National Geographic : 2018 May
preacher from California, says it’s one of the only places where pluralism openly flourishes, because Americans have the freedom to prac- tice the religion in all its forms. As he talks to hundreds of mostly millennials in a Houston suburb at the Maryam Islamic Center—named for the Virgin Mary, the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran—he seamlessly switches from slang to jokes to quotes from the Quran. They ask him about how to handle customs that irk them: women being judged for wearing makeup in the prayer hall or immigrant parents who expect you to marry within the same cul- ture. His answers come in candid stories that mix personal experiences with Islamic teachings about mercy, love, and respect. It’s the cornerstone of his organization, the Ta’leef Collective. With campuses in Fremont, California, and Chicago, Canon has tried to create a welcoming space that largely caters to younger Muslims and converts. For American-born Muslims the mosque can sometimes feel like a foreign place, a mash-up of immigrants from many countries bringing different cultural references. And Islam, like all religions in America, is struggling to keep young people in the fold. “ The aim was to create an environment with unreserved welcome that people can come to at their own pace,” Canon says, “and on frankly their own terms.” I SLAM HAS LONG BEEN PART of the tapestry of American identity; the first Muslims were brought here as slaves in the 16th century, many from West Africa. In the New World, 10 to 20 percent of slaves were Muslim, according to scholars. Barred from practicing their faith, they did it in secret, so clandestinely that scholars say Islam largely died out among the families that brought it here. But elements of Islam were resurrected in African-American communities through black nationalist and civil rights movements as a tool of empowerment, seen as reclaiming a culture stripped from a people. It started with move- ments such as the Nation of Islam. But today the majority practices a more mainstream form of the faith, following the lead of Malcolm X and later Imam Warith Deen Mohammed. The son of Elijah Muhammad, the prominent Nation of Islam leader, Mohammed abandoned a black separatist narrative and is credited with bringing a more traditional practice to Black Muslims. The first wave of Muslim immigrants in mod- ern history began in the late 1800s; mostly from the Levant, they sought economic opportuni- ties and settled largely in the Midwest. The first mosque was in North Dakota. Iowa is home to the oldest surviving place of worship built for Muslims, the Mother Mosque of America. But the door all but closed for Muslims in 1924, with an immigration act that barred people from Asia. In 1965 the next wave began, when new legislation reopened the U.S. to the world. That immigration continues today. The largest Muslim immigrant group hails from South Asia. There are now more than 2,100 mosques across the country. But for some, having a mosque of their own is still elusive, like the Muslim families in rural LEFT Lena Sareini, a Lebanese-American executive pastry chef, grew up in her family’s kitchen in Dearborn, Michigan. In her desserts she often incorporates recipes from her childhood and aspects of Lebanese cuisine. She says her heri- tage gives her an edge in her work. BELOW Juan Pablo Osorio, who was born in Colombia and raised Roman Catholic, converted to Islam. The former Marine sergeant from Houston studied the faith while he served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It helps me to live a life conscious of what’s right and wrong,” he says.