Islam in America: The Manifest Destiny of American Muslims

By Khan, Muqtedar | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 31, 2000 | Go to article overview
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Islam in America: The Manifest Destiny of American Muslims

Khan, Muqtedar, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

ISLAM IN AMERICA: The Manifest Destiny of American Muslims

By Muqtedar Khan, Ph.D.

Dr. Muqtedar Khan is assistant professor of political science at Adrian College in Michigan. A member of the boards of the Association of Muslim Social Scientists and the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, his articles are archived at .

In the last three decades the American Muslim community has developed at an astonishing pace. Through conversions and migration it is now estimated to be over 8 million strong, making it the second largest religious community in the U.S. It also has grown in diversity. For a long time Arabs, South Asians and African Americans were the dominant groups in the community. Now, however, Hispanic and Caucasian Muslims combine with the children of immigrant Muslims to enhance both the diversity and the "Americaness" of American Muslims.

During these years of numerical growth, the overriding goal of American Muslims was to defend their Islamic identity. America's transition from a melting pot to a multicultural society was itself a product, as well as a facilitator, of this resistance to assimilation. As the Muslim community became more organized and confident it took up the struggle to gain recognition in mainstream America and to fight the irrational but widespread fear of Islam and Muslims. To a large extent Muslims have succeeded in challenging prejudiced perceptions of Islam. With significant help from a growing body of American scholars of Islam, like John Esposito of Georgetown University, they have managed to educate American media and governmental institutions about Islam and Muslims. New Muslim organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the American Muslim Council (AMC) have successfully joined battle against prejudice and discrimination.

Most Americans now see Muslims not as terrorists threatening peace or democracy, but as fellow God-fearing Americans, struggling to balance the challenges of modern/post-modern life with the imperatives of faith. Muslims now are doctors, computer scientists, basketball players, professors and the next-door neighbor whose mom covers her hair like a Catholic nun. The growing number of white and black Muslims also helps convince Americans that Islam is now an American faith.

Islam must learn to adapt as well as survive in the challenging environment of the West.

Life in America presented two distinct challenges to Muslims: the struggle to overcome prejudice against and fear of Islam, and the challenge of modernity and the stress it put on the traditional understanding and interpretation of Islamic values. Building a Muslim community in America, therefore, had to take place on two levels--dealing with challenges from outside and from within. While Americans feared Islam, Muslims feared modernity and democracy.

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