The Dynamics of Islamic Identity in North America

The Dynamics of Islamic Identity in North America

by Yvonne Yazbeck-Haddad and John L. Esposito

Introduction

The immigration of Muslims to Europe and North America during this century has ushered in a new era in the relationship between Islam and the West, conditioned in part by the Muslim experience of “the West” in the form of European colonialism until mid-century and “American neo-colonialism” since the 1950s. As a result the dynamic between the two is seen by Muslims as being that between conqueror and conquered, powerful and powerless, dominant and weak. This has also influenced the ways in which Muslims have formed questions of identity as they strive to negotiate a secure place for themselves and their children in Western societies.

This paper will attempt a preliminary exploration of the dynamics shaping Islamic identity in North America. It will look at the elements that formed the variety of identities prior to emigration, the immigrant experience in America, and the options immigrants find as they struggle to make their home in an environment that they as Muslims find hostile.

The American experience has provided the Muslims with a variety of encounters and challenges and presented them with a bewildering array of options as they struggle to adapt to life in the United States. At first glance their experience may be seen as similar to that of other immigrants, raising the familiar questions of what of the old identity should be salvaged, what given up, and what renegotiated or invented as the community seeks to find a niche for itself. A closer look shows that there are some profound differences. While some of what they experience can be ascribed to changing times or political considerations, increasingly many see their marginalized situation as deliberate and specific, the product of longstanding tendencies in American society to fear and distrust Islam. Thus, while Muslims may be facing the same problems earlier generations of immigrants had encountered - what language to teach their children or how to implant and perpetuate the faith of the forebears - they are also burdened with the question of whether their children and grandchildren will be accepted in the United States, and whether Islam can ever be recognized as a source of enlightenment, a positive force contributing to a multicultural, pluralistic America.



The Question of Muslim Identity

One of the most important characteristics of the Muslim community in North America is its diversity. 1 It includes immigrants who chose to move to the United States for economic, political, and religious reasons from over sixty nations of various ethnic, racial, linguistic, tribal, and national identities. 2 It also includes émigrés and refugees forced out of their homeland, who still retain allegiance to it and are reluctant to relinquish the intention of returning to it to help restore the order they left behind. 3 It also includes a large number of converts, both African American and white, who through the act of conversion have opted out of the dominant American cultural identity, 4 and a significant number of Muslims whose forebears immigrated between the 1870s and World War II and who are in varying degrees already integrated and assimilated. 5 The majority of Muslims in America today, however, are foreign born, socialized and educated overseas, and come from nation states whose identity has been fashioned by European colonialism.

Since the creation of the nation state, the question of identity has been part of nation building and has received a great deal of attention in Muslim states carved out of chunks of imploding and crumbling empires. Following the European model, these nation states focused their efforts on creating a loyal constituency out of the diverse populations that constituted the former empires with their different linguistic, tribal, ethnic, sectarian and religious allegiances. The intellectuals in these states believed that finding the proper vision, ideology, constitution, or constellation of ideas could initiate modernization and development, propelling these nation states into parity with the West. 6

These ideologies have varied, depending on prevailing circumstances, with each producing a generation committed to a different vision guaranteed to provide the salvation and modernization of their nation. The immigrants to the United States who came throughout this century, therefore, have not only reflected diverse national identities, but in many cases have also promoted allegiances to different ideologies that they believed held the key to revitalization of their home countries. At the turn of the century, the elites in various Muslim countries placed their trust in nationalist ideologies. They drew on an identity of shared history, language, and culture in order to create a shared vision and commitment to helping bring about independence from colonial hegemony. This gave way in the middle of the century to support for socialism as various regimes looked to its implementation for rapid development. Socialism transcended national identities and emphasized a specific economic and social doctrine. Beginning in the mid 1970s, the ideology that has been most attractive has been Islamism, an ideology based on the hope of restoring the transnational Islamic empire, grounded in Islamic history and law. Its vision is of a shared destiny to be initiated through representative government administered by Islamic elites committed to providing economic and social justice.

An interesting development in the mid-twentieth century is the increasing importance of the United States as a center for Muslim intellectual reflection and ferment. Having replaced Europe as the dominant power in the Third World, the United States began to attract to its universities a large number of students seeking technical and professional training. The American government, confident of the validity of the American way of life and seeking to fashion the leadership of the Third World, encouraged the education of foreign nationals in the benefits of capitalism and the evils of Marxism. Many of the graduates of American universities then decided to stay in the United States. In the process, American campuses as well as some of the mosques and Islamic centers associated with them became the locus for reflection on and experimentation with a variety of Islamic world views. In the United States, Muslim students from many nations have been able to forge links of friendship and common purpose, providing the nucleus for an international network of leaders committed to the creation of an Islamic state or an Islamic world order.

At the other end of the spectrum is a different set of American institutions that have become major centers of Muslim reflection and identity, namely the prisons of America, both state and federal facilities. They continue to be an important locus of the African-American conversion to Islam that began in the early decades of this century. While there are no statistics on the number of converts or the scope and effectiveness of conversion in the penal system, some scholars estimate that by the second decade of the twenty-first century the majority of African-American males will have converted to Islam. 7 While students from abroad living on American campuses often discover Islam and turn to the task of reshaping Islamic societies worldwide, prison alumni focus their efforts at home, helping reshape America from the bottom up. They seek the redemption of African-American society through the teaching of responsibility, family values, and accountability. In the process they are hoping to save their children from a future of violence and the drug-infested ghettos of America. 8

The earliest immigrants to found mosques before the Second World War and, for the most part, their children and grandchildren appear to have fitted comfortably into America. They tried both to fit into the new culture and to interpret it in ways that tended to emphasize the respect Islam had for Jesus and his mother Mary and to quote verses from the Qur’an emphasizing the commonalities between the two faiths. To the immigrants who have come since 1960, however, this kind of accommodation seems too high a price to pay. They are critical of their coreligionists who appear to have diluted the importance of Islamic traditions, rituals, and distinguishing characteristics, going so far as to refer to the mosque as “our church,” to the Qur’an as “our Bible,” and to the imam as “our minister.”

The more recent immigrants are neither poor nor uneducated; on the contrary, they represent the best-educated elite of the Muslim world who see themselves as helping develop America’s leadership in medicine, technology, and education. They have been influenced by a different socialization process, and while they appreciate, enjoy, and have helped create America’s technology, they want no part in what they see as its concomitant social and spiritual problems. Confident that Islam has a solution to America’s ills, they have no patience for the kind of accommodation that they see as compromising the true Islamic way. As the executive secretary of the Council of Masajid in North America put it:

In spite of the most spectacular progress in science and technology, man still finds himself in the wilderness of despair. One thing that has constantly eluded his grasp is happiness and peace of mind. Even technology, which is his creation, at times threatens to destroy him and to blot out all his works, as if he never lived on this earth .... Man finds himself in a “blind alley” and there are no exits in it. Should he abandon all hope and resign himself to perish in a nuclear-chemical-biological conflict? Islam’s answer is an emphatic NO! For a Muslim there can be no surrender to despair. 9


Muslim Identity in the American Context

Perceived by some Muslim leaders as “the mother of all issues” ( umm al-masa’il ), the question of Muslim identity and its meaning and ramifications in the context of the United States has been the focus of several national conferences sponsored by the Islamic Society of North America, as well as the topic of numerous lectures, sermons, and books by Muslims in North America (both immigrant and convert) and foreign intellectuals who choose to reflect on the subject. The quest for a relevant Muslim identity is part of the American experience, as each generation of immigrants has brought a certain sense of self which appears to undergo constant revision and redefinition in the context of the American melting (boiling?) pot. This identity is influenced by what the immigrants bring with them as well as their American experience: how America defines itself as well as American foreign policy in various Muslim countries, the place the immigrants choose to settle, how they are treated in their new environment, the diversity of the community with which they associate, their involvement in organized religion, their relations with older generations of immigrants and/or African-American Muslims, and involvement in interfaith activities. In the last decade and a half, it has also been profoundly influenced by what Muslims feel is a hostile American environment in which they are being held accountable for the activities of others overseas.

America, although a nation of immigrants, is nonetheless not particularly fond of them, no matter where they come from or what they believe in. It expects its social institutions, whether the workplace, the armed services, the schools, the churches, or the courts, to assimilate these strangers and forge them into Americans. Overall, those of European heritage have had a better chance of assimilation than people of Asian origin, who were entirely excluded from the mix until the repeal of the Asian Exclusion Act. 10 There is in any case a general American tendency to view the survival of immigrant foreign culture as a relic of the past that must inevitably give way to assimilation and modernization as defined by the Protestant ethos that is claimed to be the foundation of America.

Efforts in the nineteenth century to create an America which was Protestant by choice rather than by mandate made life particularly difficult for atheists, Jews, and Catholics. By the middle of the twentieth century, the United States found it convenient to reinvent itself as a triple melting pot, a mix of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews with no apparent place for other religions. In recent years, Americans increasingly have begun to use the term “Judeo-Christian” to define themselves, a “politically correct” term that for some appears to draw an obvious and tight line of religious acceptance around two major religions, regarding others as transient, permanently marginalized, or destined to disappear into the larger groups.

What is defined as the Judeo-Christian tradition can appear to those of other faiths as an exclusive club, the monopoly of two groups that regard others as outside the polity or subsume them only when they conform to the policies and desires of the dominant groups. It is part of America’s heritage as a country founded on the pious hope for a righteous society to see itself as being against those who it believes do not share that vision. Thus, throughout the history of America different groups have played the role of outsider, non-participant, even enemy, in response to which Americans can reaffirm their identity as a nation standing for the right and the good. Currently, Muslims appear to be the victims of the apparent need to create such an enemy, one that can be defined as the antithesis of the national character and a threat to the righteous order.

This reality plays an important role in the shaping of American Muslim identity. The identity of the community and the awareness that it constitutes a powerless minority are enhanced in the American milieu. Muslims believe that the professed separation of religion and state is violated every time a leader affirms that America is a Judeo-Christian country. They ask why it is acceptable for an American president to call for the implementation of Christian values while denouncing all efforts to build a moral and just Islamic society. And they wonder why America seems to support the concept of a “Jewish state” in Israel while Muslims are urged to be civilized and renounce their “extremist” hope for an “Islamic state.” Furthermore, Muslims are keenly aware that American social life is organized to a great degree around churches and other religious organizations. They watch the parade of religious programs on television which call for commitment to Christian values and wonder why Americans affirm the necessity of pluralism, of secularism, and of national identity only when they address Muslims.

At the same time the American principle of the separation of church and state is welcomed, since it provides for toleration of a variety of religious institutions and identities. Muslims as a minority find that the guarantee of freedom of religion provides opportunities for new experiments and developments in ideas, institution building, and propagation, unequaled in the countries from which they came. By the same token, those committed to an Islamist perception of reality, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and their sympathizers, adhere to the belief that it is God’s intent that government should be regulated by the religious decrees of the Qur’an, that there should be no separation between religion and state, and that the only government sanctioned by God for such a task is one devoted to Islam. 11

Also influential in defining Islamic identity in North America have been the vicissitudes of American foreign policy towards Arab and Islamic countries during the last forty years, policies that continue to trouble and alienate the majority of Muslim citizens. The dramatic acceleration of interaction between American society and the Muslim world does not appear to have had any significant positive influence on policy makers, who continue to ignore Muslim sensibilities especially in regard to such things as American support for the state of Israel, despite the latter’s documented violation of the civil, political, and human rights of its Christian and Muslim citizens; American support for India, despite its record of violently suppressing the right of Kashmir’s population to self determination; and American reluctance to support what are perceived as the just causes of people in Azerbaijan, Bosnia, and Chechnya, among others. Proclamations by the State Department of its advocacy of human rights, pluralism, and minority rights as an important foundation of American policy in the world are increasingly viewed by Muslims as hypocritical.



“Target Islam”

12 There is a growing concern among Muslims both in America and overseas regarding American tolerance for negative depictions of Islam and Muslims. 13 Anti-Muslim sentiment generally increases in the wake of what Muslims believe to be the unbalanced coverage given events overseas by the American press. Media treatment of the hostage-taking in Iran in 1979 and the TWA hijacking in Lebanon in 1985, for example, seem to have brought out deep-seated prejudices in American society. More recently, the press had a heyday with the World Trade Center bombing and some in its corps insisted that the Oklahoma City bombing showed the modus operandi of Middle Eastern terrorists even after investigation proved it to be the work of Christian Americans. 14

As a consequence of such biased coverage, Muslims have reported a series of attacks on mosques and other Islamic institutions. In addition to the vengeful acts of some isolated Americans inflamed by media reports about Islam, Muslims fear the more organized hostile activities of certain groups. Most obvious, perhaps, is the Jewish Defense League (JDL), 15 an American urban terrorist organization which, according to FBI reports, is the second most violent group in the United States. The JDL threatened several American mosques and other Islamic targets in 1985, and is suspected of having bombed the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) offices on the West Coast which killed Alex Odeh. 16 More recent hate crimes by other groups include the bombing of a mosque in Texas and the burning of mosques in Indiana and California.

The negativism toward Islamists comes from various sources. Only one group, the Christian right, is motivated by religious conviction. Others engaged in negative propaganda include officials of the American government seeking support from various sectors of American society. What seems to be an anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, anti-Islam wave sweeping across the United States accelerated beginning in 1980, encouraged by President Reagan’s confrontational style and his Manichaean world view. 17 Since then, some American leaders have increasingly described Muslims as outside the “national character” or the “shared American culture,” with the insinuation that their values are not mainstream. Questions are raised about whether their religious practices and cultural preferences are compatible with the American way of life, especially when it comes to dress, roles for women, sexuality, child rearing, use of free time and alcohol, attitudes toward gambling, education, private hygiene, occupation, and scruples about financial transactions that involve interest. Muslims protest that these attitudes not only deprive them of power and status but also deny them a voice and a presence.

Casting Islamists as the enemy of humanity, tolerance, and civilization is also a theme in the chorus repeated daily by officials of Arab governments seeking legitimacy and American support against opposition political groups in their own countries. These opposition groups are generally looking to democratize the authoritarian political regimes that rule in various Muslim states and to hold the corrupt officials accountable to the people. Often they are trying to implement a more equitable and just social and economic order that aims at ameliorating the conditions that exist in these states; they are concerned with the welfare of the people rather than the profit of the Western corporations. They believe that the kind of government they want cannot be created unless it is formed by those initiated into the Islamic consciousness and committed to implementing an Islamist world view.

Among those who see “Islamic extremism” as the enemy are members of the Israeli government and their American defenders. 18 Since the fall of the Soviet empire, Islamist literature has taken note of the intensified and sustained emphasis on the supposed threat of Islam in the speeches of Israeli leaders in their effort to portray Israel as the guardian of American and Western interests in the Middle East and to maintain the high subsidies given to it by the United States. 19 The Islamist press notes that Muslims have been depicted as a cancer that should be combated by the combined forces of the Clinton administration and Israel. 20 Also perpetuating the image of Islam as the enemy are so-called experts on foreign policy who need a threat in order to sell their expertise. Observing that the fall of the Soviet empire eliminated the enemy against which the United States could place itself, they eagerly pointed to the threat of Islam as filling that vacuum.

Americans, conditioned to respond to a world they feel is threatened by malevolent forces that they are somehow mandated to overcome, are quick to see Islam as the next challenge which must be met. For some, the opposition to Islam is subtler. Recent pieces on the editorial pages of our newspapers suggest that Americans should distinguish between good Muslims and bad Muslims, condemning the Islamists and cooperating with the moderates. The moderates are identified as people like Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie, both of whom are seen as apostates by many Muslims. While some may find this an improvement 21 over wholesale condemnation, it is nonetheless difficult for many to accept. As one Muslim put it: “It used to be that the only good Arab was a dead Arab; now it has shifted to the only good Muslim is the one who wants to assassinate his religion.”

While Muslims in America have ample reason to fear “Judeo-Christian” prejudice incited as a result of events overseas, they are also concerned about deliberate falsifications of Islam that are perpetrated by those who appear to have declared Islam to be an “enemy faith.” The community is also afraid of becoming a target of Christian missionary assaults by church groups who seek to induct Muslims into the Christian faith through conversion. The demonization of Islam is also perpetrated by Christian fundamentalists who have revised their theology to include Muslims among the villains hastening Armageddon and bringing about the imminent end of time when Jesus will come to initiate the rapture. Muslims are depicted on Christian television programs as war mongers, bent on destroying Israel. 22

While some segments of the American press have managed to create the image of the Muslim as the consummate terrorist, Muslims surveying the history and experience of the Muslim community worldwide often see themselves as the victims of circumstance as well as conspiratorial forces of hatred. They trace this victimization back to the Crusades and the Reconquista, through the age of imperialism, and see it reinforced in contemporary events such as

the brutal massacres at Sabra and Shatila Refugee Camps in Lebanon, the one-sided Gulf War in which Muslims were pitted against Muslims, the continued repression of the Palestinians in the face of Arab disunity, the indiscriminate slaughter and torture of Bosnian Muslims by Serbians, the persecution of Kashmiris and the Hindu savagery against Muslims in India, the slaughter of Rohingas in Burma, the Civil War and famine in Somalia, the demolition of the Babri Mosque in India, Soviet aggression and internal strife in post-Communist Afghanistan, turbulence in Central Asia, the Kurdish problem, and the suppression of democracy in Algeria, to name only a few.


Muslims as Minorities

A new genre of Islamist literature has developed over the second half of this century by popular authors such as Abu al-A `la al-Mawdudi 24 of Pakistan and Sayyid Qutb 25 of Egypt that has had some influence on Muslims trying to find their identity in the American context. Both addressed Muslims living in Islamic nations deemed secular, but who were committed to the vision of the Islamist future and willing to work for the realization of Islamic government. They encouraged Muslims who felt themselves to be persecuted because of their political stance not to remain living in oppressive environments but to emigrate to a more congenial place, enhance their Islamic consciousness, and organize in order to return to their homelands to overthrow un-Islamic nationalist and socialist governments. This vision tapped into the powerful imagery of the struggle of the early believers in Medina under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad.

The focus of al-Mawdudi’s attention was the community of Muslims living in India. He insisted that minorities deserve to suffer the consequences of belonging to a minority faith and that they must expect to be mistreated and marginalized. 26 In order to guarantee their security and the freedom to practice their faith, Muslims should find areas governed by Islam to live in. Although they may venture into other regions of the world as diplomats or traders, if their right to practice their faith is threatened, they should return to a Muslim country. Qutb focused on Nasserist Egypt and encouraged Islamists to separate themselves, raise their Islamic consciousness, and return to eradicate un-Islamic governments that have assumed power over the Muslims. He viewed Islam as a divine imperative cast in the world to topple all man-made institutions and governments. 27

Younger Islamists in non-Muslim societies, aware of the changing circumstances of life for a growing number of Muslims who find themselves needing to emigrate in search of a livelihood, have proposed other solutions. Moroccan Islamist Ali Kettani, for example, insists that Islam seeks the health and well being of the community, conditions that can only be guaranteed by social and political empowerment. 28 Muslims therefore must not accept minority status as a permanent condition in which they accommodate and acquiesce to those in power since that will perpetuate their weakness. They must perceive their “minorityness” 29 as a challenge to be transcended.

The experience of the Muslim immigrant community in Medina during the formative period of Islam provides a choice between two models, each based on the example of the Prophet. According to the first, the immigrant community must prepare to return from whence it came in order to cleanse the oppressive system it left behind, just as the Prophet did when he returned to Mecca. Emigration in this case becomes a matter of refuge, of empowerment, of organization, and of planning focused on the domain of Islam. According to the second, extrapolating from the hijra from Mecca to Medina, relocation and settlement are permanent and unceasing effort is required to Islamize the society in which one lives. The final goal is to create an Islamic state in the land of immigration.

The realization that immigrants in the West currently are in no condition to take over the rule of the countries in which they live, or to utilize the power of these countries in the interest of bringing about an Islamic state, led Kettani to recommend that they instead live in special enclaves. There they could establish a truly Islamic community based on the brotherhood of Islam, an organization that is not elitist, sectarian, partisan in politics, or divided into racial or professional distinctions. Such enclaves, if governed by Muslims through the principle of shura (consultation), would not be ghettos but specially created communities empowered to foster and maintain Islam. Their social, economic, political, and cultural life would be centered on the mosque and the Islamic school. These enclaves would protect the community from the dangers of assimilation and disintegration. Only through the maintenance of control over their children’s education would Muslims be able to insulate themselves from the pressure to discard their Islamic identity and integrate into society. Thus for Kettani, maintaining cultural distinctions such as language, dress, and Islamic names (he condemned the practice of adopting anglicized names) was crucial. He conceded that while it may be necessary to learn the majority language in order to communicate with the hegemonic culture, Arabic as the language of the Qur’an must be taught and Islamic dress be worn by members of the community as a sign of distinction. 30

For Muhammad Abdul-Rauf, former imam of the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C., isolating the community through fear was unnecessary for two reasons. First, he trusted the tenacity and ability of Islam to survive powerful cultural influences just as it has successfully resisted them in other places during the fourteen centuries of its existence. Second, he did not believe that the United States was about to crush the Muslims. Although “largely dominated by the Judeo-Christian tradition,” he says, “the hospitable American melting pot” 31 will make it possible for Islam “not only to survive intact in America but also to flourish in honor and dignity.” 32 In support of this Abdul Rauf quoted from the speech President Eisenhower made at the opening of the Islamic Center in Washington in June 1957: “We shall fight with all our might to defend your right to worship according to your conscience.” 33

A few American-born Muslims in the United States have looked to another incident in the life of the Prophet and the first Muslim community, namely the emigration of the Muslims from Mecca to Ethiopia in search of security, as a model for determining Muslim roles and identity in a Christian environment. As developed by a Muslim Sunday school teacher 34 based on lessons on the life of the Prophet, this model shows that the Muslim community in its formative period was saved from total annihilation by the Christians of Ethiopia who refused to deliver the Muslims to their enemies by sending them back to Mecca. Unlike the Medinan model, this Ethiopian model teaches the common brotherhood of Christianity and Islam and advocates cooperation and mutual support. It focuses on the protection that the Christian Ethiopians provided for the Muslims, on coexistence, and on dialogue. As the teacher put it to her class, “But for the protection of Islam by the Christians, there might have beenno Muslims or Islam today.” While there is no consensus on what is the ideal model to be followed in the North American context, variations of this “interactive-cooperative” model are attractive to many American-born Muslims.



Islamic Identity and the American Experience

The American experience forges as well as forces a new Muslim identity that is born out of both the quest to belong and the experience of being permanently depicted as “the other.” As one young Muslim said, “I cannot be a white Anglo Protestant, but I have to be something. Everyone has an identity. People keep asking: ‘What are you?’ ‘What do you believe?’ ‘Why does Islam oppress women?’ ‘Why do you marry four wives?’ ‘Why does your religion teach violence?’ Suddenly, you begin to realize that you do not know what a Muslim is and you begin to search for yourself.”

There is no unanimous Muslim understanding of the American challenge or of how to respond to it, what strategy to employ, or what kind of identity to foster. Questions persist as to whether as Americans, Muslims should participate in the political arena, support a particular party or candidate, vote, or run for office. Other questions that surface periodically are whether to build umbrella political organizations or organize political-action committees and negotiate coalitions with other interest groups; whether to risk participation in interfaith activities or refrain from such activity as undermining Muslim unity; whether to relinquish authority in running the mosque to a trained leadership, and whether this leadership should be American home-grown or dependent on religious leaders trained overseas who bring ideas that are not compatible with the reality of the American context.

Three of the most influential Islamic thinkers in the United States in the last two decades - the late Fazlur Rahman, the late Isma`il al-Faruqi, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr 35 - are foreign-born emigres whose ideas have influenced numerous students who have come to the United States in search of higher education from Pakistan, Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Arab world. 36 Fazlur Rahman was dedicated to redefining a modernist Islam that would make Islamic jurisprudence relevant to modern life. His ideas have had an international impact, especially in Indonesia and among a growing number of Muslims in the United States who are disenchanted with the ideas of Islamist organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jamaat-i Islaami. He promoted the concept of the commonality of the three faiths of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity and found no impediments to amicable relations among their members.

The ideas of Seyyed Hossein Nasr have had a wide international impact, especially among intellectuals in the United States who are interested in Sufism and who find in its focus on privatizing religion and emphasis on the relation with the divine a superior Islamic identity for North America. Nasr has participated in various forums of interfaith dialogue and has written and spoken extensively on what he sees as some of the impediments to mutual understanding. He has also advocated a separate track of Christian-Muslim discussions, arguing that participants in the Christian-Jewish dialogue appear to have reached a level of consensus that makes it very difficult for Muslims as newcomers to join in the conversation.

Isma`il al-Faruqi was especially interested in the leadership potential of the community in the United States and labored to organize intellectual institutions to provide committed Islamic leadership, not only for the immigrant community, but for the whole world of Islam. He is credited with organizing the American Association of Muslim Social Scientists and with establishing the International Institute of Islamic Thought as well as the American Islamic College. His ideas helped maintain the mosque movement that has flourished in North America since the 1970s, and have been adopted by a large number of Muslim immigrants who have found in them the way to a superior identity as well as a strategy for survival.

In order to combat the feeling of defeatism and weakness that may overwhelm the Muslim student and/or immigrant, Isma’il al-Faruqi recommended the appropriation of an Islamic ideology. Muslims are not in the United States as beggars, he said, but as contributors to the building of a just society. Faruqi stressed that the adoption of an Islamic ideology or vision frees one from the sense of guilt at having left the homeland and achieved some measure of success in a new place. It also liberates one from the need to be grateful to the adoptive country because success belongs to God. Meanwhile, the Muslim will help address the ills of American culture by posing the challenge of Islam. “The Islamic vision,” he said, “provides the immigrant with the deepest love, attachment, and aspiration for a North America reformed and returned to God.” When this transformation has taken place, immigrants and converts alike will find their lives taking on a new meaning and significance “whose dimensions are cosmic….” 37

From this perspective, Islam is a unique order of life established by God for humanity, where religion and politics must be intertwined to ensure justice and freedom. It provides special cohesiveness and communal support to a community going through a troubled time in which it sees itself rejected, the object of hate and fear. For many Muslims, America seems to have been hijacked by special interest groups, as a result of which it has departed from the values and the vision that previously had merited God’s blessing. Thus, it is in need not only of salvation but also of radical transformation that can restore it to its mission as a country living in obedience to God. The answer is the kind of Islamic vision articulated by Faruqi. The Muslim who opts for this vision identifies with a universal ideology of brotherhood that does not discriminate between human beings according to race, color, language, or national origin; its goal is the conversion of the world. In this way distinctiveness and separateness are experienced not as the result of rejection by the host culture, but as a divine blessing made necessary because America has deviated from a moral life devoted to God.



A Time for Constructive Engagement

Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm had a profound effect on the Muslim community worldwide. 38 For North American Muslims it was particularly disturbing since it pitted their adopted country, the United States, and the large coalition of the international community it had orchestrated against one Muslim nation and in alliance with another. The majority of American Muslims were greatly disappointed that the American government did not work hard to find a negotiated solution to the conflict, opting instead to devastate the state of Iraq. But even more distressing was the division of the Muslim world into two camps with many lining up in support of the American intervention. The lack of support by immigrant American Muslims for Kuwaiti and Saudi policies led the Gulf nations to cut off aid to various Muslim organizations in North America. This action brought a suspension of many Islamic activities and proved to many Muslim Americans that Gulf support for Muslims in the United States had perhaps been motivated less by their Islamic commitment than by their national political interests.

The cutoff of aid in the 1990s led the Muslim community to reassess its mission and its goals as well as to generate resources to maintain the institutions it had so diligently established during the preceding two decades. The Gulf war also made the Muslim community fully cognizant of its lack of political power in the United States and its inability to influence American policy. Its weakness became evident when new immigration laws were passed by the American Congress restricting the immigration of people from Muslim countries and when various segments of American society launched a relentless campaign against Islam and Muslims. This drove some Muslims to seek security by further isolating themselves from the dominant society; others took refuge in further Islamization, while still others continued the quest for a negotiated place on the American scene. 39

Concern over the marginalization and demonization of Muslims in American society, as well as what was seen as the failure of the models projected by the leadership of the 1970s and 1980s, led to the formation of the North American Association of Muslim Professionals and Scholars (NAAMPS) in April 1993. At its first annual conference a variety of concerns were discussed and participants began to reassess the goals that had been followed in the previous two decades and to indulge in some self-examination.

Addressing the annual conference, Fathi Osman, the former editor of the London-based magazine Arabia , called for a clear vision “to eliminate wishful thinking and ambiguity…[for] confidence is not sufficient if it is not grounded in fact and reality.” 40 He urged his listeners to undertake a periodic reassessment of priorities in an effort to remain relevant and effective. The Islamist manifesto must not be viewed as carved in stone but should be revised every three to five years. 41 “Unless Muslims can convince the technologically advanced, materially rich and militarily superior world that Muslims and Islam have something to offer and to contribute,” said Osman, “no one will listen to us, however theoretically logical and rhetorically superb our talk may be.” 42 Osman perceived the unique role for Muslims in the United States as being to provide a practical model that could help Muslim countries overseas where “the masses are illiterate and the rulers are tyrants” and where “Islamic educational institutions are sticking to the past and use books written centuries ago. In this country we have a fresh climate. The challenge is to pioneer a new experience.” This can be achieved by beginning a constructive participation with scholars from all disciplines to find a way to solve problems. 43

There was agreement that the boundaries that separate Muslims from the larger society must be breached and that the Muslims must identify new ways for the community to relate to other Americans. Addressing the same conference, Maher Hathout of the Islamic Society of Southern California recommended that they start by learning how to listen to Americans as well as talk to them. It cannot continue to be a one-way operation in which the Muslims are explaining what they are about. There is a need to change the rhetorical apologetic and defensive message that has been adopted by Muslims until now, affirming an idealized Islam that has no relation to the condition of Muslims. By separating Islam from the Muslims, apologists have been able to project a perfect system and believe in it. The discrepancy between the projected ideal and the real conditions of Muslims is a source of embarrassment not only because Muslims fail to embody and demonstrate the efficacy of Islamic teachings, but, more important, because in so doing they cast doubt on the vision itself. Those observing reality, whether outsiders or Muslim children, can see the discrepancies. 44

Muhammad Ahmadullah Siddiqi then accused Muslim intellectuals in North America of living in the past, busily directing their efforts toward peripheral issues, unable to realize the changes taking place in American society in this era of globalism and pluralism. 45 It was their ignorance of American reality that had made them marginal on the American scene. Siddiqi suggested that they had so far adopted one of three kinds of responses. The first was isolationist, separating itself from the dominant environment. They were responsible for their marginality because of their negative attitude and lack of concern for their neighbors and the future of their children.

As a result some Muslims still believe that they have nothing to contribute to this society, and their only duty is to save themselves from the evil that prevails in this Dar ul-Harb (the land of nonbelievers). They create an island and live in that without caring about how they and their religion are perceived by the next-door neighbor, a nonbeliever. The most they worry is about their children, whom they are unable to restrict to the island. So they frighten them with the monstrous West; however, to their dismay most of these children sooner or later suffer miserably by losing an identity as a Muslim, because of them Islam is not relevant in this developed society. 46
The second response is to build institutions, mosques, and Islamic organizations as a symbol of Muslim presence in North America. Eager to make the minaret a prominent feature of the American skyline, those who follow this line sometimes do not question their sources of funding. Siddiqi criticizes them for accepting contributions from oil-rich Muslim countries. “For them it does not matter whether their donors are the legitimate representatives of the people they rule or whether they help strengthen the forces of the status quo.” 47

A third response, and the one adopted by the majority of Muslim professionals and intellectuals in this country, is not to be concerned with how Islam manifests itself in American society. They go about their business in isolation from the other two groups, in some cases dissociating themselves from them. Meanwhile, “the Muslim presence in North America is defined by what Muslims do and say in other parts of the world, with modern media emphasis on portraying conflict and chaos.” 48

The agenda Siddiqi sets for Muslim intellectuals is derived from a mix of issues facing the community that need redefinition by involved Muslim intellectuals. These include the relationship with non-Muslims, family values, public morality, Islamic education, Islamic economics, politics, science and technology. Like other Muslim scholars he starts with the need to ground all intellectual endeavors in an understanding of the Qur’an, the Sunna, and the Islamic intellectual heritage. His emphasis, however, is on contemporary interpretation. 49

For many contemporary Muslim thinkers a better understanding of the reality of America must involve participation in the political process and an awareness that using American methods of pressure and lobbying may be more effective than relying on the foreign organizations Muslims had hoped would be able to work for Islamic causes. For example, Salam al-Marayati writes how he came to realize that his small political-action group had perhaps become more powerful than the Organization of the Islamic Conference which represents the governments of about fifty Muslim nations.

We can be more powerful than the Organization of the Islamic Conference. At the Organization, when we called them to see what they were doing, they told us that they have to go to the United Nations before they can do anything about Bosnia. The Organization of the Islamic Conference is politically castrated. And it is our job to guide our community to an independent pathway. We can be more powerful than so many other Islamic groups because we live in a free society and we can organize politically and we can represent to help ourselves here and help others elsewhere. But we must invest in the political career. 50
Hathout also calls for a change in the approach to interfaith relations. He notes that the current apologetic strategy that addresses the theological divide between Christianity and Islam and attacks a variety of Christian doctrines that Muslims find offensive such as the Trinity and the infallibility of the Bible have not been helpful.

We say how stupid Christians are to believe in the Trinity. But what do we achieve by saying such a thing other than making them angry? Instead of talking about how stupid the Trinity is, why don’t we talk about how oneness of God is the light and the solution? Why do we try to make a career in proving that the Bible is nonsense? Why don’t we spend time in showing that the Qur’an is the light and solution, and delivers people from slavery to liberty? 51
Another issue of concern to the Islamic movement is commitment to human rights and democracy. “We should support oppressed people not because it is being said and used like a slogan, not because it was man-made, but because every human being has these God-given rights,” says al-Marayati. 52 Islamic groups should not be given a blanket endorsement simply because they are Islamic, but must first be given an honest assessment.

Just because somebody raises the flag of Islam, or says he is a Muslim, does not mean that we should go to their [sic] defense. If somebody does something wrong, then it is our Islamic duty to say that it is wrong. The Qur’an enjoins us to stand up for justice, even if it is against yourself, your family, or your friends. So we base the analysis of these movements on human rights and democracy….We are politically, financially, and even ideologically independent from these other groups, like the Ikhwan, or Hizbut Tahreer, or Jamaat-e-Islami, and other groups that are active. 53
Al-Marayati insists that Muslims must seek engagement with the larger society and attempt to break out of their isolation.

We can get trapped into the false choice of assimilation or isolation. We cannot say that we are Muslims so we have to be isolated from the rest of the society. What good is our message, if we cannot deliver it to the world, to the humanity, or to the public? Contrarily, we cannot assimilate and lose our Islamic identity because we want to be involved in some ethnic group, or we think that is the American thing to do. That is not the right thing to do. Yes, we can be Muslims, offer Islamic values, and be American citizens - all in one. 54
Some Muslims find the development of the ethnic mosque an objectionable and unhealthy development, part of the Americanization process which has historically divided the various immigrants into their constituent national identities on the path of assimilation. As Hathout puts it:

Most of our institutions in America, unless they change fast, will fall into major errors. Most of our centers are institutions to deal with homesickness, not headquarters for driving and guiding the Islamic movement in America. Egyptians miss Egypt, so they form a part of Egypt here in Los Angeles, where they can come together. So it is with Pakistanis, and Palestinians, and so forth. Indeed, you can walk into a center and say that this is an Indian center, a Pakistani center, or an Egyptian center. From people to food to virtually everything - you can see, you can feel it in the air - these were not built here for America after all. They are built so that I do not feel lonely. I am scared out there and I need my buddies to come together the way we used to huddle back home. 55
Hathout also objects to the development of ethnic mosques since some of their advocates defend their existence as a means of grounding their children in the faith and culture of their ancestors. He sees such efforts as counterproductive for, while the ethnic mosques may provide comfort for the immigrants, they are an alienating experience to many of their children.

[W]hile we huddle together as Pakistanis or Egyptians or Iranians or whatever else, our children are, whether we believe it or like it or hate it or not, American kids. The question should be whether they will be Muslim-American kids or just American kids. Anyone who believes that he will raise an Egyptian boy in America is wrong; the maximum we can do is to have a distorted Egyptian kid. The grandchildren will be without doubt American. 56
According to Siddiqi, the crisis of Muslim intellectuals persists because they continue to believe that they hold a key to the future, that it is their mission to create a workable ideology that can set the world straight. Right thinking - and increasingly, some think, right planning and execution - will provide the remedy for underdeveloped Muslim nations to embark on the path to achieving parity with the West. The quest for the right paradigm for initiating the revitalization of society needs to include a reconciliation between contemporary scientific advances and social and political thought, on the one hand, and the Islamic value system, on the other. 57 Muslim intellectuals in North America are in a unique situation that makes it possible for them to be pioneers in the effort to revitalize Islamic societies. They are not under the constraints that scholars in most Muslim countries are. Some believe therefore that it is their responsibility to invest their time and energy in developing an Islamic vision and specific agenda for Muslims here in North America, one that can be emulated by Muslim specialists in the rest of the world. 58

At the 1993 NAAMPS annual meeting there was a call to reassess the mission of Islam in North America. The speakers proposed that rather than seek to convert the whole nation, the Muslims should strive to illuminate it with the light of Islam. The Islamist groups in the United States had decided to center their interaction with American society on an effort to convert the American population to Islam. Osman wondered whether the time may have come to work with them rather than against them. “I would like the younger generation of Muslims to focus on ‘change’ rather than conversion. We are always obsessed by the conversion of individuals to Islam, as if one billion Muslims in the contemporary world is not enough. We want to change the lives of Muslims as well as the lives of non-Muslims for the better.” 59

Muslims should gain the confidence of other people by their positive contributions to the growth of the contemporary civilization, which is universal, and by participating in the concerns of all their fellow human beings. This surely does not mean being lost in mere imitation of others. Muslims should have their own understanding and stands, but with regard to the interests of humanity at large and restricted to their own selves, however numerous and extensively distributed all over the world they may be. There are areas of cooperation where Muslims should not hesitate to work with others without compromising on their differences. Sometimes Muslims talk about social justice in a totalitarian way which is rejected by the world. We should be careful about our words and pay attention to the limitation of our audiences. We have to consider the importance of modern thinking and not try to underestimate or ignore it because of its shortcomings. We may not agree with many contemporary ideas and thinking, but we cannot also rule out that they have also led to achievements. If our thinking is so oversimplified that it considers every modern institution as superficial and every emphasis of human right as hypocritical, then how can we be a partner in this world and how can we benefit from these international institutions and documents for our peoples and for the whole world? 60


Immigrant-Convert Relations: An African-American Complaint

The conversion of Americans to Islam, regardless of color, has encouraged the community to seek growth through the propagation of the faith. The convert is a valuable commodity, an important visible validation of Islam and its efficacy for life in America. His testimony to the faith manifests publicly Islam’s claim to universality. Converts through conviction often eschew identity with American culture and in the process condemn it as inferior to Islam. This provides a confirmation for immigrant Muslims that what they are struggling to preserve is inherently right, legitimating their efforts to protect from erosion what they understand to be Islamic cultural identity. The importance of missionary work and the appeal of conversion have led several overseas organizations to provide missionaries to help convert Americans. The conversion of whites to Islam has reaffirmed the mission of Islam to transform the world to a degree that for some has made the definition of a Muslim synonymous with da’iya (missionary).

The conversion of African-Americans to Islam has been both an inspiration and a challenge to the immigrant Muslim community. During the early part of this century, African-Americans sought to shed an identity shaped by the experience of slavery and to reconstitute the link to their roots. As this process continued, the African-American rejection of this identity has been not so much an act bearing the “earmarks of masochism,” 61 an accusation levied against other black converts, as an effort to find meaning and an authentic existence. In taking a Muslim name, the convert sheds dependence on the former master; appropriates a distinctive culture of her/his own choice, not to play with the exotic, but to adopt a legitimate identity that binds one to a culture and tradition that has made its contribution to civilization. S/he is no longer the product of the cotton fields rendered obsolete by machinery, but a servant of God with a glorious history and a noble ancestry.

At the heart of the matter is the desire to be free to choose what one believes is compatible with one’s own identity and to create one’s own culture. Some in the African-American community have become increasingly sensitive to immigrants who insist on including regional cultural preferences as an essential part of the definition of Islam and set themselves up as arbiters of Islamic norms and of what it means to be Muslim. Unlike immigrants who are drawn to Americanization and struggle to resist its seduction, African-Americans in many cases have rejected its imperialist and racist culture. Initially, African-Americans paid special attention to the cultural aspects of Islam, assuming Islamic names, donning Islamic dress, and appropriating a variety of imported Islamic cultural norms. They tended to take seriously anyone who claimed to have particular knowledge of Islam, with the result that they made changes in dress, in food, in greetings. Then they were told by others that these were local cultural definitions, not part of the essential culture of Islam. Many African-Americans grew tired of hearing various immigrant groups insist that theirs was the only Islamic way. One former imam from the American-Muslim Mission referred to the struggle for cultural identity in the African-American community by saying, “We have become cultural chameleons.”

Imam Warith Din Muhammad, the leader of the African-American Muslim community since 1975, who transformed the majority of his father’s followers in the Nation of Islam into Sunni orthodox Muslims, has been resisting absorption by the immigrant groups insofar as that means subservience to a foreign leadership or agenda. At one time he called his organization the American Muslim Mission, placed American flags in the masajid (mosques) and allowed his followers to enlist in the armed services, emphasizing its American identity. While he has decentralized the organization he heads and delegated authority to the local masajid , insisting that all Muslims are one and should worship together, he has also maintained an independent perspective on American foreign policy. For example, he supported American intervention in the Gulf, while most immigrants did not.

Black Muslim sects continue to flourish in the ghettos of urban America, attracting members to such groups as the Nation of Islam, 62 Ansaaru Allah, 63 and the Five Percenters, 64 as well as gangs such as al-Rukn 65 of Chicago fame. While Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, appears to have amicable relations with leaders of Muslim nations designated by the American government as “harboring terrorists,” immigrant Muslims have dissociated themselves from his teachings and regard him as advocating heresy. Isa Muhammad, the leader of Ansaaru Allah, flirted with Arabs and Muslims during the 1980s, hoping for aid in establishing schools and institutions. When none was forthcoming, and when his sectarian teachings were condemned as heretical, he attacked Arabs and Sunnis as racist, revised the Islamic components of his teachings, and moved his organization out of its Brooklyn headquarters. 66 A recent development, viewed with mixed feelings ranging from curiosity to apprehension by leaders of the Sunni community, is the attraction by a growing number of blacks to revolutionary Shi`ite Islam and in some cases to Sufi groups.

In the proceedings of the NAAMPS conference, Professor Aminah Beverly McCloud of DePaul University expressed concern that the immigrants not only are confident that they are the carriers of true Islam, but see themselves as the only experts who can judge its activities in the United States. She noted that, although the majority of American converts to Islam are the product of African-American rather than immigrant da`wa (missionary) activities, immigrants persist in regarding themselves as the authority on issues of conversion and do not consult with African-Americans on da`wa methods and goals. She also takes the immigrants to task for being ethnically bound and exclusively concerned with issues of injustice and suffering in the communities from which they emigrated, to the total disregard of the reality of America. Their humanitarian concerns and relief efforts appear to be directed primarily towards Muslims in other countries while they ignore the poverty and deprivation around them. 67

McCloud also faults immigrants for not living up to the ideals of Islam that they preach. Immigrants like to insist that “there is no racism in Islam or ethnicity is second place in Islam, when in fact there is no racism in Islam but there is plenty among Muslims, and ethnicity is a priority when it comes to who is really Muslim.” 68 She accuses them of innate racism, preferring the conversion of whites to Islam and totally disregarding African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Native Americans. Their tribalism manifests itself most often in social gatherings of Muslims where groups separate themselves according to ethnicity or language. “What does it take for African-American or Hispanic-American Muslims to be Muslims? They have surely sacrificed a lot in this land of negotiable freedoms in their striving for Islam. They are also not likely to become white anytime soon.” 69 McCloud accuses the immigrants of an inability to unite on issues and, by appearing to be intimidated by America, of opting to live marginal lives. Both the American system that has taken advantage of Muslim division and the Muslims themselves are held responsible for their ineffectiveness. Tribalism and division into ethnic groups have weakened the community. While they proclaim brotherhood under Islam, they have separated into ethnic and ideological units.

Another area of debate between African-American and immigrant Muslims is whether or not individuals are free to interpret the scripture. African-Americans generally come from an evangelical background where the individual’s encounter with the word of God is an individual effort that may precipitate a unique experience or interpretation. Immigrants for the most part have difficulty in accepting this and fear that individual interpretation not supported by the consensus of the community and heritage may lead to deviance and to new sectarian movements.

The diversity of the Muslim community in North America and the cultural differences it represents have raised the question of whose cultural definition is truly Islamic - Arab, Pakistani or whatever. Can the immigrants feel comfortable enough to make room for an African-American definition? Will the immigrants trust the African-American Muslim community to create an Islamic world view relevant to their life in the United States, or will they trust the Qur’an to transform the lives of new believers, in new ways without immigrant mediation of what is acceptable and allowed? In the final analysis will they trust God to be at work among the new believers bringing about the salvation of a minority long oppressed and the redemption of a people long victimized? Or will they insist that God works in the world only in the ways identified and codified by Muslim authors centuries ago?

For the Muslims in North America, the need to define themselves by religious identity and increasingly by ethnicity is in a sense a product of the Americanization process. The current culture is in flux, with strong sentiments supporting the definition of America as a Judeo-Christian nation and others advocating a pluralistic society. Initially, it may appear that the Islamist identity that has flourished among certain groups in the mosque movement since the 1970s is a foreign import of self-imposed boundaries that constrains the Muslims within a dogmatic and ideological definition. A closer look reveals that it is also in a very important way a reflection of what obtains in American society at large, enhanced and reinforced by an America increasingly paranoid about Islam and the Muslim presence.

For many immigrants and their children, Islam has become a survival mechanism. Identity is negotiated among the members of the group in response to marginalization and anti-Muslim diatribes by various sectors of American society. Commitment to an ideal Islam that confronts all cultural institutions seen as deviating from the moral imperatives revealed by God in the world as man-made and consequently deficient, if not evil, will probably continue in the foreseeable future to garner the support of some of the Muslim immigrants and the converts who are disenchanted with the American reality. The appeal of this ideology rests in its affirming the nobility of the identity of the individual in a culture that degrades it and in preserving the integrity and integration of the group that is relentlessly depicted as the “other” or as a threat to the polity. Given the experience of prejudice in the American context, Islam will for some continue to serve as a haven of refuge and for others as the efficacious instrument guaranteed by God to transform America, redirect it from its present course of evil, and in the process redeem it and utilize it for the salvation of the world.

While there is no apparent shortage of leadership potential in the community given the high ratio of highly educated professionals and intellectuals who see themselves as the vanguard of the revitalization of Islam, nor any apparent shortage of ideas of what needs to be done, two major problems are the lack of consensus on what needs to be done and the lack of expertise in forging one, owing to a lack of experience among the immigrants in participatory democracy. As Maher Hathout puts it, “We really do not know what we want to do,” a fact that leads to “contradictions in our performance.” 70

If the American system of religious pluralism is grounded in consensus rather than insistence on difference, Muslims question why there is deference to one group that can call itself distinctive with special rights because it is chosen by God. If the American system of pluralism calls for acceptance of other ways to salvation and the abandonment of proselytizing, why are the Muslims targeted by Christian groups for conversion? One strategy is to insist on exclusiveness and provide a haven for members where they not only celebrate their distinctive cultural heritage, but also arm themselves against competing views. Others seek ways of blending in; sometimes abandoning the faith, they adopt a theology of separateness. Demonization by the press reinforces their assurance of the truth of the message they have received. Their hope is that somehow America can both realize and admit its nature as a multicultural and multireligious society and that finally it can be proud of its identity as Christian, Jewish, and Muslim.



Notes

1. For studies illustrating the diversity of Muslims in North America, see Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad and Jane I. Smith, eds., Muslim Communities in North America (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994); cf. Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, The Muslims of America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).  2. Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, “Maintaining the Faith of the Fathers: Dilemmas of Religious Identity in the Christian and Muslim Arab-American Communities,” in Arab-American Communities , ed. Ernest McCarus (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994).  3. See, for example, studies on Iranians and Lebanese, Georges Sabbagh and Mehdi Bozorgmehr, “Secular Immigrants: Religiosity and Ethnicity among Iranian Muslims in Los Angeles,” Muslim Communities , ed. Haddad and Smith, pp. 445-74; Linda S. Walbridge, “The Shia Mosques and Their Congregations in Dearborn,” ibid., pp. 337-58.  4. See, for example, E. E. Essien-Udom, Black Nationalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962); Eric C. Lincoln, The Black Muslims in America (Boston: Beacon Press, 1961); Akbar Muhammad, “Muslims in the United States: An Overview of Organizations, Doctrines, and Problems,” in The Islamic Impact , ed. Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, Byron Haines and Ellison Findly (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1984), pp. 195-218.  5. For a comparative study of five mosques on questions of integration and assimilation, see Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad and Adair Lummis, Islamic Values in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987).  6. For a discussion on the subject, see Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, “Current Arab Paradigms for an Islamic Future,” in Religion and the Authority of the Past , ed. Tony Siebers (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993).  7. According to Professor Ernest Allen, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  8. See, for example, the writings of Warith D. Muhammad, Challenges that Face Man Today (Chicago: W. D. Muhammad Publications, 1985); and Focus on al-Islam (Chicago: Zakat Publications, 1988).  9. Dawud Assad, “Holy Prophet,” Majallat al-Masajid 2, no. 2 (February 1981): 4.  10. Immigrants coming from the Middle East and Asia in the 1870s generally did not receive a warm welcome. In a Georgia court, for example, questions were raised about their eligibility and qualifications for citizenship, and there was a discussion about whether they fit the criteria of citizenship at the time restricted to “caucasians and negroes”.  11. For studies on Islamist thought, see, for example, John L. Esposito, ed., Voices of Resurgent Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983); Richard P. Mitchell, The Society of the Muslim Brothers (London; Oxford University Press, 1969); Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, “Islamic ‘Awakening’ in Egypt,” in Arab Studies Quarterly 9, no. 3 (1987): 234-59; Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, “Muslim Revivalist Thought in the Arab World: An Overview,” The Muslim World 76, nos. 3-4 (1986); Bassam Tibi, “The Worldview of Sunni Arab Fundamentalists: Attitudes toward Modern Science and technology,” in Fundamentalisms and Society: Reclaiming the Sciences, the Family and Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), pp. 73-102; and the two articles in Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, eds., Fundamentalisms Observed (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991): John 0. Voll, “Fundamentalism in the Sunni Arab World: Egypt and the Sudan,” pp. 345-402; and Mumtaz Ahmad, “Islamic Fundamentalism in South Asia: The Jamaat-i-Islami and the Tablighi Jamaat,” pp. 457-530.  12. For a book by a former Israeli agent deemed as targeting Muslims, see Yossef Bodansky, Target America: Terrorism in the U.S. Today (New York: S.P.I. Books, 1993).  13. See, for example, Ahmad Yusuf, “al-Hajma al-Sihyoniyya `ala al-Muslimin fi al-Wilayat al-Muttahida. Mawjat al-Tahrid al-Thalitha: al-Jihad fi America,” Filastin al-Muslima , January 1995, pp. 38-40.  14. Besides producing the controversial documentary “Jihad in America” aired on PBS, Steven Emerson testified before the House International Relations Committee where he asserted, “Radical Islamic networks now constitute the primary domestic - as well as international-national - security threat facing the FBI and other law enforcement agencies”; “Testimony of Steven Emerson: Subcommittee on Africa, House International Relations Committee, U.S. House of Representatives,” April 6, 1995, p. 4. He was one of the first journalists to ascribe the Oklahoma City bombing to Muslim terrorists as vindication of his analysis and assessment. He has also published an article and is in the process of writing a book on the subject: Steven Emerson, “The Other Fundamentalists,” The New Republic , June 12, 1995, pp. 21-30.  15. Raphael Merguii and Philippe Simonnot, Israel’s Ayatollahs: Meir Kahane and the Far Right in Israel (London: Saqi Books, 1987).  16. Robert I. Friedman, “Who Killed Alex Odeh? FBI Probe of JDL Bombers Gets No Help From Israelis,” The Village Voice , Nov. 4, 1987.  17. In an interview with Time magazine, President Reagan said, “Lately we have even seen the possibility of, literally, a religious war - the Muslims returning to the idea that the way to heaven is to lose one’s life fighting the Christians and the Jews” ( Time 116, no. 20 [November 17, 1980]: 37). In responding to Reagan’s accusation the Council of Masajid adopted a unanimous resolution expressing indignation over the “slanderous travesty and fallacious distortion of the teachings of Islam.” The resolution affirmed that Islam is the “religion of peace and stands against injustice and tyranny,” and stressed that in fact Islam makes a special point of urging its followers to be polite and kind to Christians and Jews (see S. 3:64). The president’s statement was further condemned because it was perceived as potentially inciting violence against Muslims in the United States. The document continued, “We regard this matter as transcending politics and a flagrant violation of Muslim rights as enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.” (“Mosque Council Condemns Reagan’s Attack on Islam,” Majallat al-Masajid 2, no. 2 (February 1981): 17-18.  18. Daniel Pipes, “Fundamentalist Muslims,” Foreign Affairs , Summer 1986, pp. 939-59; Daniel Pipes, “The Muslims Are Coming! The Muslims Are Coming!” National Review , November 19, 1990, pp. 28-31; Bernard Lewis, “Islam and Democracy,” The Atlantic , February 1993, pp. 87-98; Martin Kramer, “Islam vs. Democracy,” Commentary , January 1993, pp. 35-42.  19. The late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is reported to have told American Jewish young people that the United States must support Israel in order to combat the Islamists, the enemies of peace who also threaten America. In an address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Annual Conference on March 21, 1993, Rabin said: “Thank you very much for your decision to go [to Capitol Hill] and to try to convince the senators, the congressmen in the need in Israel in this period….to ensure that the United States will support these efforts by Israel, as the president said, by minimizing our risks, by military aid, economic aid, understanding of the threat of the Islamic extremist terror groups not only to Israel….It’s a threat to all moderate regimes….The United States has to continue to support and to prove to the region, to the peoples, to the countries, that its readiness to assist those who seek peace and ready to bring economic and social reform and to try to contain…the dangerous trend of the Islamic fundamentalistic [sic] terrorist organization and the country that backs them” (as quoted in Ahmad AbulJobain, Islam Under Siege: Radical Islamic Terrorism or Political Islam? (Annandale, VA: United Association for Studies and Research Inc., 1993), Occasional Papers Series No. 1, June 1993.  20. Other Israeli leaders have expressed similar sentiments. Haim Hertzok is reported to have said that while the world today is concerned about the atom bomb and weapons of mass destruction in the region, a more sinister and dangerous development is the growth of Islamic fundamentalism. Shimon Peres told a White House audience that the United States must increase its aid to Israel because it is engaged in a war against Islamic extremism ( al-Mujtama’ 1078 (December 1993): 6.  21. See Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, “The ‘New Enemy’? Islam and Islamists after the Cold War,” in Altered States: A Reader in the New World Order , ed.Phyllis Bennis and Michel Moushabeck (New York: Olive Branch Press, 1993), pp. 83-94; cf. John L. Esposito, The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); Patrick J. Buchanan, “Is Islam an Enemy of the United States?” New Hampshire Sunday News , November 25, 1990.  22. Donald E. Wagner, Anxious for Armageddon (Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 1995); Grace Halsell, Journey to Jerusalem (New York: Macmillan and Company, 1982); Grace Halsell, Prophecy and Politics (Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill Books, 1986); see also Dwight Wilson, Armageddon Now (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991); Hal Lindsey, Countdown to Armageddon (New York: Bantam Books, 1980).  23. Mir Maqsud Ali, “Resurgence of Islam: A Dream or a Reality?” in Islam: A Contemporary Perspective , ed. Mohammad Ahmadullah Siddiqi (Chicago: NAAMPS, 1994), p. 33.  24. Abul A’la al-Mawdudi, The Process of Islamic Revolution (Lahore: Islamic Publications, 1977).  25. Sayyid Qutb, Milestones (Cedar Rapids, IA: Unity Publishing Co., n.d.).  26. Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, “The Challenge of Muslim ‘Minorityness’: The American Experience,” in The Integration of Islam and Hinduism in Western Europe , ed. W. A. R. Shadid and P. S. van Koningsveld (Kampen, The Netherlands: Kok, 1991).  27. Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, “The Qur’anic Justification for an Islamic Revolution: The Views of Sayyid Qutb,” Middle East Journal 38, no. I (January 1983); Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, “Sayyid Qutb: Ideologue of Islamic Revival,” in Voices of Resurgent Islam , ed. Esposito.  28. M. A. Kettani, Muslim Minorities in the World Today (London, 1986), pp. 9-13; for a more extensive discussion of Kettani’s arguments, see Haddad, “The Challenge of Muslim ‘Minorityness,”’ pp. 134-53.  29. The term was coined by Syed Z. Abedin in his foreword to Kettani’s book, Muslim Minorities , p. xiii.  30. Ibid., pp. 9-13.  31. Muhammad Abdul-Rauf, “The Future of the Islamic Tradition in North America,” in The Muslim Community in North America , ed. Earle H. Waugh et al. (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1983), p. 271.  32. Abdul-Rauf, “Future of the Islamic Tradition,” p. 272.  33. Ibid., p. 277. A slightly different version quotes President Eisenhower as saying, “Americans would fight with all their strength for your right to have your own church and worship according to your own conscience. Without this, we would be something else than what we are.” Muhammad Abdul-Rauf, History of the Islamic Center (Washington, D.C.: The Islamic Center, 1973), p. 75.  34. The teacher was opposed by some of the parents who found her ideas subversive, and she was relieved of her duties.  35. Al-Faruqi and Rahman are both now dead; Nasr teaches at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. For studies on the three thinkers, see the following articles in Haddad, Muslims of America : John L. Esposito, “Ismail R. Al-Faruqi: Muslim Scholar-Activist,” pp. 65-79; Jane I. Smith, “Seyyed Hossein Nasr: Defender of the Sacred and Islamic Traditionalism,” pp. 80-95; and Frederick M. Denny, “The Legacy of Fazlur Rahman,” pp. 96-110.  36. Isma`il al-Faruqi was from Palestine, Seyyed Hossein Nasr from Iran, and Fazlur Rahman from Pakistan.  37. Ismail R. al-Faruqi, “Islamic Ideals in North America,” in Waugh et al., Muslim Community in North America , pp. 259-70; cf. Muhammad Shafiq, Growth of Islamic Thought in North America: Focus on Isma`il Raji al-Faruqi (Brentwood, MD: Amana Publications, 1994).  38. Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, “Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm: The Islamist Perspective,” in Beyond the Storm: A Gulf Crisis Reader , ed. Phyllis Bennis and Michel Moushabeck (New York: Interlink Books, 1991).  39. A similar pattern appears to be taking place in Britain as Muslims begin to reassess the problems the community faces. A leading Islamist in Britain wrote that some of the existential problems Muslims face in the West are the product of Western society itself, while others are of its own making, the product of the Islamist vision which was developed in and for a different environment. The Islamist intellectual output was judged to be culpable because its vision was fashioned to deal with the realities of the home countries, where Muslims constitute the majority population. Were Islamists whose works are being advocated and utilized in the minority populations of the West aware of this, they would have been disturbed and would condemn such an application, especially with what pertains to their writings about the West. Their efforts had been aimed at a local population describing the role of Western imperialism and its conspiracy in an effort to wake up the Muslim community from its sleep, to expose the traitors in their midst who had agreed to be the means through which imperialism realized its agenda in Muslim countries (al-Tamimi, “Nahwa Muntalaqat,” p. 44).  40. Mohammad Fathi Osman, “Towards a Vision and an Agenda for the Future of Muslim Ummah,” in Islam: A Contemporary Perspective , ed. Mohammad Ahmadullah Siddiqi (Chicago: NAAMPS, 1994), p. 13.  41. Ibid., p, 14.  42. Ibid., p. 15.  43. Ibid., p. 22.  44. Maher Hathout, “Islamic Work in North America: Challenges and Opportunities,” in Islam: A Contemporary Perspective , ed. Siddiqi, p. 64.  45. Mohammad Ahmadullah Siddiqi, “Towards an Islamic Vision and Agenda for the Future,” in Islam:  A Contemporary Perspective , ed. M. A. Siddiqi, p. 25.  46. Ibid.  47. Ibid.  48. Ibid.  49. Ibid., pp. 27-28: the list includes the following: “1. A contemporary understanding of Qur’an and Sunnah. 2. The status and scope of the efforts of Muslim scholars in past time and space. 3. Muslims’ relationship with non-Muslims, particularly in North American context. 4. Islam and contemporary social, cultural and family related issues in North America. 5. Islam and the modern political thoughts and political systems. 6. Islam and contemporary economic system. 7. Muslims’ education in North America. 8. Muslims’ stand with respect to dictatorship, monarchy, human rights, and violence. 9. Islamicmoral system vis-à-vis the current state of morality in North America. 10. Islam and science in the technical context.”  50. Salam al-Marayati, “Formulating an Agenda of Political Actions for North American Muslims,” in Islam: A Contemporary Perspective , ed. Siddiqi, p. 68.  51. Hathout, “Islamic Work,” p. 64.  52. Al-Marayati, “Formulating an Agenda,” p. 69.  53. Ibid., p. 70.  54. Ibid.  55. Hathout, “Islamic Work,” p. 62.  56. Ibid., p. 62.  57. Siddiqi, “Towards an Islamic Vision,” p. 27.  58. Ibid., p. 27.  59. Osman, “Towards a Vision,” p. 15.  60. Ibid., pp. 16-17.  61. A designation used of the Harlem-based Black Hebrews by Israel J. Gerber, The Heritage Seekers (Middle Village, NY: Jonathan Publishers, 1977), p. 176.  62. This is a splinter group from the original Nation of Islam that acknowledges the leadership of Louis Farrakhan. See Mattias Gardell, “The Sun of Islam Will Rise in the West: Minister Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam in the Latter Days,” in Haddad and Smith, Muslim Communities , pp. 15-50.  63. For the teachings of this sect, see the writings of the founder, Isa Muhammad, The Message of the Messenger is Right and Exact (Brooklyn: Isa Muhammad, 1979); Racism in Islam (Brooklyn: Isa Muhammad, 1982); Al-Imam Isa vs the Computer (Brooklyn: Isa Muhammad, 1982); Dwight York (alias Isa Muhammad), 365 Questions to Ask the Orthodox Sunni Muslims (Brooklyn: [Isa Muhammad], 1989).  64. A splinter group from the Nation of Islam who believe that only fivepercent of humanity will be saved on the Day of Judgment and that they will be drawn exlusively from members of their community. See Yusuf Nuruddin, “The Five Percenters: A Teenage Nation of Gods and Earths,” in Haddad and Smith, eds., Muslim Communities , pp. 109-32.  65. The courts convicted members of the gang of conspiracy to commit terrorist activities. It was shown at their trial that they were in contact with Qadhafi of Libya.  66. For a study of the Ansaaru Allah community, see Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad and Jane Idleman Smith, Mission to America: Five Islamic Sectarian Communities in North America (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1993), pp. 105-36.  67. Aminah B. McCloud, “Racism in the Ummah,” in Islam: A Contemporary Perspective , ed. Siddiqi, pp. 73-80.  68. Ibid., p. 76.  69. Ibid., p. 77.  70. Hathout, “Islamic Work,” p. 62.

From Muslims on the Americanization Path? © 2000 Oxford University Press.  Arab Culture and Civilization: A collaborative web project created by NITLE and sponsored by MEPC.  Originally published on the NITLE Arab World Project site.


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