A new seminar course, AMS 339: Religion and Culture: Muslims in America, will be offered next semester and has already become overenrolled with interested students. It will provide for the first time an overview of the long history of Islam in the United States, dating back to the slave trade in the 17th century, in addition to discussing this history’s implications for American culture and policy.
Aly Kassam-Remtulla, associate director for Academic Planning and Institutional Diversity and the course instructor, said he designed the course out of a desire to talk about a piece of American history that had not yet been addressed in Princeton’s course offerings while providing insight into the culture of people who identify as Muslims today.
“My course offers one dimension of the present reality,” Kassam-Remtulla said. “It provides insight into the past reality that a lot of people are unaware of — the history of Muslims coming to this country as far back as the 17th century.”
Kassam-Remtulla has been discussing his vision for this course with Muslim Life Coordinator and Chaplain Sohaib Sultan for about one year. Sultan emphasized that this course would allow students to understand the history of Islam in America and how it has contributed to the present political climate.
“Ever since 9/11 … Islam and Muslims are constantly in the headline news,” Sultan said. He explained the importance for students to “get an understanding of the realities beyond the headline news.”
“There was a sense that there would be strong student interest in the course,” Kassam-Remtulla said. Fifteen students had registered for 12 openings in the course at the time of publication.
Although she is not enrolled in the course, Muslim student Sarah Qari ’16 said she saw a need at the University for a new perspective on Muslim-American culture.
“A lot of courses that are offered in the University setting, they often tackle themes of how Islam tradition — and how the religion — interacts with modernity,” Qari said. “This course really gets at what Muslims are facing in their daily lives as Americans.”
Qari explained the role of this course in discussing issues applicable to the diverse Muslim community in American society, including female participation and political identification.
Among the many courses offered at Princeton that discuss Islam, this one will be unique in its focus on the long history of Muslim culture in the United States that is often overlooked, Sultan said.
“Often times when people think of Islam, they think of it as a geopolitical reality in another part of the world, namely, the Middle East,” Sultan said. “The lived experience of Muslims is that Islam is a religion that is lived as theology, as a moral and ethical framework. Therefore, it is a religion that can be lived everywhere and it is lived everywhere.”
The course will feature a historical survey of Muslims in the United States, including the history of Muslim African slaves, immigration and Muslim converts. The second half of the course will cover various sociological topics including Sept. 11 and its aftermath, diversity within Muslim communities, Muslim youth and the experience of women within Muslim communities, Kassam-Remtulla explained.
The course is offered through the Center for African American Studies, American studies, anthropology and religion, according to the Registrar’s web page. This is because a significant portion of African slaves were Muslim, and because the United States has seen several African American-predominant Muslim movements, Kassam-Remtulla explained.
“There’s a much richer history that a lot of people are not aware of,” Kassam-Remtulla said.