Magazine article The American Prospect

Breach of Faith: Muslims and Christian Conservatives Are Both Deeply Religious. but since Last November, That's the Only Thing They Have in Common

Magazine article The American Prospect

Breach of Faith: Muslims and Christian Conservatives Are Both Deeply Religious. but since Last November, That's the Only Thing They Have in Common

Article excerpt

AT THE MUSLIM AL-NOOR SCHOOL in Brooklyn, New York, all girls wear the hijab. Heads covered with white cloth scarves fill the classrooms, and long blue or green robes hide any Western-style clothing worn underneath. A few are shrouded beyond what's mandatory, wearing chador-style coverings that expose only the eyes, but the robes and headscarves do little to suppress the very New York accents that bubble through the halls as the girls giggle and talk about school and sports and friends.

Before the election, 20 journalists were invited to Al-Noor to hear students and administrators reflect on living as practicing Muslims in America. The principal, Nidal Abuasi, told the group that the school's teen-pregnancy rate is between 1 percent and 2 percent--all among girls who marry before they graduate. Otherwise it is zero.

A few years ago, such a conservative religious institution would not have interested Democrats. Much has changed. In 2000, 31 percent of America's 6 million Muslims voted for Al Gore; in 2004, more than three-quarters voted for John Kerry. What has shifted is not the community but the way its members perceive their interests: Before September 11, natural conservatism pulled them toward the Republicans; after the attacks and the Bush administration responses, domestically and abroad, American Muslims saw themselves oppressed by the very conservatism that had once appealed to them.

"There was a lot of talk in this election about values," says Ingrid Mattson, director of the Islamic Chaplaincy Program at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut and vice president of the Islamic Society of North America. Pointing out that American Muslims are generally thought to be conservative on abortion and gay rights, she says this time around these voters were asking themselves, "Is it better to be in an alliance that, say, includes activists for gay rights, or to be [in] an alliance with, say, Christians who support putting more religion in the classroom or faith-based initiatives? ... [A] few years ago, they thought [the latter] was a natural alliance, that those talking about religion embraced pluralism of religions in America. But I think a lot of people realize now that is not necessarily the case, so there has been a shift."

In late October, Georgetown University's Project MAPS (Muslims in the American Public Square) published a Zogby poll that showed Muslims making dramatic shifts away from the Republican Party. "On morality and religion and family and marriage, [Muslim] opinion is very much conservative," says Zahid Bukhari, the project's director. "However, on universal health care, welfare, [helping] the inner city ... they are very Democratic. So the community is difficult to pigeonhole." And this time around, Bukhari says, yet another set of values trumped all. "[T]he overarching concern for Muslims," he says, "[was] domestic: civil liberties, harassment, the banning of Muslim organizations, and fear."

Fear was evident in the classrooms and at a school assembly, when the girls of Al-Noor School talked about being called "terrorists" after the September 11 attacks. Some revealed that they had transferred to this school to find a haven from schoolyards where a headscarf or a Muslim name was grounds for taunting or physical violence. Adding to the community's anxiety were the PATRIOT Act and Special Registration (required of aliens from 25 countries, 24 of which are predominantly Muslim or Arab), not to mention news from Guantanamo Bay, the war in Iraq, and the human-rights abuses at Abu Ghraib. …

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