Muslims in America
Who would have guessed that a Muslim Syrian immigrant – originally hired to bring camels to the Southwest United States – would end up surveying the original road for the famous Route 66 to California?
You can learn the story of Hi Jolly – the American mispronunciation of Hadji Ali – in The Great Muslim American Road Trip (now available to stream on PBS). The three part, three-hour film is one of the outstanding new resources to learn and teach about Muslims as an integral part of American history, from its beginnings until today. It is one of many compelling films written and directed by Alex Kronemer, the award-winning founder and CEO of Unity Productions Foundation.
From Chicago to Los Angeles, American Muslim pop singer Mona Haydar and her husband Sebastian Robins drive Route 66, stopping to talk with Muslims all along the way. I talked with Alex about the genesis of this fun and very educational film…
Ever heard of Omar Ibn Said? He was a Muslim scholar born in what is now Senegal in West Africa. He was captured, enslaved and brought to Charleston, South Carolina, where he wrote his autobiography in Arabic – and that autobiography is now in the Library of Congress. Thank you to Susan Douglass at the Georgetown University Center for Contemporary Arabic Studies for providing many resources. Listen to the story of Omar Ibn Said here with a children’s picture book version here, and a video from TRT (Turkish Broadcast Service) here.
Then come up to our own century when the U.S. State Department published a book about Being Muslim in America, in which Eboo Patel writes, “I love America not because I am under the illusion that it perfect, but because it allows me, the child of Muslim immigrants from India to participate in its progress, to carve a place in its promise to play a role in its possibility.
Browse the Bridging Cultures Muslim Journeys Bookshelf for books, films and other resources. Then there is the Middle East Outreach Council , a national network of educators dedicated to disseminating apolitical and nonpartisan information, resources and activities furthering understanding about the Middle East, including the Arab world, Israel, Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan. MEOC’s target audience is non-specialists at the K-12 and college levels, and includes the annual Middle East Book Award. The Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, has its own resources and annual book awards. (Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books won both the Middle East Outreach Council and Arab American National Museum awards in 2013.) Salaam Reads is a recent imprint from Simon and Schuster featuring children’s books that "celebrate joy, vibrancy, and variety in stories of Muslim life.”
Muslims are woven into the fabric of American life and culture. Their stories can be shared anytime, but especially during Arab American Heritage Month in April or at times of key Muslim holidays, which rotate through the year according to the lunar calendar. Ramadan will begin about March 22, 2023, ending with the Eid al Fitr feast about April 21 and the Eid al Adha feast about June 28.
If you have other useful sites, resources or experiences about Muslims in America, please share them in the comments – and thank you for joining me on this journey.
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Karen Leggett Abouraya