readily speak of “American Christianity” and “American Judaism” and are even wrapping
our minds around the notion of “American Buddhism,” particularly on the West
Coast. So why does the notion of “American Islam” strike us as strange?
of the reason, of course, stems from 9/11 and the events and politics following
in its wake. But as the fourth (or is it now the third?) largest religion in
the United States, it should be more settled than that. More than 3 million
Americans believe in Islam, about the same number as American adherents of
Buddhism, and only a million or two less than Judaism. So why does Islam not
yet seem settled? Perhaps because it is only beginning to develop as an
in a land of immigrants, Americans have always had a back-and-forth
relationship with religious centers abroad. At America’s founding, European
Christian churches supported their followers by sending missionaries and
preachers to lead them. But many of our earliest institutions of higher
education were founded to educate the clergy: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, St.
Mary’s in Baltimore, and William and Mary. Americans wanted their own religious
leaders, so Catholic and protestant churches opened colleges and seminaries to
Christians wanted more than trained clergy; they also wanted their lay people
to know the details of their religion and to practice it. Toward this end, the
churches invested in education and founded primary and secondary schools. Since
there was little state-sponsored education in America prior to the 20th
century, these schools often provided the only education available.
Jews began settling in America in large numbers, they followed the same
pattern. After drawing upon foreign-trained rabbis for a century or so, Jewish
synagogues joined together to found Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati in 1875
for training rabbis. Other Jewish seminaries and yeshivas were created in the
ensuing decades. At the same time, Jewish high schools and educational programs
sprang up across the U.S. in areas of Jewish settlement.
the start of the 20th century, Buddhism followed a similar pattern.
Asian-trained monks had come to the United States during the 19th century,
along with the waves of Asian immigration. After 1900, some founded sanghas
(Buddhist monasteries) here and started to train others, Buddhists of both
Asian and European ancestry, in the monastic form of leadership common in
Buddhism. Buddhist schools also became widespread, especially on the West
Coast, to educate Buddhist youth.
is Islam doing in its Americanization process? It has gotten a good start, but
has not moved very far along yet. While Muslim primary and secondary schools
have arisen in regions with larger numbers of immigrants, only one or two institutions of
higher education have developed, such as Zaytuna College.
However, there are no seminaries dedicated to the education of imams for
mosque leadership. Muslim communities either bring in foreign-trained imams or
follow dedicated lay leaders. That means there are no American institutions
where Muslims can gain the education and training they need to lead a mosque
and its congregation.
always reshape themselves to fit into the nation in which they are practiced.
When Judaism entered England in the late 1600s, for example, one of the first
things it did was create the post of Chief Rabbi, imitating Anglicanism’s
Archbishop of Canterbury.
reshaping does not come overnight; it comes from a process of debate and
discussion by religious authorities. Muslim seminaries would provide a location
for that discussion by religious clergy who understand America’s social
dynamics and can think about how Islam fits into them. And, more importantly,
those clergy can then train others.
lack of Islamic seminaries in the U.S. means there are no training programs
through which an American Islam can be formed and passed on. American Muslims
recognize this need and have begun taking steps to address it. In Connecticut,
Muslims have worked with Hartford Seminary (Christian) to establish the first
certified training program for Muslim chaplains to supply the requirements of
the military and hospitals. At Claremont University, a master’s degree has been
established to train Muslim educators and other community workers.
America needs, however, is a full-fledged Islamic seminary (or two) so that our
Muslim citizens can have their religious necessities and practices met by
Americans who have been trained here -- just like America’s other larger
to the University of Wyoming's Seth Ward for providing background for this
essay. Read some of his remarks at
Labels: America, Buddhism, Christianity, college, high school, Islam, Judaism, primary, seminary, USA