Feature

A Religious Experience

We wanted to know: What do Coloradans believe?

April 2012

Discussion Point

Islam in Colorado

Change can be slow, especially within organizations steeped in tradition. Although some groups are contemporizing Christianity and Judaism in the Denver-Boulder area, it appears that Islam is struggling to adapt. Unlike other worldly cities, there is a dearth of progressive mosques—and very few if any alternative communities—here along the Front Range that would appeal to Muslims with North American sensibilities.

“There is a very American Islam that exists,” says Denver resident Ausma Khan, who was the editor-in-chief of the now-defunct Muslim Girl Magazine. “But I’ve found it difficult to access a community of North American Muslims here.” Khan says she’s visited a couple of the area’s mosques, but that many of them have ethnic or sectarian populations—and sometimes hold very traditional Muslim views—that she doesn’t relate to. It’s a common complaint that local theologians are aware of—and experience themselves. “I was born in Boulder and I converted to Islam 10 years ago,” says Sophia Shafi, Ph.D., an assistant visiting professor of Islamic studies at Denver’s Iliff School of Theology. “I’m a progressive Shi’a and I’m generally on my own—meaning I pray at home—because I feel like I don’t have anywhere to go here in Boulder.”

Ibrahim Kazerooni, an Iraqi-born imam who once led a metro area Islamic center and is now working on his Ph.D., says he believes Islam needs to change to grow here in Colorado. “The format is not creating interest in people,” he says. “It’s boring and predictable and doesn’t speak to young people. We need to be more flexible with the formality of our message.”

Kazerooni, along with others like Shafi, have considered starting their own progressive communities. But with work and families, those plans have yet to solidify. For now, they’ll continue to bemoan the void—and pray alone.

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Seeking Western Muslims

Nabil Echchaibi is the associate director of the Center for Media, Religion and Culture at CU. He and a team of researchers have been working on a project called Muslims in the Mountain West, the first study of its kind, which explores the presence and experience of Muslims in Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. The team has interviewed hundreds of Muslims, asking about how they practice and interpret what it means to be Muslim in America. Echchaibi is also using the project to document the history of Islam in the American West. “We’ve learned that a camel herder from Syria was likely the first Muslim in Arizona and that Colorado’s first imam likely arrived in 1914,” he says. The project’s results will be available at muslimsinmountainwest.org.

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