Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Islam has more than one billion adherents who are found in every region of the world, including the Great Plains. There, as everywhere else throughout North America, an extraordinarily diverse Muslim community is growing dramatically, building places of worship, schools, and community centers, and contributing to the broader community.

Islam is a monotheistic faith, recognizing the oneness of Allah, the same God who is known, according to Islam, to Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and others and is worshiped also by Christians and Jews. According to Islam, God's word, the Qur'an, was revealed through Muhammad (ca. 570–632) over a twenty-year period. Unlike the Bible, which is mostly in third-person narrative form, the Qur'an is considered God's direct speech. Recitation of the Qur'an is a major component of Islamic ritual and piety.

The mass immigration to North America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries brought many from traditionally Islamic countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Although these were largely Christians and Jews, some Islamic communities were established, including one in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, just outside the Great Plains. Especially toward the end of this period, there was rising interest in Islam among African Americans, including the foundation of various movements that would coalesce into the Nation of Islam.

After World War II, and especially after 1980, Islam became established as a major religious grouping in the Great Plains, at least in the cities, although the ten largest Muslim population centers in North America were all outside the region.

Demographically, many locales have two main communities–African Americans and "immigrants"–although the latter now includes many individuals who were born in North America, as well as numerous converts. Both communities may be subdivided. Islam has grown tremendously among African Americans. Many youths became Muslims in prison and retained their new religion after their release. The Nation of Islam has always had some authentic Islamic elements, including the Qur'an, but its racial teachings and its views about Wallace Fard and Elijah Mohammed (Fard was deified as Allah) are antithetical to normative Islam. Since 1975, when Elijah Mohammed's son W. D. Mohammed broke with this theology, a sizable portion of African Americans practice normative Islam and generally have good ties with the immigrant community. Within the immigrant community, at least in the Great Plains, Sunnis and Shiites form one community, unlike the exclusive situation found in many traditionally Islamic countries. Nevertheless, some demographic scholarship has noted a tendency for mosques to align along ethnolinguistic lines, the major groupings being Arab, Persian, South Asian, and Southeast Asian.

A survey completed in the early 1990s found mosques, student organizations, or Muslim organizations in the Denver metropolitan area, Fort Collins and Greeley, Pueblo and Colorado Springs, Colorado; Lawrence, Wichita, Manhattan, and suburban Kansas City, Kansas; Bozeman and Billings, Montana; Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; Portales, New Mexico; Fargo, Minot, and Grand Forks, North Dakota; Stillwater, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Edmond, Norman, and Ponca City, Oklahoma; Brookings, South Dakota; and Fort Worth and Arlington, Denton, Blanco, Lubbock, Amarillo, Midland, Odessa, Waco, and Austin, Texas. In the Canadian Prairie Provinces, there are Muslim communities in Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton, and Winnipeg. Many of the major mosques or Islamic Centers serve large university populations. Some of these communities have established Islamic day schools that ofer a full general curriculum that meets all state requirements but also provides intensive education in Arabic language, Qur'an, and Islamic religion and history.

See also PROTEST AND DISSENT: Malcolm X.

Seth Ward University of Denver

Bagby, Ihsan, ed. Muslim Resource Guide: An Essential Guide for Media and Government. Fountain Valley CA: Islamic Resource Institute, 1994.

Directory of Masjids and Muslim Organizations in North America. Fountain Valley CA: Islamic Resource Institute, 1994.

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

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