Building an American Urban Umma: African American and Immigrant Muslims in Chicago, 1965 - 1980
Beginning with the changes to American immigration policy enacted in the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Acts, the composition and character of Islam in Chicago underwent a dramatic upheaval. Originally dominated by the presence of African American members of the Nation of Islam and the Ahmadiyya Movement, the waves of immigrants from the Muslim World created new communities of Sunni Muslims that came to dominate the American Islamic scene. I argue that in this era, Chicago, with its combination of a large number of immigrants and the central headquarters and demographic stronghold of the Nation of Islam, established itself as the “Mecca of American Islam.” Becoming more like the rest of the Muslim World demographically and ideologically, over the course of the 1960s and 1970s, Chicago Muslims looked abroad in order to establish connections with and build an international community. While scholars of American Islam have often focused on communities within the United States, I attempt to add a transnational lens through highlighting the importance of Arab assistance to fostering the growth of community institutions. Domestically, in exploring the influence of federal and local governments on the trajectory of Muslim communities in Chicago, I argue that Chicago Muslims played an important role in shaping their interactions with government agencies, helping them alter their communities’ fates. Specifically for African American Muslims, I break with most historians of Black Islam by placing the story of FBI interference and cooperation within larger narratives of the Black Freedom Struggle. Furthermore, in highlighting the decline of black Islamic institutions during the period of integration with immigrants in the 1970s, I argue that the story of Muslim integration mirrored that of the process between whites and blacks in the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement. Increasingly coming together across racial and ethnic lines, Chicago’s diverse set of Muslims encountered the numerous misunderstandings inherent in interracial and intercultural cooperation. That, coupled with the shifting political meanings of integrating into mainstream Islam for African American Muslims, resulted in the eventual fracturing of the budding Muslim unity of the 1970s.