Islam Is a Foreign Country

American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority

409 pages

29 halftones

December, 2013

ISBN: 9781479800568



Also available in


Zareena Grewal is Assistant Professor of American Studies and Religious Studies at Yale University and Director for the Center for the Study of American Muslims at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

All books by Zareena Grewal

In Islam Is a Foreign Country, Zareena Grewal explores some of the most pressing debates about and among American Muslims: what does it mean to be Muslim and American? Who has the authority to speak for Islam and to lead the stunningly diverse population of American Muslims? Do their ties to the larger Muslim world undermine their efforts to make Islam an American religion?
Offering rich insights into these questions and more, Grewal follows the journeys of American Muslim youth who travel in global, underground Islamic networks. Devoutly religious and often politically disaffected, these young men and women are in search of a home for themselves and their tradition. Through their stories, Grewal captures the multiple directions of the global flows of people, practices, and ideas that connect U.S. mosques to the Muslim world. By examining the tension between American Muslims’ ambivalence toward the American mainstream and their desire to enter it, Grewal puts contemporary debates about Islam in the context of a long history of American racial and religious exclusions. Probing the competing obligations of American Muslims to the nation and to the umma (the global community of Muslim believers), Islam is a Foreign Country investigates the meaning of American citizenship and the place of Islam in a global age.


  • "A powerful, lyrical, and boldly rendered book, bringing to life the journey of knowledge seekers. Grewal decenters, blurs, and puts back together a number of scholarly fields to tell a story of Muslims traveling the world for an Islamic education. This profound and compelling ethnography shows that amidst all of the talk of radicalism and terrorism, there is a far more human endeavor here—the search for ethical truths and a better world, no matter how messy and contradictory."

    —Junaid Rana, author of Terrifying Muslims: Race and Labor in the South Asian Diaspora

  • "Energetic and insightful, critical as well as empathetic, Grewal provides a rich map of the discursive counterpoints between different geographies of imagination as they are mapped and remapped in the lives and bodies of men and women who translate Islam in their lived practices today. A must read for anyone wishing to understand how religious knowledge in Islam is manufactured in a readable as well as enjoyable manner."

    —Ebrahim Moosa, Professor of Religion & Islamic Studies, Duke University

  • "A moving and incisive account of Muslim immigrant experiences in the United States. It reveals a dimension of American life seldom genuinely understood. No one will think of American Islam in the same way after reading this book."  

    —Saba Mahmood, author of Politics of Piety

  • "Grewal provides readers with useful information about the media, educational organizations, and institutions of political and moral authority."


  • "A genuinely fascinating and thought-provoking book."

    Times Literary Supplement

  • "What makes the book readable and her ideas accessible to the reader is her opening each chapter with personal stories of the student traveler. She brings to life the abstract and theoretical discussions by weaving these stories into the narrative of Islam, and particularly American Islam.”

    Middle East Media and Book Review

  • "Grewal's book is beautifully written, with textured ethnographic vignettes and a clear theoretical analysis."

    American Journal of Islamic Social Science

  • "Islam is a Foreign Country exemplifies the possibilities of such transnational scholarship . . . . Grewal's book mines the genre of autoethnography more successfully than any I have read in years, and bears comparison to gold standards such as The Woman Warrior and Borderlands/La Frontera."

    American Studies

  • "This book provides a window into Muslim American debates around religious authority and identity.  Its vast subject matter, timeliness, and fluidity are sure to leave readers wanting more; not in the sense of having been deprived, but out of a desire to explore the expansive subject that Grewal has opened up for us….This book is a valuable contribution to the study of Muslim Americans and will be of great interest to scholars of Islam and Americanists alike.” 

    Journal of the American Academy of Religion

  • “Zareena Grewal’s Islam Is a Foreign Country offers a valuable contribution to the growing body of scholarship on American Islam by illuminating the motivations and pedagogies of American Muslims who seek Islamic knowledge overseas in Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.”

    Sociology of Religion

  • “[…] Grewal’s innovative focus on student travelers makes for a fascinating and insightful look at U.S. Muslims today.  The distinctive subject matter and accessible writing style will attract readers outside anthropology and beyond academia, and through considering debates about authority and authenticity in the search for Islamic knowledge, Grewal engages with an area of great interest in the anthropology of Islam.”

    American Anthropologist

  • “[T]his book offers some original social history of the Muslim community in America and particularly the unique role of the African-American influence of shaping American Islam. [Grewal] skillfully weaves together her ethnographic accounts, staying loyal to her anthropological training but pulling in American history, Middle Eastern Studies, classical Islamic texts, as well as considerations of race, ethnicity, and gender.”

    Sociology of Islam