Muslims in America or American Muslims?
JOHN L. ESPOSITO
Islam is the fastest growing religion in America and in Europe. There are, for example, more Muslims in America than in Kuwait, Qatar, and Libya. It has been common to speak of Islam and the West, but today any consideration of that topic must include Islam in the West. Islam is the second largest religion in France, the third in Britain, Germany, and North America. Even if Muslim immigration and the rate of conversion were not to grow, birth rate alone ensures that in the first part of the twenty-first century, Islam will replace Judaism as the second largest religion in the United States.
Integral to the experience of Muslims, like all religious or ethnic minorities in America, is how to deal with the question of integration or assimilation. The majority of Americans have yet to realize that Muslims are “us,” but many Muslims have not solved the problem of the relationship of their faith to national identity either: will they remain Muslims in America or become American Muslims? The identity of the community, or more specifically, the need to form a new identity in America, raises many questions. Can Muslims become part and parcel of a pluralistic American society without sacrificing or losing their identity? Can Muslims be Muslims in a non-Muslim state that is not governed by Islamic law? Is the American legal system capable of allowing for particular Muslim religious and cultural differences within the Constitution's broader universal claims? Do the secular and/or Judeo-Christian values of American society make this impossible? Is there a contradiction between demanding equal rights and access and insisting on maintaining a distinctively separate identity?