Islam in Europe and the United States


In this course, we will study Muslims who have lived and are living in the West, as well as non-Muslim Western representations of Islam. While Islam is often viewed as a foreign and even alien religion to Europe and the United States, its presence in the West has been substantial ever since the Muslim conquest of Spain in the eighth century. We will begin by examining the cultural interactions that occurred in Spain during the nearly 800 years of Muslim rule, exploring such areas as literature, philosophy, architecture, and political theories on religious diversity. Looking at Islam in the imagination of Europeans, we will read about medieval depictions of the prophet Muhammad as the demonic figure Mahound and the sexual and mystical exoticism located in the translations of the Arabian Nights and Persian Sufi poetry that began in the 18th century. Moving across the Atlantic, we will study the complex and distinctive history of African American Islam, from the first Muslim slaves brought to America in the 16th century to the establishment of the Nation of Islam and contemporary African American Muslims. Other Muslims in America and in Europe today are primarily immigrants or the descendents of immigrants from the Middle East and Asia. Through the essays, literature, art, and music of these Muslim communities, we will examine the challenges arising from European and American multiculturalism and the post-9/11 political environment. These self-representations will be compared with representations of Islam and Muslims in the news media, books, and films. Issues such as the prohibition on veiling in French schools will be used to discuss minority beliefs and practices and assimilation into Western secular societies.