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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Panel on Muslim Experiences in America

Date: September 18, 2002

Event Recap

On September 18th the Boisi Center hosted a panel on “Varieties of Muslim Experience in America” featuring the Reverend Don Muhammad of the Nation of Islam (NOI); Mohammad Ali Salaam whose faith journey has lead him from Christianity, to membership in the NOI and finally to Sunni Islam; and Mohammad Louzanni, a member of the Islamic Society of Boston, an upper middleclass suburban mosque in Wayland. Together, these panelists offered a spectrum of Muslim experiences in the United States.

Louzanni spoke of his experience as a foreign born Muslim who consciously made the decision to live in the US. He spoke of the difficulties of living faithfully in a secular society that is not oriented around God, yet was also critical of Muslims in the United States who “act like they are a majority, even though they are a minority.”

Salaam spoke positively about his work with the Islamic Society of Boston in Cambridge, its rapid growth through conversion, and the ethnic and cultural diversity of its membership.

Muhammad, a local leader of the NOI, spoke of how the Nation of Islam has brought empowerment to African Americans in the US and spoke of how their national leader Louis Farrakhan was traveling through Africa and the Middle East and trying to encourage Muslims to work together.

Many of the Muslim scholars were familiar with the Nation of Islam and had the impression that the NOI represented the experience of American Muslims. They also believed that the African American experience portrayed by Farrakhan was the experience of all Muslim-Americans. The views expressed by the panel members caused many of our visitors to rethink this perspective. Many found it heretical, for example, that the NOI teaches that Elijah Mohammad, the founder of the NOI, is a messenger of God and is sometimes referred to as the prophet Elijah. The visitor from Nigeria claimed that the NOI’s statement of belief, which had been provided in their packet of readings, was inconsistent with the teachings of the Qur’an. This panel was one of many opportunities the group had to interact with American Muslims during their stay and helped to broaden their perspective of American Muslims.