The State of the Muslims in the United States of America

THE STATE OF THE MUSLIMS IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

SULAYMAN S. NYANG,Ph.D
Professor at HOWARD UNIVERSITY, Board Memebr of MCA

Muslim American or American Muslims have arrived politically, although their checks at the bank of American Social Acceptance, is delayed at the cash register. This metaphor borrowed from the late Dr. Martin Luther King of Civil rights frame is a good point of departure for our discourse on the Muslim presence and the challenges and opportunities facing this newly emerging religious and social community in American life and culture. In the Kingian metaphor, the late Civil Rights leader said the American check given to the Black American was returned with the note ”Insufficient funds.” Similarly, up until the collective discovery of the Muslim presence because of 9/11 and other terrible tragedies associated with that day, Muslims were virtually unknown to most Americans. But a series of unfortunate developments have conspired to put the Muslims on the firing line and the two combatants are Muslim terrorists abroad whose bitterness to our country tends to drive them towards a kind of madness that harbors no sympathy or interest for American Muslims. In their destructive imaginations American Muslims should die in the same ditch as their fellow Americans. This terrible perception, whenever connected to the Islamophobia of Americans and other Westerners, makes life for the American and Western Muslim nasty, terrifying and confusing. In other words, the migration of Muslims to America in particular, and the West in general, has coincided with a terrible state of affairs in world history. The rise of radical forces in the Muslim World, who use the religion of Islam as their garments to seek and gain power and social acceptance among the masses of people in that part of world, has made the process of Muslim migration very difficult.
Similarly, the American Muslim is not only the victim of the radical Muslims opposed to his migration to the West. He suffers from the arrow of suspicion thrown at him by his fellow citizen in America and elsewhere in the West. Fearful of radical Islam and still unconvinced about the desirability of Muslim migration and integration into American life and culture, these peddlers of Islamophobia would like to wish away any serious Muslim integration in America.
With these rival perspectives from the radical Muslims opposed to Muslim migration to the West and the extremism of the advocates of Islamophobia, a Muslim thinking about his role and destiny in America would quickly realize that he has a Herculean task before him. You can be damned by those radicals of your countries of origin and the degree of acceptance you seek in your adopted home is being threatened by fellow citizens who fear your arrival and get terrified by the propagandistic vituperations of Muslim radicals opposed to Muslim migration to the West.
It is indeed against this background that I now focus on the main issue here. There are seven points to make in this brief presentation. Let me list them one by one. First, let us address the question of identity. From sociology to history, it is evident that human being has a single identity. We all have multiple identities. In our discourse on Muslim identity in America two questions are paramount: Who is an American? and what makes you an American? The other half of the equation is: Who is a Muslim? and what makes you a Muslim? The jury is still out on these two questions in the American context, not because the law is unclear or most Muslims are uncertain about their Tawhid, but because of the contestation that international terrorism and Islamophobia have injected in the American public square and in international affairs.
What has complicated the issues further is the fact that at the individual, social and political levels the American Muslims have yet to build structurally institutions with political clout and social acceptance in the mainstream of American society. This successful integration process is in the making and it would take several decades for American Muslims to reap the benefits of their present labor. One factor that contributes negatively to the slow-moving nature of the Muslim vehicles of socialization and Americanization is the diversity in the community with respect to a host of issues. The identity question is posed and related to differently by different Muslims. I have suggested in my book on Islam in the United States of America, that Muslims can be generally divided into three groups: grasshoppers, oysters and owls. Using these zoological metaphors, without tread on the psychological toes of fellow Muslims, I intend to show the differential patterns of assimilation among the Muslims in the United States of America. The grasshoppers are basically highly secularized Muslims who in most cases form a sizable portion of the Muslim community. The oysters constitute another group distinguished from the rest because of their life style and their unwillingness to abandon certain aspects of what they consider to be their “true Islam.” Their women are in always in hijab or any more preferred dress of Islamic sartorial elegance or modesty. The owls, in my view, are those Muslims who strike a balance between the grasshoppers and the oysters. Willing to integrate and assimilate without being assimilated at their religious expense, these Muslims have taken the bull by the horn and their activism is beginning to gain the attention of the grasshoppers and the oysters. The grasshoppers have come to terms with the owls because events such as 9/11 made it categorically clear that those who hate Muslims are not necessarily impressed by highly secularized Muslims who deny their Islamic identity and are willing to pass into the larger society. Unfortunately for many if not most race, color and culture have invariably unmasked them many times in their efforts to deny their Islamic heritage. Their efforts and exposure have historical parallels in Jewish existence in the West.
One issue that is closely linked to the identity question is the myth of return.
In addition to the identity question is the political activism of Muslims. The dominant issue is how can American Muslims enjoy the fruits of the constitution without being politically stigmatized by the advocates of Islamophobia and other elements in the society?
A third issue is the question of institution-building

A fourth issue is the question of the generation gap between Muslim young and their communities around the country.

A fifth issue is the quest for Muslim education in the American society.

A sixth issue is the question of Muslim finance and the creation of reliable and viable structures to process Muslim money within the larger American material economy
The seventh issue, which underpins the entire Muslim structure of life and culture in the United States of America, is the moral economy. This is closely tied to the individual and his family. It is also connected to the moral economy of the larger society. This fact is more pronounced today in the era of globalization than any time before in our history. The cell phone, the computer, the internet, the mass media and the craze for speed in our telecommunications and other forms of travel have all come together to make life terrible for those who have nothing and a material paradise for them who possess all things. American Muslims at this juncture in our history have a major moral and social challenge from both modernity and secularism. How can they respond forcefully and effectively to these forces and what can they do to improve the quality of life for the ‘miskin’ and the ignorant members of our societies here at home and abroad. Let us identity some of the critical issues that deserve some attention under this category of moral economy.

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