Muslims of the Heartland
How Syrian Immigrants Made a Home in the American Midwest
Published by: NYU Press
256 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 x 0.00 mm, 12 b/w illustrations
- ISBN: 9781479812561
- Published: February 2022
Uncovers the surprising history of Muslim life in the early American Midwest
The American Midwest is often thought of as uniformly white, and shaped exclusively by Christian values. However, this view of the region as an unvarying landscape fails to consider a significant community at its very heart. Muslims of the Heartland uncovers the long history of Muslims in a part of the country where many readers would not expect to find them.
Edward E. Curtis IV, a descendant of Syrian Midwesterners, vividly portrays the intrepid men and women who busted sod on the short-grass prairies of the Dakotas, peddled needles and lace on the streets of Cedar Rapids, and worked in the railroad car factories of Michigan City. This intimate portrait follows the stories of individuals such as farmer Mary Juma, pacifist Kassem Rameden, poet Aliya Hassen, and bookmaker Kamel Osman from the early 1900s through World War I, the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression, and World War II. Its story-driven approach places Syrian Americans at the center of key American institutions like the assembly line, the family farm, the dance hall, and the public school, showing how the first two generations of Midwestern Syrians created a life that was Arab, Muslim, and American, all at the same time.
Muslims of the Heartland recreates what the Syrian Muslim Midwest looked, sounded, felt, and smelled like—from the allspice-seasoned lamb and rice shared in mosque basements to the sound of the trains on the Rock Island Line rolling past the dry goods store. It recovers a multicultural history of the American Midwest that cannot be ignored.
Draws on rich archival sources to create a vivid portrait of Syrian communities in the Midwest from 1900 to the 1950s ... A fresh portrayal of American history and identity. ~Kirkus Reviews
As charming as it is serious, Edward Curtis’s Muslims of the Heartland reveals vibrant human dimensions of Syrian Muslim immigrant life in the modern American Midwest, from North Dakota and Iowa to Detroit. Deftly weaving quantitative records, newspaper sources, and fascinating oral interviews into intimate family histories, Curtis has crafted a vivid history of immigrants too long ignored, and in America’s least-studied region. ~Jon Butler, author of God in Gotham: The Miracle of Religion in Modern Manhattan
A fascinating and highly readable history of Syrian Muslims in the Midwest in the first half of the twentieth century. With its detailed stories that importantly illuminate US racial politics, Curtis challenges the idea that Arab Muslims are newcomers to the rural Midwest and helps us imagine the Arab Muslim heartland for the first time. ~Evelyn Alsultany, author of Arabs and Muslims in the Media: Race and Representation after 9/11
Edward Curtis IV has long been one of our surest guides to the lived experience of American Muslims, his work so crucial in challenging enduring, often dangerous stereotypes. Muslims of the Heartland introduces readers to an even broader story: the rich worlds of diverse Syrian communities with deep roots in the American Midwest. Beautifully written, Curtis’s book deepens our appreciation of the complex human history of the American Midwest. ~Edward T. Linenthal, Former Editor, Journal of American History
A wonderful book, casting invaluable light on our own eventful and complicated times in America, as well as on the history which Edward Curtis so richly and rivetingly explores. ~Leila Ahmed, Victor S. Thomas Research Professor of Divinity, The Divinity School, Harvard University