There is little need to reiterate the long history of U.S. governments going wherever they have wanted and doing whatever they have wanted. The question is how Muslims navigate through the political and economic architectures that ensue. Certainly, Islam has long valued extending itself throughout the world. Travel is primarily a modality for accumulating knowledge, acting on the desire to know, and then, only secondarily, is that knowledge used as a means of imbricating the "presentation" of Islam within heterogeneous settings. The historical challenge for Islamic missions, armies, scholars, traders, and sojourners was how to maintain the coherence of the faith in foreign spaces simultaneously considered within and outside of the Islamic world.
The question was how to maintain the absolute authority of Quranic guidance while propagating Islam and ruling Muslims in ways that were of necessity-if Islam was truly going to spread-highly decentralized. The practices and beliefs of foreign cultures were considered to already embody significant aspects of Islam; they were to be seen as already "leaning" toward the faith. How then to be sufficiently flexible enough to engage the particularities of worlds external to Islam so as to know them well enough to be able to steer these societies into the fullness of the faith. The question was one more of pragmatics than of essential differences between societies. For the issue was to have Islam practiced in specific ways across diverse settings so that Muslims would not only be recognizable to each other but able to use the religion to collaborate in new and unanticipated ways in all domains of life.
The present issue is the extent to many devoted Muslims have either significantly attenuated their engagement with larger worlds or are capable of doing so only by being equipped with highly truncated, and thus violent, notions of Islam. Too often the highly stultifying, even claustrophobic urban environments in which the young must operate-overcrowded apartments, overcrowded informal sectors, households who keep children withdrawn from the public street, narrow confines of public expression-is compensated only by the narrow confines of highly formulaic relationships within mosques, medressas, and welfare agencies. Although Islamic institutions can be highly proficient in mobilizing a broad range of information and communication technologies, the open-ended possibilities facilitated by these tools continue to convey restrictive narratives and representations of what are the "right" ways of being in the world. A religion rich in expressive possibilities and rich ways that people can interact with each other, where the possibilities of discourse among many are themselves many, the actual day to day conversations in the mosques are frequently impoverished.
The possibilities of engagement and the practices of being flexible and expansive in face of an uncertain world are an integral part of the very...