While the population in Detroit has fallen over recent decades, the Muslim community in the Detroit area has grown, in part due to the influx of refugees. Sally Howell, director of the Center for Arab American studies and associate professor of history at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, spoke on the long, rooted history of Muslim communities in Detroit at her lecture Monday evening.
“I noticed in 2010 that if you look at the census maps of Detroit, Detroit as most of you probably realize, is losing population, bleeding population for quite some time now” she said. “The only zip codes or census tracts that showed population growth between 2000 and 2010 were also zip codes or census tracts where Muslims are living.”
The number of people of Yemeni, Syrian, Iraqi and Lebanese, backgrounds have been growing in Detroit since about 2000, Howell said in the lecture. The historical Nation of Islam was founded in the city in 1931, and Eastern European Muslim communities, composed of people from countries such as Albania and Bosnia, have lived in Detroit communities for more than 100 years.
Howell highlighted the idea of a Halal space, which is a community that develops where people live in accordance with Muslim law and Muslims can feel comfortable and safe. She said these spaces come to be defined by factors such as territory, behavior and group relations.
In particular, she noted that mosques are one form of a territory factor, and community relationships with city administration or other government groups also lead to the forming of Halal spaces. She cited Hamtramck, which is believed to be the first city in the United States to elect an Arab-majority city council, as an example.
“When Muslims do make into a space and make it their own, that space will change,” Howell said.
Howell also said grassroots organizing has played a major part in the development of Halal spaces, pointing to a mosque located in northern Hamtramck, whose leaders to appealed to Muslims who were considering leaving the area during the 2006 housing market collapse buying and renovating houses in the area and renting them to Muslim families.
“This is in the city of Detroit, where you don’t necessarily get a lot of government support in a neighborhood like this one far from public gaze,” she said. “This is one example of grassroots work.”
LSA senior Courtney Crawford said she enjoyed the lecture because of her lack of previous knowledge on the topic, adding that she thinks Muslim communities often are misrepresented by the media.
“It is something that you never hear about because of all the negative press on these communities and nothing on what they are doing,” she said.
LSA sophomore Leah Crockett attended the lecture as an extra credit opportunity, she said she felt that she was able to gain a better perspective on communities that she is unfamiliar with.
“I learned about the history of Detroit in a couple of other classes, so it was really nice to hear this aspect of it and how it applies to Arab-American lives and cultures,” she said.