Islam In America: The View Of The Dilettante

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Being a Russian Muslim, I was raised aware of my religion’s history, tradition and its role in my country’s upbringing. Everything, from Tsarist times, through Peter the Great’s reforms, the Imperial times, up to the emergence of the Soviet Union and its latter, rather violent transformation into the Russian Federation. My parents, my grandparents, my teachers, the books and articles I’ve read and, of course, the Russian media all made sure that I be aware of how Islam had been, is, and will potentially be viewed in Russia. Keeping in mind all that, I have grown up mostly unaware of the history of Islam in America. This course, its lectures and readings were essentially the first sketch on a blank canvas of my knowledge.

The United States of America is a unique cultural phenomenon. At first glance, it is a country of many cultures, nationalities and religions all of which manage to coexist rather peacefully on one territory. Though at the same time, any culture that comes to the United States from the outside falls into the melting pot of peoples, all of whom have different backgrounds and beliefs. As that culture and its people go on to withstand the test of time, they assimilate and become a part of the general American culture. Of course, these people continue to maintain their ethnic characteristics, but they now are first, foremost, and above all, American citizens. However, this famous 'melting pot' has recently begun to leak. And this is due primarily to the growth of the Islamic community in the United States.

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Islam was not brought to America in its traditional way, from the East and by scholars, but rather got shipped here from Africa at the beginning of the 17th century. Vast chains of slaver ships carried on them loads and loads of African people. Most of those people were Muslims, indigenous to the African land. As they arrived at their new “homeland”, they were forced to convert to Christianity and given European names. Immediately, Islam began to fall under restrictions, though the most severe restrictions regarding Islam and its confession were being put on slaves in the South.

Despite all the negativity of the past, today’s reality shows us that modern American Muslims have not forgotten their roots. The most prominent example of such an occurrence was the Muslim community in Ross, North Dakota. Founded by the Syrian immigrant Mary Juma and her family, the Ross community eventually established a Muslim cemetery, which they had built in 1929, and a mosque, which was built in 1930. And in the 40-60s, a real boom in the revival of Islam among the black population began. It was, to a large extent, facilitated by the arrival of new immigrants from the Middle East, who flooded America in the following years. At this time, the so-called 'Black Muslims' created a number of organizations, the most famous of which was the 'Nation of Islam'. Founded in 1977 by Luis Farrakhan, its ideology encouraged African Americans to abandon Christianity, “the religion of white people”, and return to the traditional religion of their ancestors, Islam, in order to survive and thrive in a hostile white society. Such a sharp revival of Islamic traditions occurred largely thanks to the discriminatory attitude that the white majority had on the African Americans. The appearance of immigrants from the East, with their unity among themselves and their community with great mutual assistance, set a great example to African Americans. They began to view Islam as a way of national and cultural self-determination, as an opportunity to preserve their African American identity. As time went on, the number of Muslims in America continued to grow steadily, and in the 90s the American government had to recognize their existence and influence on the African American community.

Today, 'Black Muslims' make up, according to various estimates, from 25 to 50% of all Muslims in America; that is, about 2 million people. In the African American community, one in five is Muslim. According to statistics, one in ten African Americans converts to Islam in prison, where black people are actively promoted Islamic values, mainly from the “Nation of Islam”. This fact affects the attitude towards “Black Muslims” -- many people perceive them as a marginalized community of criminals. African Americans of Islamic belief are also attacked by the white population because of the Muslims’ supposed allegiance with the “Nation of Islam,” which now numbers only a few thousand. This is mainly due to the fact that many African Americans began their acquaintance with Islam with a membership in this organization. Most of them, however, chose not to stay there for a long time. All in all, African Americans became the first Muslim majority in the USA and created a foundation for the developing American Muslim community.

The first significant flow of Muslim immigrants from the East began in 1948, after Israel was created, and the first Palestinian refugees arrived in America. A major turning point was the Hart-Celler act of 1965, which eliminated nationality-based immigration limits. That led to a dramatic increase in the immigration quotas for the Eastern Hemisphere, and the Muslim community in America proceeded to grow. Muslims from the Middle East, as well as from South Asia (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh), formed significant communities throughout the country, but remained mostly invisible to their white neighbors. One of the reasons for this passivity was that many of those immigrants came to America as they sought salvation from political turmoil and persecution in their homeland, and therefore tried to keep their heads as low as possible. They were not noticed until 1995, when the administrative and cultural center in Oklahoma City was destroyed by a bomb explosion on April 19. The explosion killed 168 people. At first, it was the Muslims who were accused of this incident, but it soon became clear that the explosion was organized by a white non-Muslim named Timothy McVeigh.

Though a large amount of nation-wide and close attention was put on Muslims after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, when terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center. After this incident, ordinary Americans started to notice the sheer number of Muslims that were living next to them.

Immediately after the attack, US President George W. Bush, in anticipation of a possible reaction from American citizens, asked the nation to refrain from retaliating against the Muslim American community. Despite those precautions, the American nation went on and proceeded with the retaliatory blow.

I am not going to cover the government’s War on Terror, only the civilian world’s reaction. And the civilian world’s reaction was two-fold. On one hand, the amount of violence, attacks and crimes aimed at Arabs, Muslims, or people who just looked like Arabs or Muslims increased vastly. After 9/11, despite the statements of many American and Western European politicians that terrorism and Islam cannot be equated, some Christian preachers began to attack Islam as a religion. For millions of American Muslims, the priest Franklin Graham became an odious figure, who declared Islam a 'vicious religion,' and the Prophet Muhammad a 'demon and pedophile.'

On the other hand, this attack on Islam and its believers triggered an increase in interest towards the religion among the non-Muslim population of America. The sale of books that covered the history, principles and tradition of Islam skyrocketed. Many sources and scholars of American Islamic organizations were put under strong demand and attention. The American Muslim community, the American government and other Americans were now faced with the problem of further coexistence on one territory.

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Islam In America: The View Of The Dilettante. (2022, February 24). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 23, 2024, from
“Islam In America: The View Of The Dilettante.” Edubirdie, 24 Feb. 2022,
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