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Islam is woven into Michigan history

Nov 25, 2014

Holiday prayer at the New Oriental Hall, led by Shaykh Kalil Bazzy.
Credit Bazzy Family Collection / University of Michigan

    

It's widely accepted that Michigan has the largest Muslim population in the United States. Sally Howell explores the religion's history in Michigan in her book Old Islam in Detroit: Rediscovering the Muslim American Past.

Islam has a long history in America that is often overlooked. Howell says many Muslims came as slaves from West Africa to pre-civil war America with no freedom to practice their religion, and many of their traditions were lost.

Islam in the United States, and Michigan, became more commonplace during the onset of the auto industry in Detroit. Like other immigrants, Muslims were attracted to higher paying factory jobs. Howell says, "The first mosque that was built as a mosque in the United States was built one block away from the entrance from the Highland Park Factory."

The Muslim community is ingrained in the fabric of Michigan, with many immigrants helping build the cars and structures of Detroit. Howell says their presence has helped add to the rich diversity in the area.

Detroit and surrounding areas are still attractive to contemporary Muslim immigrants who are looking for a sense of community. But these communities often face the difficulty of combating the fanaticism and images of violence that have become associated with Islam in the media.

Howell stresses that many Muslims have the burden of being seen as representative of the whole community, saying, "Whatever mistakes you make reflect back on the community."

She says Muslims in the Southeast Michigan area combat these stereotypes by showing all of the good they do for the area. They're tasked with always being visible in their actions.

*Listen to our conversation with Howell above.