A recent Pew Study revealed that Muslims in America fare better than Muslims in Europe. The results of the study illustrate American Islam as diverse, integrated, well-educated and economically successful. Additionally, American Muslims are more tolerant of other sects within Islam. Their experience and situation in America is in stark contrast to the experiences of Muslims in Europe like the Turks in Germany and North African immigrants in France. As a community, they overwhelmingly reject terrorism and identify as first as Americans and then as Muslims.
A group of nine college students—many of whom attend the MAPS center in Redmond—were vacationing near Lake Chelan when their vehicle was vandalized with hate-filled slogans.
A rental vehicle driven by a group of young Muslim men—at least one of whom lives in Redmond—was the target of racist graffiti during a recent vacation near Lake Chelan.
According to a news release from the Council on American-Islam Relations (CAIR), the vehicle was scrawled with racist phrases including “Sand N**gers” and “Doon Goons” (sic). The vandals also left several physical scratches on the car.
At first, the devout Muslims who gathered in a Washington, D.C., conference center seemed like they could have come from any mosque. There were women in headscarves and bearded men who quoted the Quran.
But something was different. While mingling over hors d’oeuvres, they discussed how to change Islam’s future. A woman spoke about fighting terrorism; she had married outside the Islamic faith, which is forbidden for a Muslim woman. A Pakistani man mentioned his plans to meet friends for drinks, despite the faith’s ban on alcohol.
In a corner of the room, an imam in a long gray tunic counseled a young Muslim with a vexing spiritual conflict: being gay and Muslim. The imam, also gay and in a relationship, could easily sympathize with the youth’s difficulties.
Today, as America’s Muslim leaders debate controversial topics like political radicalism inside mosques and states’ attempts to ban Shariah law, this growing network of alternative mosques and Islamic groups is quietly forging a new spiritual movement.
They’re taking bold steps, reinterpreting Islamic norms and re-examining taboos. While far from accepted by mainstream clerics, these worshippers feel that the future of the religion lies not solely with tradition but with them. Women are leading congregations in prayer, gay imams are performing Islamic marriages, and men and women are praying side by side.
As president of the Phoenix-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy, an eight-year-old group that twins conservative and Islamic values, Zuhdi Jasser is no fan of the more visible Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Washington-based CAIR and too many other U.S. Muslim groups, Jasser says, are soft on extremism and advocate a form of “political Islam.” The leadership of most U.S. groups is, as he puts it, “malignant.”
Islam is a decentralized religion with little to no hierarchy; in the United States, surveys indicate that about half or fewer of the estimated 3 million to 6 million Muslims attend mosques regularly.
Before 9/11, the best known Muslim-American groups were CAIR, the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim American Society and the Muslim Public Affairs Council. In the years since, leading Muslim groups have been deemed by some as too orthodox, not orthodox enough, too sympathetic to terrorists or too closely linked to Washington.
For many Muslims, including Jasser, the answer was to form their own organizations. And now they are competing to be seen and heard as authentic voices for American Islam alongside CAIR and other established groups.
Many new groups say visibility is key, especially in the media, which is attracted to sensational stories or personalities while often overlooking or not hearing mainstream views.
Eight years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Americans see Muslims as facing more discrimination inside the U.S. than other major religious groups. Nearly six-in-ten adults (58 percent) say that Muslims are subject to a lot of discrimination, far more than say the same about Jews, evangelical Christians, atheists or Mormons. In fact, of all the groups asked about, only gays and lesbians are seen as facing more discrimination than Muslims, with nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the public saying there is a lot of discrimination against homosexuals.
The poll also finds that two-thirds of non-Muslims (65 percent) say that Islam and their own faith are either very different or somewhat different, while just 17 percent take the view that Islam and their own religion are somewhat or very similar. But Islam is not the only religion that Americans see as mostly different from their own. When asked about faiths other than their own, six-in-ten adults say Buddhism is mostly different, with similar numbers saying the same about Mormonism (59 percent) and Hinduism (57 percent).
By a smaller margin, Americans are also inclined to view Judaism and Catholicism as somewhat or very different from their own faith (47 percent different vs. 35 percent similar for Judaism, 49 percent different vs. 43 percent similar for Catholicism). Only when asked about Protestantism do perceived similarities outweigh perceived differences, with 44 percent of non-Protestants in the survey saying Protestantism and their own faith are similar and 38 percent saying they are different.
Results from the latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted Aug. 11-17 among 2,010 adults reached on both landlines and cell phones, reveal that high levels of perceived similarity with religious groups are associated with more favorable views of those groups. Those who see their own faith as similar to Catholicism, Judaism, Mormonism and Islam are significantly more likely than others to have favorable views of members of these groups.
Detailed questions about perceptions of Islam show that a plurality of the public (45 percent) says Islam is no more likely than other faiths to encourage violence among its believers; 38 percent take the opposite view, saying that Islam does encourage violence more than other faiths do. Views on this question have fluctuated in recent years, with the current findings showing that the view that Islam is connected with violence has declined since 2007, when 45 percent of the public said that Islam encourages violence more than other religions do.
Almost half of Americans (45 percent) say they personally know someone who is Muslim. Also, slim majorities of the public are able to correctly answer questions about the name Muslims use to refer to God (53 percent) and the name of Islam’s sacred text (52 percent), with four-in-ten (41 percent) correctly answering both “Allah” and “the Koran.” These results are consistent with recent years and show modest increases in Americans’ familiarity with Islam compared with the months following the 9/11 attacks. Those people who know a Muslim are less likely to see Islam as encouraging of violence; similarly, those who are most familiar with Islam and Muslims are most likely to express favorable views of Muslims and to see similarities between Islam and their own religion.
Working in Pakistan after September 11, 2001, former Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Nomani faced a double shock. First came a surprise pregnancy and abandonment by the Pakistani man she thought would be her husband, then the murder of her dear friend and colleague Daniel Pearl at the hands of Muslim extremists. Still reeling and with a son to raise, she returned to her hometown in West Virginia and discovered the mosque had been taken over by men she saw as extremists. THE MOSQUE IN MORGANTOWN chronicles what happens when she decides to fight back — unexpectedly pitting her against the mosque’s moderates. As the film unfolds, it tells a story of competing paths to social change, American identity, and the nature of religion itself.
Premieres June 15 on PBS
Journalist Asra Nomani glimpsed Islamic extremism up close when her dear friend and former Wall Street Journal colleague Daniel Pearl was murdered in Pakistan. When she returns home to West Virginia to raise her son, she believes she sees warning signs at the local mosque: exclusionism against women, intolerance toward non-believers, and suspicion of the West. Her resulting campaign against perceived extremism in the Islamic Center of Morgantown brings a storm of media attention, unexpectedly pitting her against the mosque’s moderates.
These would-be allies object to Asra’s methods and suspect her motives, seeking themselves a more conciliatory path to change. They say she has unfairly used the label of extremism and is working only to further her own career as a writer. It is not long before members put forward a petition to expel her from the mosque.
But Asra is unwavering. She believes intolerance in the mosque is the first step on a potential path to violence, and that Islam cannot afford to handle this problem with half-measures and diplomacy; the stakes require nothing less than a revolution. As her efforts to spark that revolution escalate to the national stage, many Muslims in the mosque and elsewhere begin to suspect she aims to reshape the religion into something that is no longer Islam.
The film also features Christine Arja, a convert to Islam who initially opposes Asra’s efforts but eventually becomes her only ally in the mosque; and Ihtishaam Qazi, a moderate mosque leader who becomes Asra’s strongest opponent as he struggles to balance competing viewpoints in the community.
THE MOSQUE IN MORGANTOWN frames this local conflict as a lens to explore the larger dilemmas facing American Islam. It tells a story of competing paths to social change, American identity, and the nature of religion itself.
I recently got back to Thailand after a one-and-a-half month stay in the United States, where I was a student of Islamic Studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, and where I spent seven years during the 80s and 90s. The tour revealed to me a very different Islam in the post-9/11 United States. In the face of widespread bias and prejudice, personal attacks, deep suspicion and misinformation about Islam marked by the prevalence of Islamophobia in the American mindset, Muslim society in the US has undergone a tremendous internal transformation, with the aim being to prove loyalty to the American nation by undertaking steps towards political, social and civil integration. The seven million-strong American Muslim community is emerging and evolving as both an integral part of the American socio-political milieu and a distinct section of the worldwide Muslim community. There is historical evidence to suggest that the presence of Islam in the Americas began around the 10th century, when Muslims from Spain and West Africa arrived in South America centuries before Columbus. Some Muslims are said to have accompanied Christopher Columbus to the Americas in 1492, as to have joined later explorations as well. With the end of Muslim rule in Spain around 1498 and the institution of the Inquisition in 1499, many Spanish Muslims fled to other countries, including America.
The treatment and role of women are among the most discussed and controversial aspects of Islam. The rights of Muslim women have become part of the Western political agenda, often perpetuating a stereotype of universal oppression. Muslim women living in America continue to be marginalized and misunderstood since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Yet their contributions are changing the face of Islam as it is seen both within Muslim communities in the West and by non-Muslims. In their public and private lives, Muslim women are actively negotiating what it means to be a woman and a Muslim in an American context.
Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, Jane I. Smith, and Kathleen M. Moore offer a much-needed survey of the situation of Muslim American women, focusing on how Muslim views about and experiences of gender are changing in the Western diaspora. Centering on Muslims in America, the book investigates Muslim attempts to form a new “American” Islam. Such specific issues as dress, marriage, childrearing, conversion, and workplace discrimination are addressed. The authors also look at the ways in which American Muslim women have tried to create new paradigms of Islamic womanhood and are reinterpreting the traditions apart from the males who control the mosque institutions. A final chapter asks whether 9/11 will prove to have been a watershed moment for Muslim women in America.
This groundbreaking work presents the diversity of Muslim American women and demonstrates the complexity of the issues. Impeccably researched and accessible, it broadens our understanding of Islam in the West and encourages further exploration into how Muslim women are shaping the future of American Islam.
Vivid, dramatic portraits of Muslims in America in the years after 9/11, as they define themselves in a religious subculture torn between moderation and extremism
There are as many as six million Muslims in the United States today. Islam (together with Christianity and Judaism) is now an American faith, and the challenges Muslims face as they reconcile their intense and demanding faith with our chaotic and permissive society are recognizable to all of us.
From West Virginia to northern Idaho, American Islam takes readers into Muslim homes, mosques, and private gatherings to introduce a population of striking variety. The central characters range from a charismatic black imam schooled in the militancy of the Nation of Islam to the daughter of an Indian immigrant family whose feminist views divided her father’s mosque in West Virginia. Here are lives in conflict, reflecting in different ways the turmoil affecting the religion worldwide. An intricate mixture of ideologies and cultures, American Muslims include immigrants and native born, black and white converts, those who are well integrated into the larger society and those who are alienated and extreme in their political views. Even as many American Muslims succeed in material terms and enrich our society, Islam is enmeshed in controversy in the United States, as thousands of American Muslims have been investigated and interrogated in the wake of 9/11.
American Islam is an intimate and vivid group portrait of American Muslims in a time of turmoil and promise.
Iftar (the breaking of daily fasts during the Islamic month of Ramadan) in interfaith settings is an increasingly widespread phenomenon. This year there were dozens of interfaith Iftar celebrations throughout New York City, where I live, and perhaps hundreds nation wide. Inviting non-Muslims to break fast has become a primary way in which Islam explains itself to the American public and extends friendship to the community. Ramadan began on September 24 this year, and the holy month saw numerous public Iftar events, including, for example, the Brooklyn Borough President’s Iftar and the Turkish Cultural Society’s Iftar, which took place at the Waldorf Astoria and was attended by judges, scholars, religious leaders, and New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Meanwhile, an Iftar at the Dawood Mosque in Brooklyn included among its guests local shop owners, community leaders, two rabbis, and the Rev. Daniel Meeter of Old First Reformed Church of Brooklyn. At the end of the meal — which is always at the center of the program — the Jewish guests, along with Rev. Meeter and an imam from Egypt’s Al-Azar University, sat together on the floor to engage in a long discussion about politics and religion for the community to hear. Other such examples abound. Union Theological Seminary and the Muslim Consultative Network, with a little help from the Interfaith Center of New York and the Columbia Muslim Students Association, hosted an Iftar at James Chapel, where Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer once preached. (Union removed the cross from the chapel so that Muslims could pray without facing it.) During dinner, there was public discussion on human rights, with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim speakers. But not just monotheists are involved in interfaith Iftars. In Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, for example, an imam hosted Ven. Rey Fashi, a Chinese monk, pointing out that Chinese Buddhists and Arab Muslims share the neighborhood, have similar ethics, and should become better acquainted. There are also joint religious programs, such as Iftar-Sukkot gatherings, in which imams and rabbis explain to each other’s congregations the significance of shelter, food, and hospitality in their respective traditions. While mosques are likely locations for Iftar celebrations, many have been initiated by community leaders — often women — practicing outside traditional settings. In this way, these activists bring established religious authorities into contact with civil society, acting as important social interlocutors, and furthering alternative and complementary leadership models that reflect their communities. Organizers also use these opportunities to highlight social justice advocacy concerns, as with interfaith “fast-a-thons” for Darfur. Women’s groups such as New York’s Turning Point for Women and Families have hosted interfaith Iftars that provide religious context for highlighting the need to confront domestic violence. What has led to the pronounced growth in interfaith Iftars? The disaster of September 11, 2001, has much to do with it. While they existed before, numerous interfaith Iftar practices — both in local mosques as well as between mosques, synagogues, and churches — emerged in the weeks following the tragedy. And today, as in 2001, such occasions serve in part as quiet, accommodating responses to an event that will forever be recalled near the time of Ramadan, while also providing further opportunities for bringing Islam into conversation with the wider public. Indeed, for Muslims, breaking the fast during Ramadan is often very much a public event, an occasion for offering hospitality to their own community as well as the wider community. Here in America, it is rapidly becoming a primary way in which Muslims, especially among immigrant populations, can practice their religion while remaining open to other religious traditions and the public; the interfaith Iftar is therefore a way to be an “American Muslim,” with equal emphasis on each element in that term. Muslims have thus adapted a religious event into a civic activity in which local friends, civil authorities, and religious others may participate. In doing so, Muslims remain faithful to their tradition through acts of hospitality — hospitality that, one might hope, inspires reciprocity in our religiously pluralist America. Matthew Weiner is Director of Program Development at the Interfaith Center of New York, and a doctoral candidate at Union Theological Seminary.