without adding the voices of non-Muslims to the narrative, as GhaneaBassiri writes, scholars “[dim] the signifiance of the larger American Islamic socio-historical context [in] which American Muslims have [acted] for nearly four centuries.”[9] Many of the books reviewed in this paper, including Hussain’s Muslims and the Making of America, which was published in 2016, fit GhaneaBassiri’s analysis of recent scholarship as being primarily focused on identity formation and assimilation. The two exceptions are McCloud and Curtis’s books.

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St. Paul’s Chapel and Cemetary next to the World Trade Center Site

St. Paul's Chapel and Cemetary

St. Paul’s Chapel and Cemetery

Last Thursday my wife and I went downtown to the National September 11 Memorial site. To get to it, we had to walk past St. Paul’s Chapel and Cemetery and my wife was interested in having a look around, so we went in.  I’ve been there a few times before, but it was her first time. She remembered hearing about the chapel in the news and wanted to see it first-hand.

St. Paul's Cemetery

St. Paul’s Cemetery

We walked through the cemetery first. She was impressed by how old the headstones are. I am too. It’s weird to see gravestones still erect for people that died in the 1760s next to so many buildings of modern construction. It’s so out of place. It’s nice to see that the chapel and the cemetery survived and weren’t torn down to build something new, especially in considering the important role the chapel played during the September 11th tragedy, when rescue and aid workers used the sanctuary as a place to rest and recover for a few hours before going back out to look for survivors again.

Memorial to September 11 Victims in St. Paul's

Memorial to September 11 Victims in St. Paul’s

George Washington's Pew at St. Paul's

George Washington’s Pew at St. Paul’s

Oldest painted seal of the United States

Oldest painted seal of the United States

When you walk through the chapel, it’s hard to not be touched by the memorials set up around the outer edge, artifacts left behind by people looking for loved ones mixed in with older stuff, like George Washington’s pew and what is touted as the oldest painting of the seal of the United States, which looks more like a turkey than an eagle, probably due to influence from Benjamin Franklin, who wanted the national bird to be the turkey. On a side note, it’s good that he didn’t get his way, or else what would we eat on Thanksgiving? It would be a federal crime to roast our turkeys!

Rosaries on wooden hands in St. Paul's Chapel

Rosaries on wooden hands in St. Paul’s Chapel

Rosaries on wooden hands at St. Paul's Chapel

Rosaries on wooden hands at St. Paul’s Chapel

Seriously, though, on my previous trip I never really stopped to considering and think about the people in the photos set up on the alters, or the stuff that was moved inside from where it used to be posted on the fences around the church. It’s hard to stand there and think about the people, on an individual level, that died there that day. It’s easy when you’ve only got this vague idea in your head of some 3000 people. It’s harder when you look at the photos and wonder what their life was like and who they left behind. Who cried for them? What were there final moments like? How has the event changed the lives and world views of those closest to them?

Police and Search and Rescue unit patches left behind as symbols of solidarity

Police and Search and Rescue unit patches left behind as symbols of solidarity

Sanctuary of St. Paul's Chapel

Sanctuary of St. Paul’s Chapel

The informational plaques were nice. It helped tell the story of the place. It explained why there are no pews left in the center of the building, and where all the patches on the priest’s garment (I forget the actual name of it) came from.

Pilgrimage Altar at St. Paul's Chapel

Pilgrimage Altar at St. Paul’s Chapel

I thought the “Pilgrimage Altar” was especially interesting. Is St. Paul’s a site of pilgrimage now? It’s hard to think of it that way, in the same category as Canterbury, Santiago de Compostela, or Jerusalem. But perhaps it is a place of pilgrimage in a broader sense of the word. People were encouraged to leave behind thoughts and prayers for those who perished at the nearby Trade Center site, which they did, covering the altar in notes.

St. Paul’s is an important site of remembrance that has surpassed its role as a Christian church. It is now a site of tourism and pilgrimage for people of all faiths or no faith, to remember the loss suffered by so many on that day, to contemplate how the world changed, and maybe to hope for something better in the future.

A Wall Covered With Names of the Dead in Union Square Station, New York City

Each tile on this Union Square station wall has the name of a person who died on September 11th, 2001 on it.

You may have never noticed this, but there’s a wall in Union Square station where each tile has the name of a dead person on it.  If you enter the station near Food Emporium on the corner of 14th St and 4th Ave, you have to angle off to your right after passing through the turn-styles and then head towards the N, Q, and R trains.  As you walk down the long passageway to those train lines, on the left hand side you’ll notice the tiles with the names on them.  In the photo above I was heading in the opposite direction, coming from the Q and heading towards the station exit.

Name stickers placed on tiles in Union Square station, each of a person who died on September 11th, 2001.

I somehow doubt this was done by the city, since the names are simply on stickers.  Still, it was a great effort on someone’s part to help keep the events of September 11th, 2001 in the public consciousness.  Union Square is a major station and sees a lot of foot traffic every day, which could potentially give these stickers a lot of exposure.

One of the stickers on the tiles in Union Square station, showing the name of a person who died on September 11th, 2001.

I have yet to visit the site of the former World Trade Center since I returned to New York City last September.  I suppose I should make it a point to head down there and see what sort of progress they’ve made in rebuilding the area.  The last time I was there, in May of 2008, it looked like this:

The site of the former World Trade Center, New York City, May of 2008.