Edward E. Curtis IVDec 23, 2022
Muslims of the Heartland
How Syrian Immigrants Made a Home in the American Midwest
New York University Press 2022
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: How Syrian Immigrants Made a Home in the American Midwest (NYU Press, 2022) 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.
Joseph Stuart is a scholar of African American history, particularly of the relationship between race, freedom rights, and religion in the twentieth century Black Freedom Movement.