American Muslims, in All Their Complexity

By Barrett, Paul M. | Tikkun, March/April 2007 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

American Muslims, in All Their Complexity

Barrett, Paul M., Tikkun


Adapted from American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion, by Paul M. Barrett. Published on Jan. 2, 2007, byFa?rar, Straus and ' Giroux. Copyright © 2007

A VISITOR TO THE HOME OF MUSTAFA AND Sadaf Saied is promptly recruited by young daughters Zaineb, Sameeha, and Mariam, to read a colorful Disney book about the Little Mermaid. The children, who attend public school in their hometown of Orlando, FIa., wear jazzy American clothes. Sadaf, the girls' mother, is in the kitchen preparing an aromatic feast of broiled salmon and chicken curry. She wears the Islamic hijab, or female head covering, and a concealing ankle-length turquoise wrap. Her husband, Mustafa, holds forth in the living room on how his knowledge of sports helps break the ice with customers of the family engineering business. He's dressed in denim jeans and a University of Tennessee football jersey.

Mustafa and Sadaf, who are in their early thirties, seem at ease as Americans, without having cut themselves off from their Muslim faith. He came to the United States from India in 1990 to attend college and then decided to stay. She is the American-born child of Pakistani immigrants. The couple has decorated their living room wall with a large, framed rendition of Quranic verse in ornate Arabic calligraphy. Sadaf prays five times a day; her husband, less often. He takes the children trick-or-treating on Halloween, and they join school friends in celebrating Christmas. On Sundays, the girls attend Islamic religious classes, but Mustafa has declared that the minute he hears anything about "infidels," he will keep them home. "I will stop it, cold turkey," he says. "I just want them to have a normal American life."

What, for Muslims, is a normal American life? That's a question many Muslims in this country are seeking to answer. Given the times, it's something that all thoughtful Americans ought to ponder. I had the question in mind when I set out after the attacks of September 11, 2001, to learn about Muslim life in the U.S. My interviews took me from university campuses to maximum-security prisons, from elite corporate offices in midtown Manhattan to the fruit groves of northern California. The stories I gathered are contained in my new book, American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion.

One of my central findings is that even after 9/11, assimilation remains a major theme in the lives of most American Muslims. Surveys show that as a group, they are more prosperous and better educated than other Americans. Increasingly, they are involved in local and national politics. Given a chance to explain why they have come here, immigrant Muslims typically stress economic and educational opportunity. In many ways, Muslims are a case study of American society's ability to integrate immigrants.

But there are sub-themes to the tale that are less reassuring.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

American Muslims, in All Their Complexity


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?