Most Muslim Americans would tell you that there has been a rise in Islamophobia, which is the irrational fear or hatred of Islam. There have been numerous recent events that illustrate this trend, such as the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy, Qur’an burning, and the bombing of a Jacksonville Mosque. These events and other have come to collectively illustrate that there are people and groups in America that would like nothing more than to denigrate Islam and ostracize Muslims. This growth in Islamophobia has led some Muslims to feel alienated from mainstream society as a nascent awareness of their “otherness” has begun to take root. However, before Muslims begin to accept an inferior status in society, it is important to put Islam in America in context. I believe that by looking at Islam in America, one can see that Islamophobia does not really matter and is only a temporary setback for Muslims in America.
Islam in America is being practiced in a wide variety of ways by the estimated seven to ten million Muslim Americans. This group is comprised of both an indigenous and immigrant communities. The indigenous Muslim community is primarily composed of African-American converts who were first introduced to Islam through the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam in 1950s and 60s. That community eventually divided into two segments—one that continued to follow the Nation of Islam and another that moved towards mainstream Sunni Islam. In addition to the indigenous Muslim community, a large group of immigrant Muslims came to America after the passage of 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. This immigrant Muslim community was largely composed of well-educated professionals who were able to stake out their claims on the American Dream. Currently, Islam is the fastest growing religion in America and the community as a whole is a motley crew of first, second, and third generation immigrants and indigenous Muslims.
With the diversity of Islam in America, it is difficult to gauge the full spectrum of beliefs of the community. However, the most comprehensive research to date of Muslims in America was done in 2007 by the Pew Research Center. The key findings of that report was that Muslim Americans were largely middle-class, assimilated, and hold mainstream political opinions. In addition, nearly two-to-one (63%-32%) do not see a conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society. Overall what this research proved was that Muslim Americans did not have a problem reconciling their faith with their country and that Muslims are very much a part of the mainstream fabric of American society.
So if Muslims are mainstream members of our society, why has there been such a rise in hate-crimes and anti-Islamic rhetoric on the airwaves? Many people have addressed this issue and the general consensus is that Muslims are being targeted because it is politically convenient to demonize Islam and conflate it with terrorism because of the 9/11 attacks. However, Muslims in America are going through a hazing process that many other religious groups in America—ranging from the Catholics to the Jews—have already gone through only to emerge as stronger community because of it. I believe that this too will happen for Muslims in America.
The future for Muslims in America is bright. The bigots will not prevail and this recent spate of Islamophobia has provided room for a much-needed dialogue in our country. With an expanded dialogue, Americans will be exposed to what Islam in America is really all about. The sensationalist hatemongers will inevitably fall out of favor and Muslims will one-day find their place at the American table.