Saturday, November 18, 2006

Who are Muslims in America?

After following a recent series on NPR about Muslims in America, I found myself wondering what new definition of a Muslim in America would become. The overarching theme of the series was the tenuous link between Islam and September 11th. As American interest in Islam peaked after 9/11, I found myself thinking, "Is this an insult or a compliment? Are they curious about Islam because they think the terrorists represent Islam, or are they interested because they don't?"

The profile for the "American Muslim" thus became one of a middle eastern or south asian person. Blackamerican Muslims had long been established in America, but somehow that Islam was, and perhaps still is, viewed as "different." The Black Muslim has different values, different perspectives on gender, culture, and resistance, and holds different political views than the typical bomb-setting nationalist arab.

Nevertheless, the interest in American Muslims did turn to converts. How could anyone willingly turn to Islam, one might ask. But the question was not directed towards the Blackamerican Muslim; he, afterall, seems right at home with Islam. For the white male or white female, Islam is as alien as shintiism, or so it would seem.

It, therefore, did not surprise me when I found the NPR series to include no significant reference to Blackamerican Muslims. Despite being the majority, despite a significant history that traces back further than Columbus, and despite significant contributions in both the social and scholastic arenas, the interest in the Blackamerican Muslim has faded.

Who are they? Where are they? If Islam is the fastest growing religion in America, then the majority of those new Muslims will be Blackamerican, and if Americans are concerned about Islam's growing presence in this country, is it not about time they directed some attention towards the people they so earnestly try to ignore?

Ask any Blackamerican if he has a Muslim in his family. Many will answer yes. Some might even be able to tell you a little about Islam. It has become an inseparable part of Black America, just as Blackamericans have become inseparable from Islam in America.


Jamerican Muslimah said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I also listened to the NPR series and had the same thoughts; not only about Black Americans but also about Black immigrant Muslims? I have been saying that the public face of Muslims has changed since the 90's. The media consistently seeks out non-Black immigrants to discuss Islam or portray it (in whatever way they do so). It's no wonder then that people seem to have forgotten about the existence of not only African-American Muslims but of Black Muslims in general.

I remember in the late 90s when it wasn't suprising to find Black Muslims. Nowadays, at least in my experience, people are suprised to find that I'm Black AND Muslim.

The question is, what can be done? Do African-American and Black immigrant Muslims need to speak up more? Make ourselves visible? I'm curious to hear your answer.

Cheree said...

Assalaamu alaikum,
I always thought that the reason black american muslims are largely ignored in everyone's interest in Islam is because people can understand why a black person would be a Muslim or convert to islam but they wonder why on earth would a white person do it. You know, like black people have always had anti-establishment tendencies and to America at large, Islam is about as anti (America) establishment that you can get.