It is the first in-depth biography of Webb, a prominent American Muslim convert and founder of the first Islamic mission in America. It examines how Webb, as an American, negotiated both the tradition of Islam and Victorian American culture to live an active and engaged public life.
Webb was a central figure of American Islam during the late nineteenth and early twenties centuries. A native of the Hudson Valley, he was a journalist, editor, and civil servant. Raised a Presbyterian, Webb early on began to cultivate an interest in other religions and became particularly fascinated by Islam. While serving as U.S. consul to the Philippines in 1887, he took a greater interest in the faith and embraced it in 1888, becoming one of the first Americans known to have done so. Within a few years, he began corresponding with important Muslims in India. Webb became an enthusiastic propagator of the faith, founding the first Islamic institution in the United States: the American Mission. He wrote numerous books intended to introduce Islam to Americans, started the first Islamic press in the United States, published a journal entitled the Moslem World, and served as the representative of Islam at the 1893 World's Parliament of Religion in Chicago.
In this first-ever biography of Webb, Umar F. Abd-Allah examines Webb's life and uses it as a window through which to explore the early history of Islam in America. Except for his adopted faith, every aspect of Webb's life was, as Abd-Allah shows, quintessentially characteristic of his place and time. It is because he was so typically American that he was able to serve as Islam's ambassador to America (and vice versa). As American's Muslim community grows and becomes more visible, Webb's life and the virtues he championed - pluralism, liberalism, universal humanity, and a sense of civic and political responsibility - exemplify what it means to be an American Muslim.
The book is published by Oxford University Press and came off the press in August 2006.
"In this timely engaging book, Umar Abd-Allah brings to life an important but little-known figure in Victorian America. In an illuminating story of Alexander Webb, Abd-Allah shows how he navigated life as a prominent Muslim and an American with relative ease and without resistance from mainstream society. This work is an important lesson, not only for history buffs but for anyone interested in understanding contemporary times." - Geneive Abdo, author of Mecca and Main Street: Muslim Life in America after 9/11
About the Author
Umar F. Abd-Allah is the Chair and Scholar-in-Residence at the Nawawi Foundation, a non-profit educational foundation based in Chicago. Abd-Allah received his Ph.D. in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Chicago in 1978.