Can Muslims be ‘Loyal Americans’?

In the 1840s and 50s America saw a popular nativist political movement take root called the “Know Nothing” movement. The movement was mainly empowered by the fear Catholic immigrants, mostly from Germany and Ireland, were overwhelming the country. Such immigrants were considered hostile to Anglo-Saxon Protestant values and owed their allegiance to the Pope in Rome. Consequently, the Know Nothings questioned their ability to become loyal Americans and actively sought to curb their immigration into the country. 

It has been said those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. I am often surprised at the strange pattern history often inflicts upon the human race; the names may change, but the same issues return again and again.

Today we have a new nativist political movement, the Tea Party, and the issue has moved on from Catholics and Communists to Muslims and Islam. I have seen interviews with Frank Gaffney – a former Reagan official and a signatory on on the Project for a New American Century – and Brigitte Gabriel – a Lebanese journalist – in which they (with a straight face no less) claim the Federal government has been infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood in a bid to take over the country. Over a dozen states have proposed anti-Shari`a legislation in their general assemblies; the proposal in Tennessee is so strongly worded it would potentially make practicing Islam a felony. Mosque projects are routinely opposed, vandalism of existing mosques and the harassment of women wearing hijab is becoming more commonplace. And now we have had Congressional hearings on the radicalization of the American Muslim community led by Representative King, who himself has demonstrated a strong historical support for the Irish Republican Army. Comments full of unadulterated hatred for Muslims and Islam fill the Internet forums of various news sites.

One common misconception I often find is the assertion that Muslims and Islam are somehow new and alien to our country, and that we are being invaded by a parasitic culture hostile to US values (history repeating itself). In fact Islam is not new to our country at all. If we are to discount those Muslims brought over in slavery from Africa (it has been estimated that up to 40 percent of those slaves were Muslim), we can begin to find willful immigration to the US some time around 1875 to 1912 when individuals from what was then called Greater Syria began to arrive in the US. Most of these Syrians were Christian, but their numbers also included Sunnis, Shi`ites, and other Muslim sects. The second wave of immigrant Muslims came after World War I, in which the great Ottoman State had been demolished. A third wave came in the 1930s, and a fourth wave from 1947 to 1960.

These waves comprise the immigrant thread of Islam in America’s social fabric. It is not the only thread. The other thread is the African-American thread. While exact numbers are impossible to determine, perhaps up to 40 percents of American Muslims consist of African-Americans. This figure, however, includes not only Sunni groups such as W.D. Muhammad’s movement, but also various heterodox and spin-off religions such as the Nation of Islam.

Despite this well-established and rather non-controversial history, Muslims are now being asked to perform the ‘loyalty dance’ on a public stage. Reports of acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam make the national news, no matter how distant the plot from American shores nor how insignificant Muslim violence is compared to the many other forms of violence plaguing not only Americans, but the entire globe. We talk of honor killings while virtually remaining silent to other very real news events such as the recent incident of the teen father stabbing his infant child to death, or the mother who put her child in an oven.

The American Muslim community has come out against acts of terrorism and have actively moved to assist law enforcement in investigating such plots. According to the Kurzman report on Muslim-American terrorism since 9/11, 48 of 161 cases have resulted from tip-offs from the Muslim community. Some communities have been so concerned about terrorists in their midst that they have reported individuals who turned out to be undercover informants and agent provocateurs, such as Craig Monteilh in California, and Darren Griffin in Ohio.

In the European Union, the 2010 EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report identified 294 failed, foiled, or successfully executed terrorism attacks in 2009 in six European countries. Of those attacks, 237 were committed by separatist groups; 40 by left-wing and anarchist groups; four by rightists; ten with no clear affiliation; two by single-issue groups, and one by so-called Islamists. Despite only a single attack – a bombing in Italy – in 2009, the report pointed out that terrorism in the name of Islam was still perceived as “the biggest threat to most Member States.”

Somehow many Americans have failed to grasp Islam, along with its co-Abrahamic faiths Christianity and Judaism, is itself a Western religion. It is not nor ever was a question of Islam or the West; the two are in no way mutually exclusive.

As I have pointed out, Muslims have enjoyed a well-established history in the US and are generally well-integrated into the fabric of American society. Today two Muslims hold seats in the US House of Representatives, Keith Ellison (D-MI) and Adre Carson (D-IN). Muslims also hold or held elected positions in various state legislatures, such as Saqib Ali (D-MD), State Senator Larry Shaw (D-NC) and State Rep. Saghir “Saggy” Tahir (R-NH). My own home state in the Midwest has elected no less than two Muslims to serve in its state legislature.

I myself consider myself and my family to be traditional, observant Sunni Muslims and law-abiding members of this great country. I was born here and studied classic Hanafi fiqh, while my wife immigrated here from Morocco.

It should be obvious that it is not for anyone to make law-abiding members of this country feel unwelcome or harassed in their own land, whether it be by birth or adoption. Fear and hatred of Muslims in the US is not only irrational, it is unproductive. My suggestion? Consider the facts and then go out and meet your Muslim neighbor.




Filed under Answers

3 responses to “Can Muslims be ‘Loyal Americans’?

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