Posted by: newperspectives85 | January 28, 2012

What does the faith of Muslims look like in America?

**It is very easy to say all Muslims are bad because of conflict in the Middle East due to Islamic fundamentalism…however, not all are.  It is easy to put people in boxes because of the majority of that group giving the entire group a bad name or reputation.  What about Muslims residing in America–are they like the Muslims in the Middle East?

U.S. Muslims seeking vision of their faith in secular land What does it mean to be Muslim in America today? By Richard Scheinin and Sarah Lubman, Mercury News, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2001

As the holy month of Ramadan approaches, American Muslims are reflecting on world-shaking events: the Sept. 11 attacks and subsequent U.S. bombing of Afghanistan. Many young Muslims are also reflecting on this: what it means to be Muslim in America.

Muslims in their 20s and 30s are at the forefront of an emerging conversation about American Muslim identity. Many are trying to articulate a new vision of the faith, one that’s relevant to second-generation Muslims seeking advice on how to reconcile Islamic values with secular lives. Some say they are alienated from the daily discourse of local mosques, which they describe as doctrinally rigid or politically overheated, pitting Muslims against the United States and the West.

This bumping up of an older and at times insular tradition against the values of a new generation reminds some of the earlier immigrant experiences of Catholics and Jews.

“The U.S. is my home; I identify as an American,” said Hina Azam, a 31-year-old doctoral candidate in Islamic studies who will teach at Stanford next year. Yet many in her generation, she said, have long “felt a disconnect from what we saw at mosques with more traditional leadership, and even from our parents.”

During Ramadan — a month of prayer, fasting, and introspection — Muslims focus on God, strive for self-purification, and emphasize the spiritual unity of the ummah, or community. The holy month begins Friday or Saturday, depending on when the new moon is sighted.

For many young Muslims, the wait for a new generation of leaders has been a long one. Growing up in San Jose, Nahareen Rahim spent most Friday afternoons with her parents, praying at local mosques. It was a time of closeness with family and community. But as a teenager, Rahim was bothered by many of the sermons at weekly Jum’ah prayers, attended by Muslim faithful. They tended to be full of “fire and brimstone” and were “preaching against things,” she said.

Pillars of the faith

The daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants, Rahim, now 20, had been tutored in Islam by her father. They talked at home about the pillars of the faith, about prayer and charity, tolerance and living a balanced life — “beautiful things,” she said. Her Islamic identity held firm as she attended a Roman Catholic high school and socialized with friends from a variety of faiths.

But the Jum’ah sermons, usually delivered by foreign-born religious scholars, too often dealt with ideas that she “couldn’t relate to: Muslims are good and you have to kind of stick together and not fall into the sins and evils of the outside society,” said Rahim, now a junior at the University of California-Davis. “But for us as the second generation, we’re part of that society. It would’ve been great to hear what we should do instead of what we shouldn’t do.”

While Rahim maintains her faith through private prayer, reading and discussion with friends, other Muslims in their 20s and 30s are turning to organizations that complement what goes on in the mosque. One is American Muslims Intent on Learning and Activism (AMILA), a Bay Area group that began in 1992 as a Generation X effort at Muslim community building.

“The vision of Islam we see in mosques that we don’t agree with is kind of reactionary and insular,” said Azam, who runs AMILA’s monthly meetings. “There’s a kind of conspiracy or siege mentality, us vs. them.”

Azam said it is hard for her to find a mosque where she feels at home, because of rigid, black-and-white views of Islam — absolutist and not to be questioned — combined with a corrosive anger.

“We’re sick of hearing how bad the Jews are,” said Azam, who is earning her degree from Duke University and will teach two courses on Islam at Stanford next year. “But a lot of us feel they have to accept it because that’s what you get when you go to the mosque. You put up with stuff you don’t really like.”

AMILA, which means “to work” in Arabic, has a Web site ( that lists some of its activities: Members work at the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen in San Jose, visit Muslims in prison, and help out with family nights at a South Bay mosque. The group has sponsored Arabic classes, a study group on the “Science of the Qur’an,” and an “Andalusian Tea and Poetry Reading.”

Members once performed a play by a Muslim author. An emphasis on the arts is important to Azam, who played classical piano as a girl in suburban Chicago and learned that some strict interpreters of the faith viewed music as frivolous. As a result, she kept her piano studies “hidden from my friends,” she said. “It was annoying. My vision of Islam and of God always seemed to be so much bigger than what I saw or was taught.”

Aasma Khan, a 30-year-old attorney in Manhattan, sees other reasons that young Muslims feel a disconnect with institutional religion.

Teenage Muslims, she said, struggle with peer pressure to drink and date, but get scant guidance from religious leaders on how to reconcile such pressures with their faith. Instead, she said, they often hear political speeches by foreign-born clerics: “You think you’re getting an Islamic scholar, but what you’re also getting is their political baggage,” said Khan, spokeswoman for the new group Muslims Against Terrorism.

Many Muslims say the critiques are overplayed and that Islam is finding its place in America without much trouble. Last fall, national Muslim organizations urged a Muslim bloc vote on behalf of George W. Bush in the presidential race. One poll showed that 72 percent of Muslims voted for Bush — a mainstream, rather than an angry, exercise of political muscle.

“I don’t hear that much anger in the mosques,” said Katharina Harlow, a convert to Islam who lives in Monterey. “The last time I was at the mosque there was a whole sermon on smiling — on not being arrogant, and smiling. And this was from a Palestinian immigrant. So whatever perceptions people may have that mosques are full of angry people, it’s not necessarily true.”

Adil Syed, 23, who grew up on San Jose’s East Side and works as a software engineer, said sermons, known as khutbas in Arabic, tend to be about tolerating all peoples and working toward practical solutions of problems. If there is a “sense of anger,” he said, it is because “there’s dying everywhere, in Iraq, in Afghanistan. Eventually the line just breaks. People get emotional.”

A study issued this year by the Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations pointed to about 2 million “mosque-going” Muslims in the United States; of these, about 350,000 attend weekly Jum’ah prayers. It is often estimated that there are about 6 million Muslims in the United States. If many are absent from the mosques, it’s probably not because of significant disagreement over politics, it’s “because of the demands that the society puts on them — jobs, school,” said Imam Abu Qadir al-Amin of the San Francisco Muslim Community Center.

Issues not discussed

Muslims have legitimate political grievances about U.S. foreign policy in Israel, Iraq and the Islamic world, said Hatem Bazian, 37, an East Bay Islamic scholar.

But American Muslims, he said, should expand their political discussions: Poor educational systems in Muslim nations are “not discussed here. The health care structure is not discussed. How to undo the decline of the Muslim world and the very causes of that decline — all these issues are not discussed.

“People do not want to go through a real analysis of what’s going on. And always the fault is external, always the finger is pointing somewhere else. And I think that’s spiritually wrong, and contrary to Islamic texts and the Prophetic teaching.”

Bazian, who is Palestinian, said the American Muslim community must “develop Muslim scholars in this country — born and raised here — who want to be part of this society. We have to see that which is good and that which is bad, and if something is bad — then fix it, don’t just condemn it. It’s a major psychological shift.”



  1. Wow! Thank you! I continuously wanted to write on my blog something like that. Can I include a part of your post to my website?

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