This item by Geneive Abdo accurately notes the proverbial “circling of the wagons” that has taken place in Muslim communities in America since September 11, 2001, and the consequent revival of interest in Islamic traditions; it is unsurprising, but nonetheless helpful to have documented again the fact that Muslims favor their identity as Muslims over an identity as Americans.
But through the revival of their faith and close examination of their scriptures and tradition, what will Muslims find, other than a sense of belonging? Will they find that their faith has been “hijacked” and “misinterpreted” by the 9/11 hijackers and their ilk, or rather, followed literally? And for many, what will they decide as a consequence, when they already feel more Muslim than American?
From the Washington Post:
If only the Muslims in Europe — with their hearts focused on the Islamic world and their carry-on liquids poised for destruction in the West — could behave like the well-educated, secular and Americanizing Muslims in the United States, no one would
have to worry.
So runs the comforting media narrative that has developed around the approximately 6 million Muslims in the United States, who are often portrayed as well-assimilated and willing to leave their religion and culture behind in pursuit of American values and lifestyle. But over the past two years, I have traveled the country,
visiting mosques, interviewing Muslim leaders and speaking to Muslim youths in universities and Islamic centers from New York to Michigan to California — and I have encountered a different truth. I found few signs of London-style radicalism among Muslims in the United States. At the same time, the real story of American Muslims is
one of accelerating alienation from the mainstream of U.S. life, with Muslims in this country choosing their Islamic identity over their American one.
A new generation of American Muslims — living in the shadow of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — is becoming more religious. They are more likely to take comfort in their own communities, and less likely to embrace the nation’s fabled melting pot of shared values and common culture.
Part of this is linked to the resurgence of Islam over the past several decades, a growth as visible in Western Europe and the United States as it is in Egypt and Morocco. But the Sept. 11 attacks also had the dual effect of making American Muslims feel isolated in their adopted country, while pushing them to rediscover their faith.
From schools to language to religion, American Muslims are becoming a people apart. Young, first-generation American Muslim women — whose parents were born in Egypt, Pakistan and other Islamic countries — are wearing head scarves even if their mothers had left them behind; increasing numbers of young Muslims are attending Islamic
schools and lectures; Muslim student associations in high schools and at colleges are proliferating; and the role of the mosque has evolved from strictly a place of worship to a center for socializing and for learning Arabic and Urdu as well as the Koran.
The men and women I spoke to — all mosque-goers, most born in the United States to immigrants — include students, activists, imams and everyday working Muslims. Almost without exception, they recall feeling under siege after Sept. 11, with FBI
agents raiding their mosques and homes, neighbors eyeing them suspiciously and television programs portraying Muslims as the new enemies of the West.
I spent several days at one of the institute’s “mobile madrassas,” this one in San Jose, and watched hundreds of young Muslim professionals sit on cushioned folding chairs and listen intently as Yusuf delivered his lecture. “Everywhere I go, I see
Muslims,” he told them. “Go to the gas station and the airport. Muslims are present in the United States, and that was not true 20 years ago. There are more Muslims living outside the Dar al-Islam [Islamic countries, or literally the House of Islam] than ever. So we have to be strategic in our thinking, because people who are our enemies are strategic in their thinking.”
No mention is made of Dar al-Harb — the “House of War” — the traditional counterpart to Dar al-Islam, or Dar al-Dawa — the “House of Invitation,” an alternate designation for places where Islam has recently been introduced, and proselytizing is underway.
The “enemies” Yusuf referred to that day were not non-Muslims, but rather those who use Islam as a rationale for violence. For the students at this madrassa and for many Muslims I interviewed, their strategy focuses on public displays of their faith.
Hamza Yusuf is not, however, the bold reformer he’s cracked up to be; for example, in the aftermath of 9/11, he said:
“This country is facing a terrible fate” for occupying Muslim lands, Yusuf warned. “The reason for that is that this country stands condemned like Europe stood condemned because of what it did.
“And lest people forget that Europe suffered two world wars after conquering the Muslim lands, Europe’s countries were devastated, they were completely destroyed,” he added. “Their young people were killed.”
The article continues:
Being ambassadors of Islam is daring behavior when you consider that American Muslims live in a country where so many people are ignorant of — if not hostile to — their faith. In a Gallup poll this year, when U.S. respondents were asked what they admire about the Muslim world, the most common response was “nothing” (33
percent); the second most common was “I don’t know” (22 percent).
Despite contemporary public opinion — or perhaps because of it — Muslim Americans consider Islam their defining characteristic, beyond any national identity. In this way, their experience in the United States resembles that of their co-religionists in Europe, where mosques are also growing, Islamic schools are being built, and practicing the faith is the center of life, particularly for the young generation. In Europe and the United States, young Muslims are unifying around popular imams they believe understand the challenges they face in Western societies; these leaders include Yusuf in the United States and Amer Khaled, an Egyptian-born imam who lives in Britain. Thousands of young Muslims attend their lectures.
Again, the outlook is not quite so rosy. Amr Khaled’s writings can be found on his website, including his “Message to the World regarding the Danish Cartoons,” in which he says, among other things:
Thus, my message to the Muslim ummah is that we should not forsake dignifying the Prophet (SAWS) under any circumstance. On the other hand, my message to the West is that the value of freedom of speech should be adapted to Muslim values.
In my years of interviews, I found few indications of homegrown militancy among American Muslims. Indeed, thus far, they have proved they can compete economically with other Americans. Although the unemployment rate for Muslims in Britain is far higher than for most other groups, the average annual income of a Muslim household surpasses that of average American households. Yet, outside the workplace, Muslims retreat into the comfort zone of their mosques and Islamic schools.
And in conclusion, blame America:
It is too soon to say where the growing alienation of American Muslims will lead, but it seems clear that the factors contributing to it will endure. U.S. foreign policy persists in dividing Muslim and Western societies, making it harder still for Americans to realize that there is a difference between their Muslim neighbor and the plotter in London or the kidnapper in Baghdad.