American Muslims: A part of America’s pluralism

Dr. Souheil Ghannouchi

The United States of America is a pluralistic society par excellence. It is a country that does not have a state religion, and Americans do not constitute one race or one ethnicity.

Immigrants have built the USA. Ever since Europeans began settling in what is now the United States by the 16th century, people from different parts of the world have migrated here. They have come from many different religious, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. Most immigrants came voluntarily; but some were brought by force while others were forced to come.

All groups have faced the challenge of preserving their identity through cultural practices, traditions or religious observances. Although many, initially, elected isolationism to preserve that cultural identity, they were later forced to deal with the challenges of integration into society and developing their new identity. The nature and magnitude of the challenges have been different for the different groups. The outcome of that process has spanned the whole spectrum, from total isolation to complete assimilation. Often, different segments or members of the same group/community have experienced different transitions through the different sectors of this wide-ranged spectrum. American Muslims are not different. Yet, only two-thirds of this Muslim population is from “immigrant” backgrounds -comprising four different generations of immigrants. The other third are mostly native-born African Americans, Hispanics and converts from other ethnic groups.

Muslims also spread throughout the different levels of this broad spectrum of integration into society. Conversely, the current trend is a rapid increase in the percentage of Muslims who were born and raised in this country. These American-born generations constitute more than two-thirds of those Muslims referred to as “immigrant” community. The vast majority of the remaining third, consciously, intentionally and willfully elect to be Americans by choice, choosing America to be their country. Most of these immigrants have lived in the US for quite long times, and many have already attained citizenship.

The vast majority of American Muslims are predominately moderate in their views and attitudes. Their understanding and practice of Islam does not pose any hindrance to their integration into society. Accordingly, the two elements of their identity are perfectly compatible, so much so that they seamlessly intertwine naturally.

Furthermore, the median income and educational levels of American Muslims are above the average for other Americans. This imbues them with a deep sense of commitment to Society and societal stability.

American Muslims have come a long way in integrating into society. They have developed a genuine and cohesive American Muslim identity as well as an integrative way of life. This process of integration promises to be easier and faster than other minorities. When compared with other minorities, Muslims have intrinsic advantages that can facilitate that process. The nature of Islam as a universal religion coupled with the nature of a pluralistic Society of immigrants guided by a Constitution that guarantees freedom of religion and freedom of expression, make the development of an American Muslim identity easier and faster than for most other minorities.

However, this process of integration might slow-down in the short-term due to Islamophobia and the climate of fear that have prevailed since the 9/11 tragedy, as well as the increased direct entanglement of the U.S. with the Muslim world. Yet, if American Muslims approach this situation wisely, they may well turn it into an opportunity to accelerate their integration. Such integration is crucially important in enabling American Muslims to fulfill their important role as a bridge between the U.S. and the Muslim world.

True Islam Mandates Exemplary Citizenship

Being an American does not indicate anything about one’s religion, race, ethnicity, culture, or views. Similarly, being a Muslim does not indicate anything about one’s race, ethnicity, culture, nationality or citizenship. Consequently, there is nothing that prevents the blending or fusion of these two components into one cohesive identity.

There is nothing in Islam that prevents a Muslim from being a good and loyal American citizen. Equally, there is nothing in the requirements for American citizenship that interferes with Muslims practices. It does not restrain them from promoting Islam or fulfilling their duty of encouraging that which is good and preventing that which is evil. Hence, the reference to the term Requirements, is not limited to the legal requirements of citizenship, but also, to the characteristics of a good and loyal citizen. Indeed, one neither needs to compromise any religious duties to be a good citizen, nor to breach any legal or civic duties to be a good Muslim. Actually, civic duties and Muslim religious duties blend harmoniously together. Not only does Islam mandate good citizenship, but also exemplary and active citizenship.

Throughout its history, the U.S. has accommodated all kinds of religions, ethnicities, cultures, and races. Islam and Muslims are no exception, especially since the vast majority of American Muslims are born and raised in America. They do not know any other country or culture except that of the USA.

As for the other Muslim immigrants, they have elected to be Americans by choice. They are grateful for the freedom and the greater opportunities they get in this country. All American Muslims have a stake in this country that they have chosen to be theirs, and in which their children and grandchildren will continue to live. Additionally, the religious obligations of practicing Muslims leave them no option but to work for the well-being of their country and to fulfill all their obligations and contracts that they have willfully undertook to honor when they took the Citizenship Oath, obtained Permanent Residency or filled a Visa Application.

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