“Religion is like a pair of shoes… Find one that fits you, but don’t make me wear your shoes.” (George Carlin, Good Reads). America is known for the First Amendment, which guarantees everyone their freedom of religion. Since the ratification of the Constitution, immigrants have flocked to the United States to escape discrimination from their home country, and to practice their religion without fear of punishment or retaliation. A large population of these immigrants have been, and still are, Muslims. The practicing life of an American Muslim is defined by their religion’s history, their flight to America, how they have assimilated, the conflicts they have had with the United States, and their great achievements that have effected the country.
Islam is the second largest religion of the world, followed by Christianity. It is also the youngest of the major world religions, dating back to around 700 Common Era. The whole religion revolves around the city of Mecca, a city in Saudi Arabia. Muslims believe that there is one God, known as Allah, making it a monothesitic religion. A muslim has one life goal, which is to live in the name of God. The religion all began when the supposed angel of Gabrielle visited the Prophet Muhammad, exposing him to the word of Allah. Muhammad lived the rest of hisl life spreading the word of his God which eventually evolved into the Qur’an. (History.com Editors, Greg.”Origins of Religion”,Armstrong, Karren).
Many people believed that Thomas Jefferson owned a copy of the Qur’an, so he could have a better understanding of the influence that the religion has had on prospects of the legal system. He bought his copy while he was still in law school, studying the Ottoman Empire. The Empire’s government was greatly influenced by the Islamic faith, inspiring his curiosity. Jefersson has not been the only person in politics to have relations to the sacred words of Allah. Keith Ellison, who was the first proud Muslims to ever be elected as a Congressman, was sworn into office in 2007 using the Qur’an instead of the traditional Holy Bible. In 2019, Rashida Tlaib, one of the first women of the Islmaic faith to be elected to congress, was also sworn in using the Qur’an. (Manseau, Peter, Little, Becky).
The exact time that Muslims made their first trip to America is often debated, but the best guess is around the 14th century. The first population is suspected to have been slaves, originating from Senegambia, a region that was to the West of the great continent of Africa. Out of the total population of slaves during that time period, around 10-15% were Muslims. Often times, Muslim could be recognized based on their unique names and restrictive diets. Their diets oftentimes prohibited them from consuming any type of pork and also specifically dictated how an animal had to be slaughtered in order to be consumed. Many slaves during this time period were forced to convert to Christianity in order to meet America’s social and political norms. At the end of the 19th century, Islam was slowly dwiddling from communities of former slaves. Luckily, around that same time, millions of new immigrants were flooding into the United States, and out of those immigrants, thousands were Muslims. From 1878 to 1923, numerous immigrants from many of the Middle Eastern countries, like Syria and Lebanon, made their way to America. Many of these immigrants worked in factories and as manual laborers. They filled the jobs that no other Americans wanted to fill, due to the poor working conditions. (“Islam in America|Hisotry Detectives)”
In the 1930s and 1940s, many Muslim immigrants began to establish small communities within many major metropolitan areas all across the United States. Mosques, places for Muslims to worship and practice their faith, were being built within these communities that were slowly developing, representing the great diversity of America. New groups of Muslim immigrants continued to flood into the United States, coming in waves. In 1952 immigrants came from Iraq, Egypt and Palestine. The next groups came in the 1960s. After the Nationality Act was passed in 1965, changing the premise of the immigration policy, around 1.1 million new Muslim immigrants came to America. Since then, Islam has been a religion accepted and embraced by many Americans. In a Pew Research Center’s most recent data, from 2017, there are around 3.45 million practicing Muslims in the United States. In the Supreme Court, there is even a a sculpture of the Prophet Muhammad that was put there in 1935 and has remained there ever since. (“Tour Egypt”, Williams, Jenifer, “Naturalization Act of 1906”, ).
In 2016, Trump made a statement to Fox News regarding the assimilation of Muslims in America. He said, “Assimilation has been very hard. It’s almost — I won’t say nonexistent, but it gets to be pretty close. And I’m talking about second and third generation. They come — they don’t — for some reason, there’s no real assimilation,” (Donald Trump, Political Facts 2016). In recent research it is easy to see that this statement was a bit uneducated. In a 2011 Pew Research Survey, 1,033 Mulsims living in the United States had phone interviews to share how they personally felt they had assimilated. 56% of the Muslims said that they were eager to learn and experience the American lifestyle when they first arrived to the United States, while only 20% said they they wanted to keep their own life habits and did not want to meld into American society. 16% of muslims said they wanted to both blend in and be American, but at the same time wanted to maintain their distinct ethnic qualities. (Trump, Donald et al., Gamache, Martins and Manuel Canales).
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In a more recent Pew Research Survey, which was taken in 2017, four in five Muslims were content with how they were living their lives in America. Many of the interviewed Muslims said that most of their closest friends were not people of the Islamic faith, but were Americans whose religious beliefs varied. Only four in ten of Muslims in America felt like they were distinctive among Americans, that their voice or clothing made them stick out. Only one in four musim women continuously wear their hijab or Islamic headdress. All in all, 80% of Muslims living in America said that they could still feel a deep connection to their Islamic community. (“U.S. Muslims Concerned about their Place in Society”).
Ayan Hirsi Ali shares her persoanly story in her autobiography, Nomad from Islam to America a Personal Journey through the Clash of Civilizations. Ayan Hirsi Ali is a Muslim American activist and pround feminist who came to America to work at the American Enterprise Institute in 2013. Before she arrived in the United States, she had lived in many Middle Eastern countries, including Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Kenya, along with the Netherlands. In her novel, she describes how different America was from all the other places she has experienced. She found the ethnic diversity to be quite unique, “Everywhere I went I saw Africans, Asians, Hispanics, and more ethniv blends than I could ever dream of identifying,” (Hirsi Ali, 109). Ayan found that even with all the terrible things that had been done in the name of the Islamic faith, as appalled as America was, they were more focused on finding a solution than any other country she had seen. (Ali, Ayaan Hirsi).
In recent years, there has been a lot of built up tension between America and Muslims. President Donald Trump even wanted to put a ban on Muslims entering the United States after the horrific event that took place in Orlando, Florida. Omar Mateen, the American terrorist, openly pledged allegiance to ISIS on a 911 call and killed 43 people in a 2016 shooting. The first major problem the United States has had with the Islamic religion dates back to the 1980s, during the Iranian Revolution and the United States hostage crisis. On November 4, 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenin led a group of Iranian students to the United States embassy in Tehran, the capital of Iran. There were over 60 American hostages who were taken and not released until January 21, 1981, 444 days since they were first taken hostage. (Haley Tsukayma, Mark Bermin, History.com Editors).
Tensions between America and the Islamic faith escalated after September 11, 2001. Al Qaeda, an Islamic terrorist group, launched the biggest attack on American Soil since the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. In days following the attack, Islamic religious leaders made many statements clarifying that the attack was not in any way related to their sacred faith, but belonged to the extremist group, attempting to distance the religion from the terrorist group. In 2001, there was a 1,600 percent increase in antimuslim hate crimes. Since then, President Trump has put travel bans on Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. (Williams, Jennifer).
Despite the tension between America and Muslims, many Muslims have really grown into their own skin while living in the United States, and have even created things that have greatly impacted the country. A man named Fazkur Rahman Khan created a new structural system to build skyscrapers, where the amount of steel needed for construction was greatly reduced. This system was used on famous buildings like the Sears Tower and John Hancock Tower. Another muslim, Shahid Kahn, made a great life for himself in America and become a billionare. After he graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he started a small auto parts business which has now grown to be a 4.9 billion company, Flex-N-Gate. (Jeffries, Stuart).
The medical field has had great advances due to the help of talented and proud Muslims. Ayub Ommaya is the inventor of a system of intraventricular catheters, which is often used for chemotherapy and makes the delivery of drugs to the brain much easier. Ommaya also created the first coma score, which is used to classify major injuries to the brain. Lastly, if it were not for Ernest Hamwi, Americans would not have the luxury of enjoying an ice cream cone. (Jeffries, Stuart).
Since coming to America, Muslims have embraced their history, successfully assimilated into the American culture, fought religous discrimination, and accomplished great achievements that have had lasting impacts on the country. The Islamic faith has been able to flourish and grow within the United States thanks to the first amendment.
- Ali, Ayaan Hirsi. Nomad from Islam to America a Personal Journey through the Clash of Civilizations. Free Press, 2010.
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- Trump, Donald, et al. “PolitiFact – Donald Trump Wrong That ‘There’s No Real Assimilation’ by U.S. Muslims.” @Politifact, www.politifact.com/factchecks/2016/jun/18/donald-trump/donald-trump-wrong-theres-no-real-assimilation-us-/.
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