Magazine article Insight on the News

Islamerika: The U.S. Muslim Community Remains Tied to the Religious Resurgence of Islam Abroad

Magazine article Insight on the News

Islamerika: The U.S. Muslim Community Remains Tied to the Religious Resurgence of Islam Abroad

Article excerpt

Muslims in the United States are among the world's most educated, and as a political community in the West, they are one of the best organized. The largely immigrant community, whose U.S. population estimates range from fewer than 3 million to more than 7 million, has multiplied dramatically in number since 1970.

"Within the Muslim community, there is tremendous diversity," says Sayyid M. Syeed, secretary-general of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which recently drew 40,000 participants to its 38th annual convention in Chicago. While there is a majority Sunni branch of Islam and a minority Shiite branch, all the world's 1 billion believers basically hold the life of the prophet Muhammad and the Koran, the Muslim holy book, as their guides. Differences among the various factions often have cultural and political origins.

After the 1965 immigration act reopened U.S. borders to the Middle East, Africa and Asia, Muslims began to have a presence in the country. During the next two decades, Islam's best educated -- doctors, lawyers and students -- came to America, while working-class Muslims chose Europe. Nearly eight in 10 U.S. Muslims were born abroad and no imams (or prayer leaders at mosques) are American-born, according to an American Muslim Council (AMC) survey in 2000.

Many Muslim immigrants fled governments in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and elsewhere that had cracked down on radicals who wanted to make the Koran the final word on law. "The number of radicals who migrated to the United States is substantially larger than the moderates," says Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum and critic of the Islamist movement.

The leadership of U.S. Islam remains tied to both religious and political causes abroad. The AMC, a political lobby in Washington, and the ISNA have defended with lawsuits the wearing of conservative head scarves by Muslim women, for example, which in Turkey and France has been outlawed because it is seen as advocating an Islamic political agenda. Imam Muzammil H. Siddiqi, who as ISNA president prayed at the Washington National Cathedral with President George W. Bush, last year protested outside the White House over the renewed conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Siddiqi urges religious tolerance in America but notes that Muslims are routinely discriminated against abroad. "What causes genocide in Chechnya, daily violence in occupied Palestine, constant clashes in Indiaoccupied Kashmir and troubles in Indonesia?" he asked in the current edition of the ISNA magazine, suggesting the persecution of Muslims.

Scholars of Islam such as Khalid Duran, who has been criticized by U.S. Muslim leaders, say Siddiqi's political emphasis is not surprising because he was reared in Pakistan's religious party. …

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