In the first book to comprehensively examine the Islamic experience in Latina/o societies—from Columbian voyages to the post-9/11 world—more than a dozen luminaries from nations throughout the Western Hemisphere explore how Islam indelibly influenced the making of the Americas.
Muslims have been shaping the Americas and the Caribbean for more than five hundred years, yet this interplay is frequently overlooked or misconstrued. Brimming with revelations that synthesize area and ethnic studies, Crescent over Another Horizon presents a portrait of Islam’s unity as it evolved through plural formulations of identity, power, and belonging. Offering a Latino American perspective on a wider Islamic world, the editors overturn the conventional perception of Muslim communities in the New World, arguing that their characterization as “minorities” obscures the interplay of ethnicity and religion that continues to foster transnational ties.
Bringing together studies of Iberian colonists, enslaved Africans, indentured South Asians, migrant Arabs, and Latino and Latin American converts, the volume captures the power-laden processes at work in religious conversion or resistance. Throughout each analysis—spanning times of inquisition, conquest, repressive nationalism, and anti-terror security protocols—the authors offer innovative frameworks to probe the ways in which racialized Islam has facilitated the building of new national identities while fostering a double-edged marginalization. The subjects of the essays transition from imperialism (with studies of morisco converts to Christianity, West African slave uprisings, and Muslim and Hindu South Asian indentured laborers in Dutch Suriname) to the contemporary Muslim presence in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Trinidad, completed by a timely examination of the United States, including Muslim communities in “Hispanicized” South Florida and the agency of Latina conversion. The result is a fresh perspective that opens new horizons for a vibrant range of fields.
- Latino America in the Umma/the Umma in Latino America (John Tofik Karam, María del Mar Logroño Narbona, and Paulo G. Pinto)
- Part I: Reconsidering History
- Chapter One. "De los Prohibidos": Muslims and Moriscos in Colonial Spanish America (Karoline P. Cook)
- Chapter Two. African Rebellion and Refuge on the Edge of Empire (John Tofik Karam)
- Chapter Three. Ethnic and Religious Identification among Muslim East Indians in Suriname (1898–1954) (Ellen Bal and Kathinka Sinha-Kerkhoff)
- Part II. Contemporary Cartographies
- Chapter Four. Institutionalizing Islam in Argentina: Comparing Community and Identity Configurations (Silvia Montenegro)
- Chapter Five. Conversion, Revivalism, and Tradition: The Religious Dynamics of Muslim Communities in Brazil (Paulo G. Pinto)
- Chapter Six. Guests of Islam: Conversion and the Institutionalization of Islam in Mexico (Camila Pastor de Maria y Campos)
- Chapter Seven. Cubans Searching for a New Faith in a New Context (Luis Mesa Delmonte)
- Chapter Eight. Muslims in Martinique (Liliane Kuczynski)
- Chapter Nine. Forming Islamic Religious Identity among Trinidadians in the Age of Social Networks (Halima-Sacadia Kassim)
- Part III. Islam Latina/o
- Chapter Ten. Dis-covering a Historical Consciousness: The Creation of a US Latina/o Muslim Identity (Hjamil A. Martínez-Vázquez)
- Chapter Eleven. Mapping Muslim Communities in "Hispanicized" South Florida (Mirsad Krijestorac)
- Chapter Twelve. Double-Edged Marginality and Agency: Latina Conversion to Islam (Yesenia King and Michael P. Perez)
- List of Contributors
Latino America in the Umma / the Umma in Latino America
John Tofik Karam, María del Mar Logroño Narbona, and Paulo G. Pinto
La ilaha illa Allah . . .
[There is no god but God . . .]
In the 1660s a morisco, a nominal Muslim convert, stated aloud the above opening refrain of the shahada (profession of faith) at the request of Spanish inquisitors in Veracruz, Mexico. In the 1750s a “Mandingo servant” repeated it alongside his British master in Jamaica, and a century later in Panama another recaptured West African inferred it in his manuscript. Starting in the mid-nineteenth century, indentured laborers mostly from Bihar and the United Provinces would have referenced the shahada as Muslim “Hindustanis” in Dutch-ruled Suriname and elsewhere in the Caribbean. Likewise after the 1870s, Arab migrants in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro would have inflected it in the founding of charity and civic associations in Argentina, Brazil, and other South American nation-states. Today, US Latinas/os as well as increasing numbers of latinoamericanos marked their journey into Islam through this same profession of faith, as they selectively engaged with such histories and institutions.
In establishing a direct relationship with his or her sole creator, the shahada positions the speaker in a community of believers (umma), which is shaped by and helps to shape history and geography. Secretly, forcibly, and voluntarily stemming from five regions around the world, the aforementioned Muslims who professed their faith were stamped by historically specific processes in the hemisphere, including the Inquisition, slavery and indentured servitude, as well as civil society and nationalist ideology. At the same time, whether undertaken by moriscos, Mandingos, Hindustanis, Arabs, Latin American or Caribbean subjects, or US Latinos, the profession of faith informed the imperial, national, and ethnic politics of this same hemisphere. Just as the shahada enables one to affirm God’s uniqueness and confirms one’s membership in the umma, its recitation in the moments referenced above also serves as the starting point to rethink the very geographies of these Americas and an Islamic world.
This book positions Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latino USA within a wider Islamic world and at the same time situates Muslims within this hemisphere. The twelve chapters in this volume reveal the longue durée of the interplay between these “Americas” and an “Islamic world,” two world areas usually misconstrued as distant or even separate from one another. But instead of focusing on doctrinal or theological dynamics, we address how the unity of Islam took shape through thoroughly plural formulations of identity, power, and belonging in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latino USA. The contributors to this volume collectively ask, “How did Muslims shape Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latino USA, and, in turn, how were they shaped by this hemisphere?” Our main point is not only that Islam helped define Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latino USA, but also that an Islamic umma was imagined and constructed by this hemisphere. By bringing together the study of Iberian colonists, enslaved Africans, indentured South Asians, migrant Arabs, as well as Latino and Latin American converts, this volume reveals the global breadth of Islam and its plural configuration in the making of these Americas. We show that the crescent, the symbol that has come to represent Islam, inhabits a far more expansive horizon than has been heretofore examined.
Building on the work of Zidane Zeraoui, this volume counteracts the widespread assumption that Islam is new or foreign to these Americas. Constructed through Iberians, Africans, South Asians, Arabs, as well as Latin American, Caribbean, and US Latino converts, Islam helped to animate and in turn was constructed in particular ways by imperial powers and colonial societies as well as ethnic, national, and transnational publics in this hemisphere. Our volume demonstrates the formative role Islam plays in a region that allegedly holds a numerically small Muslim population. Indeed, the Pew Center recently conducted a study that claimed there are only 1.486 million Muslims in present-day Latin America and the Caribbean, less than .003 percent of the total population. This sort of quantitative, ahistorical study erases, or, as Edward Said put it, “covers,” a wide range of cultural and social facets of an Islam present in the very conception of a New World and the very pulse of this hemisphere ever since. The twelve historically and qualitatively grounded contributions to our volume reveal that these Americas are part of an Islamic world and that Muslims are integral to these Americas.
Our lens on Islam in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latino USA endeavors to rethink the construction of “world areas” as well as the normative categorization between “minorities” and “majorities” in them. This introduction situates our book’s aims in two corresponding bodies of scholarship: area and ethnic studies. In the remaining pages of this chapter, we first explore the ways that knowledge about these Americas and an Islamic world has been carved up and authorized in the United States since the early twentieth century to the present. Following the hemispheric turn in Latin American and Latino studies, we reconceptualize the study of these historically specific geographies based on their mutual intersection through what we call a Latino American architecture (or model) of a wider Islamic world. Our second goal here is to reframe the study of Muslim “minorities” in Spanish and Portuguese colonies and the nation-states that emerged from them. Such countries’ mainstream histories, written as some Muslim migrants arrived in them during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, often claim a special relationship to Islam through the Iberian Peninsula. By situating Islamic difference within ethnic, national, and wider sociocultural dynamics, the goal is to show that while national and state powers often configured Islam in contradictory agendas, actual Muslims sought to forge their own identities, affinities, and detachments in multiple ways as well.
Remodeling Area Studies: Toward a Latino American Architecture of an Islamic World
How do we study the interface between “American” and “Islamic” spaces? Although identifying with history and the social sciences, we conceptualize such regional formations over any single (or multi-) disciplinary vision. Our purpose in doing so is to “disturb the disciplinary claim to universality and the particular place this assigns to areas,” as critically observed by Timothy Mitchell. In the past the intertwined spaces that we now explore were split up into more abstract categories by the US model of “area studies,” which includes Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, among other spaces. Growing in the interwar years and becoming institutionalized during the next half century, these area studies naturalized what Arjun Appadurai criticized as “trait geographies,” creating and disseminating knowledge about the world as a handful of discrete cultural territories with seemingly distinct, enduring features of human life. Rather than wholly dismissing the enterprise, Appadurai calls for a more processual approach. He proposes a “new architecture of area studies” that outlines “how others, in what we still take to be certain areas as we define them, see the rest of the world in regional terms.” From a Latino American subject position, what does an Islamic world, one that is more “global” than conventionally assumed, look like? Our work answers this question by building a “globalized Latino American” architecture of an Islamic world.
We emphasize our commitment to area studies, though well aware of its trajectory “within the liberal culture of the US academy in the latter half of the twentieth century.” Since we return to this question of the past and present political stakes of area studies later on, suffice it to say that US academic and government authorities institutionalized the study of “world areas” in efforts to not only deprovincialize US postsecondary curricula but also to advance US “styles of learning.” Several specialists of the previously mentioned areas, in fact, delineated how Islam was to be studied. Anthropologist Clifford Geertz characterizes this approach in Islam Observed, which compares religious meaning in Indonesia and Morocco. Approaching Southeast Asia and North Africa as two given parts of the world, Geertz not only “overidealized” the two Islamic-majority countries “through myriad contrasting pairs,” but also privileged the “primacy of meaning without regard to the processes by which meanings are constructed.” In avoiding questions of power and knowledge, Geertz and other social scientists sought to build a universal understanding of religion by reducing the range of Islamic belief and practice to the making of meaning as well as by minimizing or ignoring the historically specific ties across a more expansive Islamic umma. The contributors to this volume move beyond these limitations through foregrounding the power-laden processes that construct Islam and the Americas in a broader Islamic world. In the three parts to this volume, we unevenly trace the forced, secretive, coerced, or voluntary migration of Muslims from Africa, Iberia, the Middle East, and South Asia into this hemisphere, as well as map the imagined and institutional ties cultivated between these Muslim Americas and Islamic-majority states.
As another testing ground for universal claims in the twentieth century, the area of Latin America served an array of US social scientific disciplines. It was most deeply marked by efforts to establish generalizable knowledge about “culture.” Many Latin American or Caribbean intellectuals simultaneously sought to theorize and legitimize their own seemingly exceptional national cultures in terms of hybridity among African, Amerindian, or European peoples. As shown later on, their definitions of “mixed” or “creole” cultures reserved a special place for Islam. Even though these key thinkers spent some time in the United States, area studies scholars based in the United States generally sidestepped their characterizations in order to build general theories of “culture,” at least through World War II. For anthropologist Oscar Lewis, the study of Mexico or Puerto Rico fitted into his idea of a “culture of poverty.” Likewise, anthropologist Melville Herskovits studied Haiti, Trinidad, and Brazil to theorize cultural retention and change. Although US academics held universalistic pretensions and their counterparts in the rest of the Americas staked more particular claims, these historical trajectories suggest that ideas of culture took shape across the continent. In structuring our volume through a more evenhanded hemispheric framework, part 1 of our volume situates Muslims in relation to Iberian or northern European colonial powers across the Americas, while parts 2 and 3, respectively, focus on their shifting positions within Latin America and the Caribbean as well as Latino USA.
Whether drawn from Latin American settings to conceptualize culture or the aforementioned North African and Southeast Asian contexts to theorize religion, these field-based studies were “integral to the larger attempt to create a sovereign structure of universal knowledge” in the United States. Anthropologists, economists, political scientists, and others studied presumably discrete world areas in order to gather and construct ethnographic, historical, and demographic “data” that could be used to test and hypothesize comprehensive theories about culture, religion, or other facets of an allegedly universal human condition particular to the West and especially the United States. In this manner, the myriad forms of knowledge produced about allegedly distinct areas in the world served to universalize provincial US social sciences and, in turn, provide US government officials with the kinds of blanket categories needed to manage both domestic and foreign differences. As the contributors to this volume are social scientists and historians themselves, our point is not to rail against such disciplines but rather to map geographies that are more historically relevant to the actual persons and powers circulating to, from, and across them: these Americas and an Islamic world.
Of course, there is nothing really new or necessarily liberating about either area. At least since the nineteenth century, Latin American intellectuals— including Cuban writer and activist José Martí—critically reflected upon nuestra América (our America) in light of Iberian colonial legacies and US neocolonialism. In contrast, contemporaneous US-based academics and statesmen spoke of the “American hemisphere” or inter-American relations with civilizing and modernizing pretensions. Not unlike Martí, equally active and mobile Muslim intellectuals, such as Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, critically reflected upon the ʿasabiyya (“bonds” or “solidarity,” in Arabic) of the umma as part of the wider struggle against European imperialism. Yet again, European scholarly and colonial authorities framed a Muslim world within the long-standing conception of an Orient that should be ruled and represented by the West. América and the umma thus not only serve as historically specific geographies for those who wrote about unifying and inhabiting them under foreign powers. Whether through North-South or East-West binaries, distinct imperial projects could also co-opt such imaginaries for their own cross-purposes. Though their content may shift depending on one’s perspective, the model of “world areas” takes shape through competing and contradictory agendas.
Constituted by parallel histories in their encounters with different empires, knowledge production about these Americas and an Islamic world in the United States underwent dramatic change during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Although media and popular culture engaged in “Latino spin” and the “good Muslim/bad Muslim” distinction, academics thought about the making of peoples and regions in novel ways. Since the 1990s, Caribbean, Latin American, and US Latino scholars conceived of these Americas as a novel unit of analysis that highlights connections across the hemisphere. Whether through circular migration, Spanish-language media flows, or overlapping US and Latin American border policies, scholars combined analyses of persons, images, and ideas in movement with critiques of US power domestically and hemispherically. By focusing on transnational Muslim societies, anthropologists and historians likewise began to grasp the making of regional spaces that are not only marked by several imperial histories but also more meaningful for the actual Muslims who inhabit and move across them, including the Indian Ocean, the Mashriq and the Mahjar, as well as the Malay world. As noted by Gayatri Spivak, studying this vast “range and diversity of Islamic diaspora” helps “undo the politically monolithized view of Islam that rules the globe today.” The three parts of Crescent over Another Horizon build on these contributions and insights by placing Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latino USA within a broader Islamic world and by locating Muslims of varied genealogies within this hemisphere over the longue durée.
What is at stake in this kind of area studies architecture, especially now, during the War on Terror? It must be remembered that the original model of area studies was institutionalized during the Cold War, but the knowledge it created was “not simply a reaction” to US desires to know purported threats, but rather advanced “the project of a globalized American modernity to which the Cold War also belonged.” As mentioned earlier, area studies helped to “nourish” the social science disciplines and “bring them in better touch with the ‘real world.’ ” In turn, social scientific theories of “culture, the state, the economy, or society” reinforced the US “liberal pluralist” style of governing domestic and foreign affairs. But at the end of the Cold War, these objects of inquiry became harder to theorize in a given territory precisely at the time that the US style of governing seemed unrivaled in an allegedly “new world order.” Consequently, in the 1990s many social scientists deemed area studies to be “the source of the trouble” and made repeated calls to dismantle such programs. In the midst of this “so-called crisis of area studies,” which was actually part of a wider “crisis . . . to delimit and legitimate a field of scholarship,” scholars conceived of several “alternative” or “new” geographies, such as the Black Atlantic, the Pacific Rim, as well as several others mentioned earlier. Our volume is part of this current moment, and since history is messier for those living it, we are not sure whether this conjuncture signals the limits of a “globalized American modernity” or its insidious reach into realms heretofore unexplored. What we can say with greater certainty is that the main point of this volume—the long-standing past and present of Islam in this hemisphere, and this hemisphere in an Islamic world—challenges some of the most deeply held assumptions on the part of the liberal pluralist establishment today. But then again, as Vicente Rafael reminds us, this kind of critique has been part of area studies since its very institutionalization.
Are We All Moors? Reframing Islam in Latino America
Parallel to the historic way that area studies construed the United States as a “nonregional center” around which “all regions orbited,” ethnic studies traditionally made whiteness “the unmarked center” against which knowledge about minorities was produced.44 In studies of Muslims in the West, scholars critically engaged with that center by calling attention to the making of “Muslim minorities” amid a usually implicit “non-Muslim majority.” However, due to their focus on the North Atlantic, such categories themselves were not sufficiently problematized. This section aims to reframe the study of Muslims, non-Muslims, and their interplay through ethnic, national, and wider struggles. We ask what it means to be Muslim in Ibero-American nations whose ideologies and intellectual trends often uphold what Andrew Shryock, in another context, called “Islamophilia,” or the “generalized affection for Islam and Muslims . . . with its own political costs.” Nineteenthand twentieth-century Latin American and Caribbean intellectuals, as shown by Ella Shohat, selectively identified with Spanish or Portuguese “Moors” in writing anti-imperialist and nationalist narratives. Here in this introductory chapter, we address the making of such narratives, but our wider concern is with the processes of ethnicity and nation making that encompass them.
Building on the insights of Fredrik Barth48 and Thomas Eriksen, we consider ethnicity as the construction and marking of boundaries between identities and groups through perceptions of cultural difference. These boundaries can be produced in interactions between Muslims and non-Muslims, or they can emerge among Muslims themselves, despite the fact that the Qurʾan and hadith make limited passing references to what we would call ethnic or racial difference and rather emphasize religiosity as the key definition to belonging in the imagined community of the umma. In certain cases Islam can be the cultural diacritic that defines the ethnic boundary, creating forms of Muslim ethnicity, as it could be argued about the moriscos/mouriscos, Iberian Muslims who were forcibly converted to Catholicism and their descendants, in the colonial Spanish and Portuguese Americas, or malês (a term used to refer to African Muslims) in nineteenth-century Brazil. Another fitting example of this ethnic configuration is Muslim community formation in Brazil from the late nineteenth century to the 1990s. During this time Muslims in Brazil were generally considered Arabs, and Islam was seen to be an ethnic religion by both Muslims and non-Muslims. However, after the last decade of the twentieth century, with the influx of immigrants and students from Africa and the conversion of non-Arab Brazilians, new ethnic categories emerged within Muslim communities, with “Arab,” “African,” and “Brazilian” being used to designate discrete groups of Muslims within the religious landscape of Islam in Brazil. As a relation between persons who see themselves as distinctive, and are regarded as such by persons of other groups with whom they interact, ethnicity is shaped by wider colonial, national, and transnational politics.
The shifting relation between Muslim identities and ethnicity can be traced through the plural histories of the Islamic presence in Latin America and the Caribbean. There are roughly three periods that express the continuities and discontinuities in the historical and cultural dynamics of Islam in the Americas. The first is the colonial period from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries, defined by the influx of Iberian moriscos/mouriscos, Muslim African slaves, and Javanese and Indian indentured workers to the Americas. During these centuries, it can be generally stated that Islam was an ethnic religion and, even, defined a discrete ethnic identity beyond the actual religious practices of the agents. The second period is linked to Middle Eastern migration to the Americas from the late nineteenth century to the early twentyfirst century, which resulted in the creation of many of the Islamic institutions and community formations in Latin America and the Caribbean today. During this period, Islam was linked to Palestinian or Syrian-Lebanese immigrants and their descendants, being primarily seen as an ethnic religion. The most recent period began in the last decade of the twentieth century, with the growing conversion to Islam of non-Arabs in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latino USA. These new Muslims reject the ethnic overtones that Muslim identities had acquired in the Americas, claiming and advancing a more universal definition and understanding of Islam. Nevertheless, new ethnic classifications appeared, not as markers of the boundaries between Muslim and non-Muslims, as was the case in the previous periods, but rather as indexes of the discrete histories and cultural identifications of the various groups that compose the umma in this part of the world.
These plural histories, which unfolded in multilingual and multiethnic societies that were heterogeneous themselves, created a wide range of understandings and ways of practicing and living Islam in the Americas. That is, Muslims in the Americas claim and strive to be part of the umma, but they do so in a variety of ways. Besides the steady stream of religious authorities and texts that move across, to, and from the Middle East, Africa, India, or Indonesia, the Internet is an increasingly influential source of religious knowledge and an arena for debating and affirming one’s Muslim identity. The recent trend of having Muslims born in Brazil and Argentina trained as imams in the Middle East and then returning to lead communities back home will further the process of localizing Islamic religious authority in the Americas.
While immigrants and older Muslims in the Americas may use more Arabic as the linguistic context for acquiring religious knowledge, the newer generations are more prone to seek religious information in English on the Internet or debate the tenets of Islam and how to live them in the many Islamic forums in Spanish, Portuguese, or French, bringing global debates into a variety of local or national idioms. Particular issues, such as how to negotiate one’s Muslim identity in a non-Muslim family context, connect with globalized aspects of Islam, such as the debate over the use of the hijab, creating processes of creolization that reshape Islam in these Americas as well as include these Americas in an Islamic religious cartography.
Transnational religious practices, such as pilgrimage, also connect Muslim communities to global Islamic spaces, which have in Mecca a point of convergence. However, the practices of hajj vary enormously, creating a plurality of sacred geographies that ground the religious imagination of Muslims in these Americas. Immigrants and their descendants tend to go to Mecca through their ancestral homeland, such as Lebanon, Syria, or Palestine, and usually stay with pilgrims from these same countries during the hajj, renewing their multiple diasporic links. Converts to Islam tend to engage in similar detours to spiritual homelands, such as Turkey, Cyprus, or Algeria in the case of the Sufis, or to centers of religious knowledge, such as Cairo or Damascus. These converts incline toward transnational Islamic movements, such as the Jamʿat Tablighi, tracing other sacred geographies that connect Brazil or Argentina to South Africa, England, India, Pakistan, and Mecca. Finally, non-Sunni traditions in the Americas create sacred topographies with multiple centers through transnational religious practices. ʿAlawis from Brazil and Argentina regularly do pilgrimage to the tombs of holy men in Syria, while Brazilian Shiʿis have the holy cities of Iraq as the focal center for major pilgrimages during ʿAshura and Arbaʿin. The umma imagined, produced, and experienced through these Muslim religious practices in the Americas has a plurality of symbolic and spatial configurations.
Of course, Muslims were part of the socioeconomic, political, and cultural fabric of much of the Iberian Peninsula for nearly a millennium. In Spanish and Portuguese they were called moros and mouros (Moors) and in Arabic alandalusiyyun (Andalusians). Their histories of coexistence, conflict, and blurring with Christians and Jews varied. However, after the fall of the caliphate of Córdoba in the early eleventh century, and in the emerging context of the European Crusades, Portuguese and Spanish Catholic rulers increasingly targeted Muslims of Al-Andalus as “enemies of the faith,” in a process that culminated with the capitulations of the Nasrid emirate of Granada in 1492, the 1496 royal order of the Portuguese Crown that expelled Muslims who had not adopted Catholicism in the period of a year, the forced conversion of Muslims from 1500 to 1524, and the final expulsion of most Muslims from Spain to North Africa and elsewhere between 1609 and 1614. In We Are All Moors, Anouar Majid explores the significance of this past for present-day Europe and the United States. He affirms that in a “symbolic or metaphorical sense . . . minorities living in the West after 1492 are descendants of the Moors.” His framing is our point of departure into a more literal exploration of the relationship between the Muslim presence in Iberia that Catholic crowns tried to purge from the peninsula and the “competing visions” of Islam that developed in the Americas. Since the nineteenth century, romanticized versions of an Iberian Moorish heritage coexisted in popular and intellectual minds with less than welcoming attitudes toward Muslim and Arab migrants. The special place reserved for Islam in what came to be their anti-imperialist and nationalist agendas in Latino America represented only one of many possibilities for actual Muslims to create their own identities, affinities, or detachments. However, as pointed out in this introduction and shown in the following chapters, actual Muslims generally steered clear of such narratives, though their own configurations of Muslimness in Latino America occasionally reproduced ambiguous or derogatory representations of Islam together with ethnicized and sometimes positive views of the Moorish past or a Muslim world.
The starting points to understand these dynamics are the fifteenth-century battles that Catholic Spain led against Muslims as well as the sixteenth-century wars that it waged against Amerindians. Gibson finds little evidence that the Catholic kingdom’s so-called reconquest of Muslim Iberia fed into the conquest of indigenous peoples in the Americas. He did, however, reveal that the Spanish military, crown, and church officials who were living at the time themselves debated the relationship between their colonization of the Old and New Worlds. In his letter to the Spanish king Carlos V, for instance, the conquistador Fernando Cortés compared his victory over the province of Tlaxcala in Mexico in 1519 with the province of Granada that Fernando and Isabel took over in 1492. Many other soldiers likewise tended “to interpret their own conquest activities in Reconquista terms, as if the conquests were analogues or continuations of the wars against the Moors.” Other allegations that “would have made America too a part of the Reconquista” were refuted by none other than Bartolomé de las Casas. Gibson explains that “for Las Casas, it was imperative that America not be part of the Reconquista, that Indians never be confused with Moslems [sic].” For sixteenth-century Spaniards, “Indians” who survived the wars of conquest could be converted into loyal Catholic subjects, while Muslims continued as “enemies of the faith.” As Karoline P. Cook and John Tofik Karam show in their respective chapters, moriscos, actual Muslims from both Iberia and Africa, as well as anti-Islamic fears held by Iberian crowns helped to define and in turn were animated by imperial projects in the New World during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
In the context of Enlightenment ideas about the progression of history as human and not divine, nineteenth-century Spanish intellectuals began to think about the Muslim peninsular past in unprecedented but distinct ways. Take, for example, José Antonio Conde’s Historia de la dominación de los árabes en España sacada de varios manuscritos y memorias arábigas (The history of Arab domination in Spain taken from various Arabic manuscripts and memories). As a liberal, Conde aimed to clarify the history of Muslim Spain between 711 and 1492 not from the perspective of “one party” but rather by comparing “both” sides. With opposite intentions, his conservative contemporaries in the Royal Academy of History formally approved Reconquista (Reconquest) “as a word in good standing.” Unknown to the Christian soldiers who fought Muslims in conflicts that had ended three centuries previously, the term “Reconquest” originated in the eighteenth century to refer to the alleged “recuperation” of land “taken” by Muslims. Whether undermining or defining Spain as “Catholic,” both historical reconstructions of the Moorish past on the peninsula were imagined at a time when Iberian empires broke down in the Americas. In 1808 the very seat of the Portuguese empire was transferred to Brazil, and fourteen years later this former colony became an independent monarchy. Meanwhile, the Spanish Crown was inundated by two bloodier waves of rebellion that resulted in the formation of several independent republics by 1828. As Iberian rule was decisively challenged in the Americas, Spanish intellectuals wrote about its much longer past on the peninsula.
José Martí, the Cuban intellectual mentioned earlier, might not have appreciated this irony. After all, Spain not only held on to two Caribbean colonies, Cuba and Puerto Rico, but also expanded its colonization of North Africa through the second half of the nineteenth century. Martí was uniquely positioned to grasp these ongoing Spanish imperial designs. Born in midnineteenth-century Havana and exiled several times, Martí lived throughout the Americas and southern Europe. Shortly before his premature death in Cuba in 1895, he expressed solidarity with a mass uprising against Spanish rule in the region of Rif, present-day Morocco in North Africa. As noted by Hisham Aidi, Martí twice proclaimed “¡Seamos moros!” (Let us be Moors!) and reflected that “the revolt in the Rif . . . is not an isolated incident, but an outbreak of the change and realignment that have entered the world. Let us be Moors . . . we who will probably die by the hand of Spain.” In urging Cubans, and perhaps Puerto Ricans, to identify as “Moors,” Martí made the connection among “oppressed people who will never cede to those who occupy it.” Whereas his counterparts in Spain romanticized or vilified the Moorish past in their reconstructions of Spanish rule, the Cuban writer called for solidarity with present-day “Moors” who endured Spanish imperialism not only during his own lifetime but also for “four centuries” after their historic expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula to North Africa.
Just after Martí expressed this commonality with “Moors” in North Africa, Cuba gained independence in 1898, while Puerto Rico was colonized by the United States. Around this time migrants arrived from what are today Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. Muslims represented up to 30 percent of Arabs settling in Cuba. Especially in the early twentieth century, they “prayed at home,” privately observed religious fasts and holidays such as “Ramadán Karim [sic],” “Eid-el-Kebir (la gran fiesta [sic]),” as well as “Eid-el-Adha (fiesta del sacrificio [sic]),” as well as quietly oversaw Islamic rites for newborns, newlyweds, and the deceased. These early-twentieth-century Muslims were marked as turco (Turk), sirio (Syrian), or árabe (Arab), and their upward economic mobility furthered ethnic, and not necessarily religious, differentiation. This simultaneous downplaying of Islam in Arab difference and foregrounding of Islamophilia in anti-imperialist stances speak to the respective chapters of Luis Mesa Delmonte and Hjamil A. Martínez-Vázquez. Delmonte points out that today, Islam attracts not Arabs but rather Afro-Cuban and other converts, while the Cuban state selectively fosters diplomatic and commercial ties with Islamic counterparts. Martínez-Vázquez shows how Puerto Rican and Dominican converts in the United States emphasize their link to romanticized versions of Muslim Iberia and Africa. Blurring clear-cut divisions between “minority” and “majority” categories, Islam and Islamophilia among Caribbean subjects can be best conceptualized through ethnic, nationalist, and anti-imperialist politics.
Argentine elites sought to define their nation through an affective tie with Muslim Spain. For the century following its declaration of independence from the Spanish Crown in 1816, statesmen such as Domingo Sarmiento and writers including Leopoldo Lugones embarked upon separate projects to define Argentine identity. As demonstrated by Christina Civantos, they did so through the cowboy-like figure of the gaucho who roamed the Argentine pampas. While Sarmiento likened gauchos to Arabs and Bedouins, Lugones, in a more celebratory tone, reflected upon the alleged Moorish descent of the gaucho himself. Together, these works elevated the gaucho moro (gaucho Moor) as “that which is most Argentine.” The authors did so not only to distance Argentine national identity from former Spanish rulers. Most important, for criollos (Euro-Argentines), they also aimed to minimize the place of Amerindians, Africans, and others in the nascent nation. The connection that Sarmiento, Lugones, and other Euro-Argentines traced to Muslim Spain was thus employed to marginalize “darker,” “non-European” Argentines and bolster elite efforts to “civilize” Argentina.
Civantos goes on to show how these exclusionary, orientalist politics of Argentine nationalism were taken up by two Arab Argentines, Ibrahim Hallar (of Muslim Lebanese descent) and Juan Yaser (of Christian Palestinian origins). Hallar and Yaser were part of the some 180,000 Arabs, Christian and Muslim, who settled in Argentina by 1929. After World War II, Hallar and Yaser claimed the gaucho not only as a “national hero,” but as the primordial, essential connection between Argentines and Arabs. This enabled them to stake “a central place in Argentine culture.” Hallar and Yasser empowered their ethnic claims to the nation by complying with the status quo that downplayed the indigenous and African background of the gaucho and that of Argentina itself. In counterdistinction to this narrow embrace of Argentine Islamophilia, however, Muslim migrants to Argentina before the end of World War I also debated Ottomanist, emergent nationalist, as well as colonialist forms of belonging to an ever-changing “homeland.” In this regard, Silvia Montenegro demonstrates that while Arab Muslims in Argentina similarly cultivated long-distance nationalist ties with Syrian or Arab homelands, non-Arab converts deepened their connection to Islam by studying in Saudi Arabia and Iran. Muslim affinities in the Southern Cone extend beyond national narratives idealizing Muslim Spain and reveal the ongoing (re)formulation of the ties between these Americas and a greater Islamic world.
José Vasconcelos, a highly influential Mexican statesman and writer in the first half of the twentieth century, likewise referenced Muslim Spain in his work La Raza Cósmica. As a supporter of an uprising against Porfírio Díaz that turned into the Mexican revolution (1910–1920), Vasconcelos’s essay proclaimed the rise of a “cosmic race” centered around the mestizo, or mixed subject, who traced his or her lineage to both Amerindians and Iberians (as well as potentially other peoples). In this mestizaje (mixture), however, Vasconcelos expressed ambivalence about the contribution of Spain as a once great empire and a debilitated power in Mexico. As part of this empowerment and abjection, Vasconcelos mentioned that the “Castilian blood” of Spain possesses “Arabian melancholy, as a reminder of the sickly Muslim sensuality. Who has not a little of all this, or does not wish to have all?” Much later, Octávio Paz attributed a more felicitous phrase to Vasconcelos: “We are the prodigal sons of a homeland which we cannot even define but which we are beginning at last to observe. She is Castilian and Moorish, with Aztec markings.” Whether ambivalent or hopeful of the Moorish legacy, this ideologue of mestizaje included it in the Mexican nationalist narrative.
Arab Muslims settled in Mexico since the start of Porfírio Díaz’s rule, but they did not claim a place in this “mixture” and elites did not distinguish them through an Islamophilic lens. Although Christian counterparts vastly outnumbered Muslims, Middle Easterners were ethnicized as turcos (Turks), and the extensive economic networks they developed underlay such differentiation, “independent of the religion practiced.” As illustrated by Theresa Alfaro-Velcamp, Middle Easterners used ethnic ties with one another to supply “various revolutionary factions” during the 1910s and, in turn, became xenophobic targets. Although Christian Lebanese responded to such exclusion with a “discourse that largely excluded Arabs, Muslims, and Druzes,” everyday Mexicans associated Middle Easterners, whether Christian or Muslim, with economic and social power. This “distinction” of being Muslim, as shown by Camila Pastor de Maria y Campos in her chapter, draws non–Middle Easterners to convert to Islam as a way to maneuver around their subordination in postcolonial Mexican hierarchies.
Perhaps more than any of his contemporaries, Brazilian writer and essayist Gilberto Freyre most explicitly reimagined a special relationship with Moors. As the key work constructing national identity in twentieth-century Brazil, his Casa-grande e senzala was published as a sociohistorical study, but it became a “founding fiction” for the nation. Not unlike his counterparts across Latin America, Freyre endeavored to study the formation of Brazil out of three peoples, Africans, Amerindians, and Europeans. But the Portuguese colonizer, for Freyre, was different from other northern European settlers, not only because Portugal served “as a kind of bi-continentality between Europe and Africa,” but also due to the Moorish imprint on Iberia that shaped the Portuguese colonization of Brazil. For Freyre, Portuguese men’s interactions with Moorish women on the Iberian Peninsula fueled their desire for and miscegenation with enslaved women of color in colonial Brazil. According to Freyre, Moorish Iberia predisposed Portuguese men to mix with African, Indian, and dark-skinned women, resulting in a mixed Brazilian society that supposedly “balanced racial antagonisms.” Freyre’s celebration of mixture (mescla or mistura) and racial democracy (democracia racial) came to serve as tenets of twentieth-century Brazilian nationalism. However, despite his positive portrait of the Moors, Freyre wrote harshly about Islam and its influence on the African slaves.
These negative images of Islam were informed by the Brazilian state’s repression of African Muslims that intensified after the 1835 slave rebellion. They could also be found among twentieth-century Brazilian elites who questioned the belonging of Arab Muslims suspected of avoiding mixture by “marrying among themselves.” Although African Muslims were forced to hide their religious practices in the nineteenth century, their Arab counterparts, especially in the first half of the twentieth century, founded many charity groups, including the Associação Druza Beneficente in Minas Gerais in 1929, Sociedade Beneficente Muçulmana de São Paulo in 1929, Sociedade Beneficente Muçulmana Alauíta in Rio de Janeiro in 1931, and Sociedade Muçulmana Beneficente Muçulmana do Rio de Janeiro in 1951. Rather than imagine themselves in the Freyrian narrative, Arab Muslims participated as active agents in emergent civil society and sometimes “ethnicized” Islam as an “Arab religion.” Building on his earlier work, Paulo G. Pinto’s chapter explores the relationship between Arab ethnicity and Muslim identity in these local, national, and transnational dimensions.
Though heretofore focused on Iberian colonial projects and legacies in the Americas, this introductory chapter’s aim to shift the study of Muslims and their images from minority or majority categories toward ethnic, national, as well as wider struggles is relevant to Caribbean spaces marked by British, Dutch, and French powers as well. We agree with John Voll when he states that “the case of Muslims in the Caribbean region is a strong reminder that minority . . . identities may have many different dimensions and are not simply monolithic.” His reflection that Muslims in the Caribbean “may not be
‘Muslim minorities’ ” must be taken seriously. Are Muslims there necessarily drawn to “pan-Islamic” associations? Likewise, are Islamic traditions significant only to Muslims themselves? In Suriname’s ethnic politics, for instance, Muslims of Indian and Javanese origins steer clear of “common Islamic programmes and institutions.” Yet in the self-defined Creole nation of Trinidad, the Hosay tradition that began with the South Asian Shiʿi observance of Muharram now appeals to Afro-Trinidadians and non-Muslim South Asians too. Muslims in the Caribbean may not be minorities in the European or US American sense, but they certainly are situated within ethnic, national, and wider politics. In such ways, the chapter by Ellen Bal and Kathinka SinhaKerkhoff as well as that of Halima-Saʿadia Kassim, respectively, address the historical and current trajectories of Muslim South Asians from subverting partition in Suriname to their use of social media today in Trinidad. Liliane Kuczynski’s chapter, based in Martinique, likewise inquires into the making of Islam among believers from different parts of the world through the island’s own plurality.
Attending to these ethnic, national, and transnational politics widens our understanding of Muslim identity negotiations and practices in Latino USA as well. When he explained his own reversion to Islam some time ago, Ibrahim Gonzalez, a Puerto Rican in the Bronx and cofounder of the Alianza Islámica, called attention to the aforementioned Muslim Atlantic histories: “I was inspired by the history of Andalusia, the kingdoms of Muslim Spain, and our African ancestry also has elements of Islam—the Wolof [Jolof] and Fulani brought the faith.” Not long after the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1994, however, Gonzalez was paid a visit by Federal Bureau of Investigation (fbi) agents, who were “looking for terrorists.” His experience speaks to the paradox between a growing number of Muslims in this Latino America—well aware of their long history here—and an increasingly repressive governmental apparatus that erases such a history in order to construe them as threats. On the one hand, conversion to Islam, or what believers consider to be a return, and hence a reversion to the rightful faith, gained momentum in the late twentieth century and continues today. On the other hand, the same period witnessed the increased targeting of Islamic institutions and individuals by counterterrorist modes of surveillance. Yesenia King and Michael P. Perez chart how Latina converts to Islam navigate this and other marginalities, not only the gender and racial politics of US society, but also the ethnic hierarchies maintained by Arab and South Asian Muslims. Reframing these ethnically diverse Muslims in Miami from the 1970s to the post-9/11 era, Mirsad Krijestorac’s chapter asks what it means to be Muslim in a Latino-majority city, revealing the blurred categories of “minority” and “majority” in these Americas.
The Layout of Crescent over Another Horizon
The volume’s twelve chapters are divided into three main parts: part 1, “Reconsidering History”; part 2, “Contemporary Cartographies”; and part 3, “Islam Latina/o.” Focusing on varied imperial histories, the three chapters in part 1 explore moriscos under Spanish rule in the New World, West African Muslims challenging or enduring multiple empires, as well as Muslim South Asian laborers mobilizing in Dutch-controlled Suriname. The six chapters in part 2 attend to the late-twentiethand early-twenty-first-century Muslim presence through case studies on Arab identity politics amid plural Islamic community configurations in Argentina and Brazil, South Asian Internet use in Trinidad and Tobago, conversion in Cuba during the crisis of the 1990s, as well as the multiethnic relations among Muslim migrants and converts in Martinique and Mexico. The three chapters in part 3 reveal not only the emergence of an Islam Latina/o among Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans, and others in major US cities from the East to the West Coasts but, equally as important, the making of Islam among ethnically diverse subjects in the Latino city of Miami in South Florida.
“Crescent Over Another Horizon deftly traces the intricate connections between Muslims and Islamic institutions in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Latina/o United States...this volume is an important and timely contribution to the study of religion in the Americas, relevant to both specialists and all scholars interested in the mutual constitution and contingency of religion, ethnicity, and identity.”
Journal of the American Academy of Religion
“Crescent Over Another Horizon counteracts the tendency to locate Islam in the othered spaces of a nebulously constructed 'East'...Although the book operates across multiple scales and temporalities, its constituent parts mostly succeed in conveying Islam's dynamism in the regions under study.”
“Crescent Over Another Horizon is a compelling and timely text. A critical resource for scholars and the general public alike, it not only challenges the exclusion of the Americas and Caribbean from Islamic scholarship but also demonstrates that understanding the historical and contemporary complexity of the Americas and Caribbean must include Islam. Both a resource and a provocation, it is a text that will undoubtedly set the standard for research to come.”
“[A] welcome addition to the growing but still relatively sparse literature on Muslims in the Americas...should be on the bookshelf of any reader wanting to learn more about the activities and histories of Muslims...this collection will inspire further study of Islam's half-millenium presence in the New World.”
New West Indian Guide
“This fascinating, original, and critically important volume creates a new map of the world and reimagines social history, immigration logics, and cultural transnationalism. This volume serves as an entirely new scholarly agenda for analyzing the history of the conquest/’discovery’ of the Americas in ways that make these histories immediately tangible to students in a post–Arab Spring universe.”
Paul Amar, Associate Professor of Global and International Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara, author of The Security Archipelago, and editor of The Middle East and Brazil: Perspectives on the New Global South
“A significant contribution to the field. Crescent over Another Horizon will produce a re-thinking of what sorts of connections—material and ideological, real and imagined—give meaning to people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.”
Steven Hyland Jr., Assistant Professor of History and Chair, Women’s and Gender Studies Program, Wingate University