Quaker Universalist Voice

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Islam in the Scope of U.S. Religious Freedom

A Book Review of Asma T. Uddin, When Islam is Not a Religion: Inside America’s Fight for Religious Freedom (2019)

The story told here is the incremental recognition, expansion, and protection of religious freedom in the U.S.  Asma T.  Uddin, When Islam is Not a Religion: Inside America’s Fight for Religious Freedom (2019) reflects the effort of Islam to be part of that U.S. story. 

In the 17th century, the century of Quakerism’s birth, John Locke wrote a classic defense for religious toleration as Europe was emerging from religious wars and national intolerance.  But, Locke argued for the exclusion from toleration of atheists (untrustworthy), Muslims (foreign and loyalty conflicts), and Catholics (foreign and loyalty conflicts) as dangerous and incapable of national loyalty.  Expanding and inclusive religious toleration has taken time and painful adjustments.  Uddin addresses the remaining gap in support of inclusion of Islam in the U.S. story of religious toleration.

Uddin addresses the charge that Islam is not a religion, but a political ideology that is disguised as a religion.  The argument presented for Islam as a religion is that Islam means peaceful submission to God, is long lasting in time, and is committed to stringent spiritual practices.  Sharia law is complex and flexible in application of religious principles in different cultural contexts.

The author deplores the hazards of religious clothing distinctives for women, and the challenges of providing facilities for Islamic worship and Muslim community social life.

The solutions for the current oppression of Islam in the U.S. offered in this book include partnerships with other opponents to government obstacles to immigration and travel, including LGBTQ constituencies, and dialogue with evangelical Christian communities.  The author cannot quite advocate for partnership with evangelical Christian constituencies in common cause, despite the deep evangelical Christian history, and potential renewal, of support for toleration of religious minorities in U.S. history.

The book offers no index.  The book does provide an appendix list of key U.S. Supreme Court cases on religious liberty, and chapter source notes only generally related to specific passages and ideas in the text.

Quakers:  Quakers have experience both as victims and oppressors of religious minorities (Catholics, Jews, and Anglicans).  Quakers have  a role in encouraging partnerships and dialogue with, and for, Islamic communities in the U.S.  Quakers have forgotten much of how to start a constructive role and lack much energy and initiative in ecumenical projects..


  • How broad should be the scope of toleration of religious minorities in the U.S.? 
  •  Are there sound limits to toleration?
  • Should Quakers engage others in the Christian community in seeking practical protections for religious minorities?


  • Asma T. Uddin. When Islam is Not a Religion: Inside America’s Fight for Religious Freedom (2019)
  • B. Leiter, Why Tolerate Religion? (2013)
  • D. Lacorne, The Limits of Tolerance (2019)
  • S. Mansfield, Ten Tortured Words (2003)
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