Muslims have been coming to the US for centuries, but you wouldn’t know it by the intense debates that continue to surround the movement of Muslims across international borders.
Republican presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump have called for the US to effectively ban Syrian refugees from entering the country. The South Carolina Senate passed a bill that would require all refugees to register with the state, subjecting themselves to surveillance. On social media, the hashtag #StopIslam trended internationally in the hours after the Mar. 22 terrorist attack in Brussels.
Together, these reactions contribute to the idea that Muslim migration to the US is somehow distinct from America’s history as a “nation of immigrants.” Columnist Mark Nuckols summarized the sentiment when he wrote in Townhall about “problematic immigrants” to the US.
The “most problematic,” he writes, are Muslims from the Middle East and Africa. “This most recent wave of immigrants are often more resistant to easy assimilation and more reluctant to accept this country as truly their own,” he says.
In truth, Muslims have been part of this country since before the thirteen original colonies even declared their independence and became a nation. The examples below offer a glimpse of the long history of their migration and contributions to the US.
Muslims were among the first to explore the “New World”
Individuals like Christopher Columbus are often recognized as among the first to “discover” the Americas (despite, of course, the long presence of the indigenous).
But those explorations would not have been possible without Muslims.
Historian Leslie Brout Jr. notes in his book The African Experience in Spanish America: 1502 to the Present Day that many Muslim men accompanied European travelers clamoring to “discover” the Americas in the 1500s. Vasco Núñez de Balboa, Hernán Cortés, Pánfilo de Narváez, Pedro de Alvarado, Francisco de Montejo, and other conquistadors all brought Muslims with them to aid in their early expeditions in the Western Hemisphere.
For example, a Muslim man named Estevanico was sold into slavery in the 1520s and brought to the Americas to aid Spain’s exploration of present-day Florida. Although he was a slave until his death, Brout writes that Estevanico became famous for completing an eight-year journey on foot from Florida to Mexico City.
The labor of enslaved Muslims helped build the United States
As historian Sylviane A. Diouf writes in her book Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas, Muslim men, women, and children were among the first people taken by force from their homes in West Africa in the Atlantic slave trade.
It’s estimated that between 10 and 15 percent of all Africans forced into bondage in the United States were Muslims. These individuals, many of whom were among the most educated and renowned in their homelands, were forced to work as slaves in the Americas. Several of them published narratives about their time in captivity.
Omar Ibn Sayyid, for example, was taken from his home in present day Senegal and forced into slavery in South Carolina around the year 1770. In 1831 he published his autobiography in Arabic, which was later translated into English.
Sayyid’s autobiography reveals in his own words his experiences being taken from his home, his life under slavery in the United States and his devotion to Islam. Today, a mosque in Fayetteville, North Carolina is named in his honor.
In his book Muslims in America, historian Edward Curtis describes the experience of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, who became known as Job Ben Solomon after he was taken from West Africa in 1731 and sold into slavery to a tobacco farmer in Annapolis, Maryland.
Solomon was able to escape slavery after less than three years of bondage. He could read and write in Arabic, so he wrote a letter to his father with the hopes that he might send money to ransom his freedom. His father never received the letter. However, the letter did finds its way to the hands of James Oglethorpe, the founder of Georgia, who had it translated into English.
Oglethorpe was so impressed with Solomon that he purchased the freedom bond himself.
Slavery ends, Muslim influence continues
Muslims played important roles in securing a Northern victory in the United States Civil War and bringing about the end of slavery. Curtis’s Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History explains that nearly 300 people with Muslim last names fought in the Civil War.
Several became officers, including Moses Osman, a captain in the 104th Illinois Infantry. After being subjected to slavery in Turkey, Russia, and the US when he was forced to serve a European traveler who crossed the Atlantic, Mohammed Ali ben Said fought in the Civil War from 1863 to 1865 and earned the rank of sergeant in the Union Army. After his emancipation, Said went on to travel the world before settling in Alabama. He published his autobiography in 1873 before passing away in 1882.
While emancipation allowed former Muslim slaves to practice their religion more freely, they were not the only ones who practiced Islam in the US after the Civil War.
Alexander Russell Webb, born in 1846, was a middle class white Protestant who converted to Islam in 1887 after traveling the world in his capacity as the US Consul to the Philippines. When he returned to the US in 1893, he started a newspaper called “The Moslem World,” published a book called Islam in America and was selected to be a representative of Islam at the Chicago World Fair.
Nativism and exclusionary immigration laws took hold in the early 1900s, but Muslims lived all over the country
With the turn of the 20th century came the rise of anti-immigrant feelings among Americans. Nevertheless, Muslim American communities continued to grow. In North Dakota, for example, Syrian and Lebanese Muslim immigrants worked as farmers in the Great Plains.
As part of the New Deal, the Works Progress Administration interviewed Mike Abdullah, a Syrian native, about life in North Dakota. Abdullah and his fellow community members in North Dakota were practicing Muslims whose experiences mirrored those of many farmers who worked the land in the American heartland from the 1900s through the middle of the century.
Muslims lived and worked across the US. Historian Vivek Bald writes in Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian Americans that Muslims labored not only as farmers but also as industrial and service workers. They immersed themselves in Creole, African American and Puerto Rican neighborhoods in New Orleans, Detroit, Baltimore and New York City. The growth of these diverse communities continued despite the passing of laws that didn’t bode well for Muslims hoping to come to the US.
The Immigration Act of 1917 barred immigration from Asia, and the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 introduced numerical quotas that restricted the entry of immigrants according to their country of origin. Many countries with sizeable Muslim populations received low quotas and Muslims from Asian countries were excluded outright.
The Hart-Cellar Act of 1965 eventually eliminated national origins quotas and made it easier for Muslims — at least those who were skilled and professional workers — to migrate to the US. This landmark legislation was just part of the continuation of Muslim migration to the US — not the beginning.
Months after the “Charlie Hebdo” attacks, questions remain about Europe’s Islamic communities. How strong is the lure of groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS for Islamic youth in France or the UK? Why do so many Muslims, including those born and raised in affluent European states, feel disconnected from their societies? Georgetown’s Jocylene Cesari and University of Michigan’s Juan Cole take a nuanced look at these misunderstood communities.
For complete audio and transcript and video clips from Cesari’s talk, please go here: http://www.carnegiecouncil.org/studio/multimedia/20150414b/index.html
For Cole’s talk, please go here: http://www.carnegiecouncil.org/studio/multimedia/20150413/index.html
Photo Credit: Francisco Osorio: https://www.flickr.com/photos/francisco_osorio/4977990504; https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
“A new study entitled “Post-migrant Germany” set out to investigate attitudes on national identity in Germany. According to the results, these attitudes are ambivalent: people in Germany are open-minded, yet many in mainstream society have major reservations with respect to Muslim immigrants.” Claudia Mende reports for Qantara.de.
The right-wing protest movement Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the occident (PEGIDA) has provoked a broad discussion within German public on issues such as racism, refugees, Muslim immigrants and fatigue. Approximately 15.000 people have been joining the Monday marches, which take place every Monday in the city of Dresden, in East Germany. Other PEGIDA branches have initiated marches in cities in North-Rhine Westphalia, such as Bonn and Düsseldorf, in order to broaden the range of the movement.
The movement claims to march across Germany against the “Islamization” and “illegal” immigrants, who are said to exploit the German economy and to free ride the social welfare system of the Federal Republic.
A significant number of PEGIDA´s protestors are mainstream Germans coming from each socio-economic and political scale of society. However, some of the leading members and organizers of PEGIDA belong to the extreme right-wing movement, are active Neo-Nazis and possess criminal records.
According to a YouGov public opinion poll conducted between December 16 and December 18 2014, 49% of all Germans show understanding for the demonstrations of PEGIDA. While 30% of Germans show full understanding for the protests, 19% do partly agree with the claims of PEGIDA and 23% reject the protests. PEGIDA´s protest issues are accepted by 73% of Germans, which raise their concerns about the spread of Islam in Germany. The feeling of phobia (Angst, in German) towards refugee flows is highly recognizable when asking about the number of asylum seekers. Approximately 59% of Germans agree with the statement that Germany accepts “too many” refugees, while 30% disagree with the refugee policy of the German State accepting “clearly too many” refugees.
Representatives of the government, while condemning the protests, showed some propensity for dialogue and understanding. The former president of the German Federal parliament Wolfgang Thierse spoke in favor of dialogue with PEGIDA. “Politics needs better explanation”, he added. He continued by stating the need for politicians to explain the necessity of immigration. While one should confront Neo-Nazis, he said, he should also avoid to criminalize tens of thousands of citizens. According to Mt. Thierse, this answer is too simple as displacement, denationalization and fears (Angst) of people caused by Islamist terror require attention by politicians.
In the same line, the Christian Democratic Federal Minister of Interior, Thomas de Maizière (CDU), showed concern but also understanding for the issues of the demonstrators of PEGIDA. The speaker of the Federal government Steffen Seibert also condemned any kind of racism and hatred against religious or ethnic minorities. However, he said, one needs to consider all aspects of immigration, informing “concerned citizens”, whether Germany is able to handle everything.
A very different position is that of the chief of the left socialist party (Die Linke), Bernd Riexinger. He declared that such comments by the government lead to the 1990s, a period which marked the climax of xenophobic attacks and fire assaults against immigrants and refugees. According to Riexinger, established parties allow racism to become socially acceptable and thus help creating a political climate that encourages violent right-wing gangs.
Critical comments came also from the chief of the Green party (Grüne), Cem Özdemir, who asked all democratic parties to draw clear lines between themselves and PEGIDA. The secretary of the refugee organization Pro Asyl, Günter Burkhardt, warned not to underestimate the right-wing movement, as PEGIDA questions basic rights such as religious freedom and asylum. According to Burkhardt, the goal of the movement is to establish racism within the political discourse and diffusing resentment, by presenting them as “democratic expression of freedom”. If politicians and the public showed understanding and trivialize these protests as expressions of diffuse “Angst”, the strategy of PEGIDA would succeed. Even more strongly, the Social Democratic Federal Minister of Judiciary, Heiko Maas (SPD) described the Monday marches as a “shame for Germany”. The chair of the central council of Jews, Josef Schuster defined PEGIDA as dangerous.
In an interview, Cem Özdemir complained about the reactions of mainstream parties to the success of the right-wing in Germany. The main parties, he says, adapt to the issues that caused the relative success of the new right-wing party “Alternative for Germany” (AFD) and PEGIDA and therefore drift to the political right. Proposals initiated by the “Christian Social Party” (CSU) demanding immigrants to speak German at home would strengthen, in his opinion, the perception of PEGIDA and AFD adherents to be representatives of a “silent majority”. Parties were blamed also by the chair of the council of Muslims, Aiman Mazyek. He declared that parties as partly responsible for the Anti-Islam demonstrations. In this opinion, there is a lack of communication and dialogue between politicians and people. PEGIDA, according to Mazyek, symptomizes the fear of people towards the future: people fearing of losing their jobs are searching for scapegoats. PEGIDA leaders, he concludes, are doing nothing but exploiting the fear of people.
Why do so called second generation ‘social climbers’, identify with their ethnicity? When do these adult children of immigrants, who reached high educated
levels, identify in ethnic terms and why? How do their identifications develop over time?
Many in the Netherlands wonder why children of immigrants, especially when they are higher educated, ‘still’ identify with their ethnicity, and why some of them ‘still’ have friends with the same ethnic background. Such co-ethnic orientation is often interpreted as an expression of segregation and as unwillingness to ‘integrate’. Does his view do justice to the experiences of these individuals?
In her research, Marieke Slootman focuses on this theme of ethnic identification. Furthermore, she considers the analytical use of the terms identity and ethnicity, and explores the possibilities of Mixed Methods research. She recently finished her dissertation, titled: Soulmates. Reinvention of ethnic identification among higher educated second generation Moroccan and Turkish Dutch. (English and Dutch summary can be downloaded below).
A new alliance called “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the occident” (PEGIDA), have initiated demonstrations in the city of Dresden.
According to police authorities, more than 5000 people participated at the demonstrations. These demonstrations mark a further wave of protests against Muslim immigrants and refugees after the right-wing initiative “Hooligans against Salafists” (HoGeSa), which were demonstrating in Hannover and Cologne last month.
Several days before the vote for the UMP presidency, Nicolas Sarkozy mentioned “one of his favorite themes,” that is, “integration the French way.” According to Sarkozy, it is the “biggest failure in thirty years.” He quickly elaborated on this statement, saying, “It is not a question of our fellow Muslims, most of whom bring honor to France.” He added, “The question, is not only to ask what the Republic can do for Islam, but what Islam can do for France.”
The next day, after being questioned by activists about his views on diversity, he discussed Rachida Dati’s appointment as Minister of Justice. “I said to myself that Rachida Dati, with an Algerian father and Moroccan mother, to talk about penal policy, that made sense,” he added.
While several were quick to question his decision, many believe it he chose Dati because of the large North African population in prison. Sarkozy’s entourage defended his decision and said that Dati’s appointment sent an important signal to immigrants.
“When you always speak of origins and skin color in a certain way, you divide citizens into different categories, and it’s not my vision of things,” says Francois Bayrou concerning Sarkozy’s statement.
32% of the French population is Muslim, and the country is composed for 28% immigrants. These are the estimations of the French based on a public opinion survey published in The Guardian. The actual figures show that France is made up of about 10% immigrants and 8% Muslims. Sociologist Nacira Guenif-Souilamas discusses the reasons for these disproportionate results.
“This distorted view takes place within the context of evident misinformation. It allows for a racist ideology to develop and to transform into a self-fulfilling prophecy, that’s to say that one has created problems where there weren’t any. The Muslim becomes an ideal culprit, that which is inexorably linked… to crime, to the monopoly of social benefits, to the failure to comply with republican values or to the equality of men and women.”
Guenif-Souilamas also points to the very real consequences of these collective representations of French Muslims. She argues that a young woman who has a Muslim-sounding last name would have less of a chance of getting a job than another candidate whose last name sounds more Christian. “When we see that veiled mothers are prohibited from accompanying their children on school field trips because they could potentially be guilty of proselytizing, we can say that Islamophobia has invaded all strata of our society,” she says.
However according to demographer Michele Tribalat, the overestimation does not only concern Muslims or immigrants. She argues, “Public opinion has an extremely limited culture and statistical understanding…It is wrong about almost everything and not only about the proportion of Muslims or immigrants.”
“Actions or substantive arguments that enter into conflict with our convictions would not be important if our opinion came from knowledge and was not founded on social proof, that’s to say, on the beliefs of many,” said Tribalat.
However, she adds that “As the Islamic State triumphs in Syria and Iraq it is hard to deny the reality of worries that relate to Islam. The exaggeration of the Muslim presence in public opinion is at the center of these worries.”