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Wednesday, January 24, 2007
American Islam - A dialogue
Reza and Dan have made some good points. American form of governance has moved away from (in fact, it really wasn't) from Secular to a pluralistic democracy. Where accepting and respecting the uniqueness of each life style is norm. I particularly like one statement below, that Muslims see the American Value system - that of liberty, justice and treatment of individuals on par resonates with the values of Islam.
Even the idea of interest on loans is more in tune for many a Muslims (not all). Islam considers that one of the ills of a society is charging interest on monies borrowed. In American system we have usury laws to protect the borrower from getting cleaned out, like wise the interest that was forbidden was essentially the excessive usury form of interest. Very few Muslims are reluctant to borrow money on interest, but most do, even if Reza's stats are approximates, then 6 Million Muslims or at least 2 Million households translate into 1.2 Million Homes. Of that at least 1.0 Million homes are on loans with interest. All of this is pure guess though. But the number of Muslims I have known fall in that percentages.
The Muslim assimilation is far greater in the United States, Canada and India than any other country in the World. The freedom of this beautiful country is contagious. Muslims in America do not hesitate in questioning the traditions, they are not afraid to question anything they read.
Reza and Dan are right - An American Islam is on the horizon and will fully emancipate with the generation that is born and raised here. Culturally they are fully American and may have nominal association to their heritage. The sense of justice and equality that is imbued into Muslims is really fruitioning here. Muslims will be the first line of defense against any terrorism. No one wants to ruin a good life or let any one mess with it.
We have to work on an inclusive society. We at the World Muslim Congress are driven by the Qur'an, Al-Hujurat, Surah 49:13: O mankind! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. The noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Allah is Knows, Aware. Our mission is to work for a World of co-existence through inclusiveness and participation. As a member of diverse family of faiths, our efforts will be directed toward justice and equity to attain sustainable peace for the humankind with a firm grounding in truth.
Indeed we aspire to promote goodwill amongst people of different affiliations, regardless of their faith, gender, race, nationality, culture or any other uniqueness blessed by the creator.
Islam does not claim monopoly to heavens, although we hear otherwise by some fanatics. Qur'aan, Sura An-Nisa 4:40 "Rest assured that God does not wrong anyone even by as much as an atom's weight. If someone does a good deed, He increases it many fold and will bestow out of His grace a mighty reward."
In a message dated 1/24/2007 9:50:31 P.M. Central Standard Time, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
Don't know if you had seen this .. . interesting for sure.
a different reference point by an American Muslim.
American IslamWhy Americans fear Muslims.By Reza Aslan and Daniel BenjaminUpdated Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2007, at 2:05 PM ET
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------From: Daniel BenjaminTo: Reza AslanSubject: Will Islamic Radicalism Gain a Foothold in America?Posted Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2007, at 10:35 AM ET
One of the striking things about mainstream journalism in post-9/11 America has been the scant attention paid to the nation's Muslim community. There were, of course, plenty of stories on the many immigrants taken into detention after the terrorist attacks and on the questioning of large numbers of Muslims by law enforcement officials. But compared with the enormous amount of copy that newspapers devoted to the pederast priest scandals, the coverage of American Muslims has been seriously inadequate. Given the size and importance of the community—it's no understatement to say that it is the first line of defense against jihadist attack—the lack of reporting has been a dramatic failing of the American media.
There were a few exceptions, and one was a series of Page One stories that Paul M. Barrett wrote for the Wall Street Journal in 2003. Those articles provided the basis for American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion, a book that fills a real need and does so remarkably well. (Full disclosure: Paul Barrett is an old friend and former colleague.) American Islam does not give us the entire picture of what is going on among believers of the nation's fastest-growing religion. Nothing could. But through a group of seven profiles, it delivers a set of powerful insights about Muslim life in the United States and the tensions that are shaping the community—or, more accurately, communities, since there is a fractious diversity of Muslims in the United States.
As you might imagine, American Islam is a study of people caught in the crosscurrents. Some are trying to navigate between the roles of dexterous insider and outraged outsider. Others are trying to push their fellow Muslims to adopt changes that are at odds with hundreds of years of tradition. Others still are re-litigating ancient struggles—such as between mysticism and orthodoxy—in a New World setting. Several are trying to champion a tolerant, ecumenical version of Islam against one that seems increasingly insular and xenophobic.
In that sense, the book poses the question that really is the central one not only for Muslims but all Americans: Is radicalism going to gain a real foothold here?
Barrett's carefully crafted approach is a smart one because of the paucity of sociological data on Islam in the United States. We don't even know how many Muslims there are in the country; the Census Bureau doesn't ask about religious affiliation. Estimates by Muslim groups put the number at 6 million or higher, but these are truly rough guesses; as Barrett notes, the best guess is between 3 and 6 million. The number of mosques is also a matter of dispute, as is the degree of religious observance within communities. Trying to get a sense of the relative strength of different strains of thought among American Muslims is maddeningly difficult.
So, instead of giving us unsubstantiated generalizations, Barrett looks closely at the micro-environments of his seven subjects. Among them are a colorful newspaper publisher of Lebanese Shiite origins who is a power broker in Michigan's large and politically influential Muslim community, and noted Kuwaiti-born scholar Khaled Abou el Fadl, who challenged fellow Muslims to speak out against the attacks of 9/11, becoming something of a pariah. A chapter on Siraj Wahhaj, a radical-leaning imam in Brooklyn, traces the complicated story of African-American Islam, whose adherents compose a fifth of the country's Muslim population but who have tense relations with Muslims of foreign ancestry, as well as attachments to figures such as Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan that are shared by no other Muslims.
In telling these stories, Barrett exercises great restraint, avoiding the temptation to generalize on the basis of individual experiences. The book—which I thought was a great read—does not overinterpret, letting the reader instead, for example, hear the unadorned story of Abdul Kabir Krambo, an American-born hippie-turned-Sufi whose faith gave him an anchor in life but not quite enough equanimity to deal with the foreign-born Muslims (he was " 'the token white guy' " on the board of his mosque) who don't always approve of his native ways. Krambo's mosque was destroyed by arson in 1994. The mystery of whether the attack was carried out by non-Muslim Americans or anti-Sufi Muslims provides a perfect example of the complex tensions that plague Barrett's characters.
Among scholars of terrorism these days, the accepted wisdom is that a major reason no second catastrophic attack on the United States has occurred is that the foot soldiers of jihad are not here—at least not in great numbers. Many Muslims in this country may be angry about U.S. foreign policy, but they are not alienated from American society or values. They are also more educated than the national norm, earn more than the norm, and are not ghettoized, as the Muslims of Europe are. ("American Muslims have bought into the American dream," my friend Marc Sageman, the author of Understanding Terror Networks, likes to say. "What is the European dream?")
But will it stay that way? One of the most moving chapters hints that it will. "The Activist" describes the trajectory of Mustafa Saied, an Indian-born Muslim who gravitates to the Muslim Brotherhood while in college and spends his time at rallies where the chant was "Idhbaahal Yahood" ("Slaughter the Jews"). He later renounces his extremism after intense conversation with other Muslims, one of whom persuades him that " 'the basic foundations of American values are very Islamic—freedom of religion, freedom of speech, toleration.' "
However, that there are some extremists afoot is clear from a chapter on Sami Omar al-Hussayen, the Saudi graduate student at the University of Idaho who was unsuccessfully prosecuted under the Patriot Act for giving material support to terrorists through his role as a Web master for a legal student group. The members of al-Hussayen's Islamic Assembly of North America are, at the very least, addicted to some deeply anti-American rhetoric, such as the writings of the "Awakening Sheikhs" of Saudi Arabia, Safar al-Hawali and Salman bin Fahd al-Awda.
I'm persuaded that America's culture of immigration has made a huge difference in shaping the attitudes of Muslims here. But other elements in the culture—rising Islamophobia, especially from the Christian right, and ham-handed law enforcement efforts, of the kind Barrett explores in his chapter on al-Hussayen—appear to be eroding some Muslims' sense of belonging. And, of course, there is our presence in Iraq, which appalls most American Muslims, including the Iraqi expats who once supported the invasion. Which way do you think the wind is blowing?
I'd also like your thoughts on one of the central themes of the book—that Islam, or at least one stream of it, is being remade by its encounter with America. This notion appears in several of Barrett's chapters, including the one on Asra Nomani, the former Journal reporter, single mother, and author of Standing Alone in Mecca, who confronted her hometown mosque in West Virginia with a determined campaign for equal treatment for women. In your superb book No god but God, you discuss the "Islamic Reformation" and mention, for example, European thinker Tariq Ramadan's contention that the synthesis of Islam and Western democratic ideals is driving the faith in that direction. Does Barrett's reportage suggest something similar is happening in the United States?
In any case, the changes that Barrett describes are encouraging. But as I think he would agree, it is impossible to say whether the stories he relates are indicative or isolated. What's your take?
From: Reza AslanTo: Daniel BenjaminSubject: Assimilation and the Creation of a Uniquely American FaithPosted Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2007, at 2:05 PM ET
As I was reading American Islam, I was reminded of an incident that occurred last November in Washington, D.C., and got a lot of play in the American Muslim community. Jerry Klein, a popular radio host at WMAL-AM 630, suggested during one of his shows that Muslims in the United States should be forced to wear "identifying markers," specifically "a crescent moon arm band, or … a crescent moon tattoo." As one would expect, his phone lines were immediately jammed with listeners. Only they were not calling to excoriate Klein, but to agree wholeheartedly with him. One caller argued that American Muslims should not only be tattooed "in the middle of their foreheads," but that they should then be "rounded up and shipped out of the country." A Maryland caller concurred. "You have to set up encampments like they did during World War II," he said, "like with the Japanese and Germans."
Of course, what the callers did not realize was that Klein was joking. To his credit, he was horrified by his listeners' reactions, and said so on air. But perhaps Klein should not have been so surprised. According to recent polls, 39 percent of Americans want Muslims living in the United States to carry "special identification," and nearly half think their civil liberties should be curtailed in the name of national security. Roughly a third of those polled are convinced that the sympathies of America's Muslim community lies with al-Qaida, while a full 60 percent say they do not know any Muslims.
As a Muslim, I am obviously disturbed by these figures. But what I find particularly remarkable about these polls is that if the person being polled actually knows a Muslim, they are less likely to have negative perceptions of Islam. (By the way, I think that Barrett's estimate of how many Muslims currently live in America is low; more realistic, I suspect, are estimates of 6 million to 10 million.) It follows, then, that the best way to educate Americans about Islam is to introduce them to living, breathing American Muslims. That is precisely what makes Barrett's book such an engaging and important read. To my mind, this intimate group portrait of American Muslims is far more revealing than any of the half-dozen or so academic tomes that have been written on the subject over the last few years.
You are right to point out that the American Muslim community has, for the most part, managed to avoid many of the problems of identity and integration that plague Muslim communities in Europe. Barrett, like many social scientists, argues that this is partly due to economic factors. After all, the majority of European Muslims come from impoverished immigrant families, while the majority of Muslims in the United States are either middle-class converts or educated immigrants. Sixty percent of Muslims in the United States own their own homes. Believe it or not, the median income for a Muslim household in America is greater than it is for a non-Muslim household.
But as I read the individual profiles in American Islam, it became clear to me that it is more than mere economic factors that have allowed Muslims to so thoroughly assimilate into American society. (Maybe it is this assimilation that explains why so many Americans think they have never met a Muslim. Perhaps they assume all Muslims look and dress like Osama Bin Laden.)
Although Barrett does not press the point, I truly believe the ease with which Muslims have assimilated into American culture has less to do with economics than it does with America's long and storied history of assimilating different cultures and ethnicities under a single shared political and cultural ideal—an ideal we can label simply as Americanism. The Muslims who settled in Europe formed insulated ethnic enclaves cut off from the rest of European society. But American Muslims have seamlessly integrated into almost every level of American society. Indeed, they represent the most powerful argument against the prevailing "Clash of Civilizations" mentality that pits Islam against the West.
Finally, as a Muslim who lives in the United States and who has spent a great deal of time among Muslims in Europe, I can tell you that, more than anything else, it is the core American belief that faith has a role to play in the public realm that has allowed American Muslims to so seamlessly reconcile their faiths, cultures, and traditions with the realities of American life. Say what you will, this is not, nor has it ever been, a "secular" country. It is, in fact, the most religiously diverse and religiously tolerant nation in the world. In no other country—and certainly no Islamic country—can Muslims pursue their faith and practice in whatever way they see fit than in the United States. It is, in short, America itself that has made American Muslims so much more resistant to the pull of jihadism than their European counterparts.
This brings me to your excellent question regarding one of the central themes of Barrett's book. Is the Muslim encounter with the United States creating a new, American brand of Islam, much the way this country gave rise to new forms of Judaism and Catholicism? The short answer is yes. Just look at the Zaytuna Institute in Hayward, Calif., established by Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, an American convert and one of the world's most respected authorities on Islamic law. Tired of Muslims in the United States being forced to import their imams from countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia—countries whose values and traditions are far removed from ours