Umar Lee’s Excellent Account of the Salafi Movement in the U.S.

I just finished reading this 10-part series by blogger Umar Lee on the rise and decline of the Salafi movement in the U.S. I’ve never lived in the States so I had no idea about all this. This piece was truly an eye-opener. It really is a fascinating read. I’ve copied a short exerpt below but I highly recommend reading the entire thing here.

After many of us became Muslim in the early 90’s, we found that there was a competition for our hearts and minds between the Sufis/traditional Muslims, the Salafis, and the Tablighis. There is, however, a lot of overlap between the Sufis/traditional Muslims and the tablighis so in some ways I kinda put them in the same category.

The ‘Ikhwani’ movements just weren’t interested in converts except where they could help speak out on issues such as
Palestine. This usually required white converts and hence not a lot of black converts were interested in their movement and the ikhwan weren’t interested in them…unless they had big money. This is why you’ll find that there are more converts amongst the Sufis/traditional Muslims, salafis and tablighis than the Ikhwani groups where it is/was very rare.

Many of the new converts at that time, because of the internet, began connecting with other new Muslims across the country, learning their Islam together and many were learning about salafi speakers. Email lists were formed and websites began to go up. Thus began what some have called the ‘cut and paste’ era. A brother could in this era look like a scholar if he knew the right sources to cut and paste from.

Salafis – because they eventually had an army of zealous converts from which to pull – did an excellent job of book and tape distribution and had two magazines that were spreading like around the country in Muslim circles. These books, tapes and magazines went into the prisons where more Muslim converts eventually became salafis.

But one of the most important parts (if not THE most important part) of spreading the salafi dawah to other parts of the country were the annual winter conferences. The two major conferences were IANA (Islamic Assembly of North America) and QSS (Qur’an and Sunnah Society of North America). Although there were some conflicting issues with the leaderships of those organizations, many of the rank and file attended both conferences and there was a lot overlap of speakers at both.

It was at these conferences that the attendees would buy many tapes, meet other salafis, connect hearts, network, make new friends, meet the speakers personally and sometimes even become friends with the speakers.

At these conferences you saw many big beards, thobes (above the ankles), and many niqaabis wearing all black. All of this may sound cliché or even silly now, but back then it was really a big deal to see so many people actually “practicing the religion” in the eyes of relatively young and new Muslims.

Then on top of that, the emphasis on following the letter of the Islamic law and keeping the salaat lines straight and filling in the gaps that was emphasized no place else. Nowhere else would you see this type of emphasis, and through the eyes of a zealous convert eager to practice his new religion, this all looked good. Most importantly, we felt like we were “a part of something”. This is a critical point

Unlike today’s caricature of a typical salafi, there were quite a few professional and responsible brothers in the ranks that were African American. There were also white and Latino brothers there. It was the bulk of these type of brothers that would later leave.

July 30, 2009 - Posted by | Islam


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Lozah! I myself know about ‘Umar Lee’s blog since long time ago and enjoyed reading what’s presented their regardless agreeing/disagreeing.

    p.s. Lozah, I think you should update your ‘twitter’ when you post new blog just to keep twitteres informed. If you don’t have time to do this manually, an automatic service can do this for you, it’s called “twitterfeed.com”

    Comment by Hicham | August 2, 2009 | Reply

  2. Hehe, thanks ya Hicham, I’ll inshallah remember to tweet my blogposts in the future.
    Umar Lee’s blog is one of my favourites mashallah. I find the American Muslim community in general to be incredibly fascinating, so I always love reading different perspectives of American Muslims.

    Comment by lozah | August 4, 2009 | Reply

  3. Islam in America, from my point of view, has it’s own taste other than any other place in the world. The vast cultural differences their makes it special. Anyway I recommedn Izzy Mo‘s blog since you’re into reading American Muslims.

    Comment by Hicham | August 9, 2009 | Reply

    • Yes, Islam in America is so fascinating in its diversity, its history, and the issues American Muslims have to deal with. Which is why I love reading about it so much! I already follow Izzy Mo’s blog 🙂 Actually if you check my blogroll you will find many blogs by American Muslims that I would highly recommend.

      Comment by lozah | August 10, 2009 | Reply

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