Islamic Studies Islam in North America
Amir Hussain
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0057


Many North Americans are surprised to learn that Muslims have a long history on their continent. Historians estimate that between 10 and 20 percent of the slaves who came from West Africa were Muslim. Thomas Jefferson, to take a noted figure in American history, purchased a translation of the Qurʾan in 1765, more than a decade before he drafted the Declaration of Independence. The first Muslim immigrants to North America other than slaves were from the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. Many were itinerants who came to make money and then return to their countries of origin. Some, however, were farmers and settled permanently. Mosques sprang up in 1915 (Maine), 1919 (Connecticut), 1928 (New York), and 1937 (North Dakota). In the late 19th century, the first Muslims came to Canada as Arab merchants, who often landed in the east but wandered west to the frontier selling goods to remote farms, and to the north selling to fur traders. This early population was small, with the first Canadian census of 1871 listing thirteen Muslims. The first established Muslim settlement was in Lac Labiche in northern Alberta. The descendants of those settlers helped build the first Canadian mosque, the Al-Rashid Mosque in Edmonton in 1938. The immigration policies of Canada in the 1970s meant that many of the Muslim immigrants were professionals or well-qualified business people. They often did well in their new country. Most of these Muslims emigrated either from South Asia or from the Arab world. In addition, however, there are Canadian Muslims whose ethnic backgrounds reflect immigration from almost every part of the world, from Bosnia to Indonesia. The 2011 National Household Survey counted over 1 million Muslims in Canada, meaning that Islam had become the second-largest religious tradition in Canada—well behind Christianity but ahead of Judaism. In the last half-century, the Muslim population of the United States increased dramatically through immigration (especially following the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965), strong birth rates, and conversion. The US census does not ask the question of religious affiliation, so there is less certainty about the size of the US Muslim population. Some estimates are as low as 2 million people and as high as 10 million. Research into America’s immigration patterns, birth rates, and conversion rates—similar to those of Canada—indicates that both of these estimates are extreme. Instead, many researchers estimate that there are between 6 and 7 million American Muslims as of the second decade of the 21st century.

General Overviews

Introductory work on Islam in North America includes Haddad 1991, Haddad and Smith 1994, and Waugh, et al. 1983. Curtis 2008 is a collection of primary source documents, and Alan Godlas has an excellent website called Islam, the Modern World, and the West: Contemporary Topics.

  • Cesari, Jocelyne, ed. Encyclopedia of Islam in the United States. 2 vols. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2007.

    This is a two-volume encyclopedia that is a good introductory reference work.

  • Curtis, Edward E., IV, ed. The Columbia Sourcebook of Muslims in the United States. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.

    Edward Curtis has compiled a collection of primary source documents written by American Muslims.

  • Godlas, Alan, comp. Islam, the Modern World, and the West: Contemporary Topics.

    Alan Godlas, who teaches about Islam at the University of Georgia, has the best website for the academic study of Islam. This section of his website provides information about North American Muslims as well as links to North American Muslim groups.

  • Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck, ed. The Muslims of America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

    Yvonne Haddad has done the most scholarly work on Muslims in the United States. All who work in this area are indebted to her. This is a good collection of essays about Muslims in the United States.

  • Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck, and Jane Idleman Smith, eds. Muslim Communities in North America. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.

    Yvonne Haddad and Jane Smith have edited this volume that updates the earlier work of Waugh, et al. 1983.

  • Hussain, Amir. Oil and Water: Two Faiths, One God. Kelowna, BC: Wood Lake/Copper House, 2006.

    This is a basic introduction to Islam with a focus on North America. It helps introduce Islam to a North American Christian audience. It has also been adopted as a textbook for several courses on Islam and Islam in North America.

  • Kepel, Gilles. Allah in the West: Islamic Movements in America and Europe. Translated by Susan Milner. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997.

    A noted French scholar of Islam writes an introduction to Islam in the United States with comparisons to Europe.

  • Smith, Jane Idleman. Islam in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

    An introduction to Islam in the United States. This could be used as a textbook for a course on Islam in America.

  • Waugh, Earle H., Baha Abu-Laban, and Regula Qureshi, eds. The Muslim Community in North America. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1983.

    One of the best early edited collections on Muslims in North America. The book is invaluable for information on early Muslim communities.

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