Although for many Americans, Islam barely existed before the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the reality is that Muslims have been part of the American story since (and even before) the first slaves arrived here.
Today, Muslims are much more prominent, though the population of them in the U.S. is not much more than 1 percent of the total population. But if you know where to look, you can find evidence of Muslim communities that go back a long way and are located in places that seem quite odd and out of the way.
This story, for instance, describes an old Muslim community in northwest North Dakota. Followers of Islam there have been around for a long time, though most of them now are gone, having intermarried with Christians and converted, the story to which I've linked you reports. But there's still a little mosque on the prairie there.
Last week, I was in Abiquiu, N.M., teaching a class at Ghost Ranch, a national Presbyterian education and retreat center. Abiquiu, where artist Georgia O'Keeffe lived and painted, has a population under 600, but there is a mosque and a small Islamic community there.
The mosque (also an education center) is called Dar Al Islam. (The photo you see here today is borrowed from Dar Al Islam's website because I couldn't locate photos I've taken of it in the past.) I didn't get there last week, but I've been before. One thing Dar Al Islam does is to bring in public school teachers from around the country and teach them how to educate their students fairly and accurately about Islam.
Where else can you find an American Muslim presence that might be a surprising location? Well, there's been a Muslim community in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for most of a century. Here's a link to the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids.
And here in Kansas City, the best estimates are that there are around 25,000 Muslims in the area, with 18 mosques, including a couple in communities within half an hour of the city. Perhaps the largest single concentration of Muslims in the U.S. can be found in the Detroit area, especially Dearborn.
American Muslims still are negotiating their way into the country's culture, and we still find fools like actor Antonio Sabàto Jr., who spoke at the Republican National Convention this week, insisting that President Barack Obama is a Muslim. But for the most part American Muslims are finding the U.S. one of the best -- if not the best -- places in the world to practice their religion. Do some young American Muslims get radicalized these days and turn toward ISIS and al-Qaida? Yes, and much of that is self-radicalization via the Internet.
But those few individuals are quite far outside the bounds of traditional Islam and way, way outside the bounds of Islam as it generally is practiced in America -- in such places as North Dakota, New Mexico and Iowa.
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MR. GOD AGAINST A MADAM PRESIDENT?
Even this far into the 21st Century, we find some people of faith arguing that God may be against the idea of a woman becoming president of the United States, the Washington Post reports. The most enlightened response to such fusty thinking is one word: "Aaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrggggggggggghhhhhhhhhh!"