The author's views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of AtlantaMuslim.com. Also, the comments posted on this Website are solely the opinions of the posters.
“I, too, am America” These words, written by Langston Hughes, powerfully summarize the struggle for American identity within the African American community. Contextualized within the civil rights movements of the 20th century, this poetic verse questions how one race can possibly have a greater claim to the American identity than another.
I would agree that no one could be more “American” than another, considering that American culture is a “melting pot,” which integrates various influences from around the world. Despite the US’s mixed nature, however, each American sub-culture has, at one point in history, faced exclusion. For example, Japanese-Americans faced imprisonment during World War II, African-Americans did not receive comprehensive rights until the 1960’s, and, until comparatively recently, Catholics and Jews were often viewed negatively. Therefore, American Muslims are simply the next in a long line of sub-cultures to join the struggle for American identity.
It is clear that Muslims have grown weary of this struggle. Media networks seem to continuously broadcast an onslaught of charged, anti-Islamic rhetoric and constantly having to answer questions regarding ISIS, Al-Qaeda and fundamentalist Islam is a cumbersome practice. I am sure that most of you have memorized the rehearsed defenses much better than I have:
“Fundamentalist groups take the verses discussing war in the Qur’an out of their historical context”
“Judging the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world by the actions of ISIS is like judging 2 billion Christians by the actions of the KKK, or any other Christian terrorist organization”
“Islam is a religion of peace, and Muhammad (saws) did not oppress other religious groups while ruling Medina”
The list is endless.
However, despite the difficulties we currently face, I would urge American Muslims to continue the struggle to find our place and embrace our American identity. While we may not agree with every aspect of American culture or every action of the United States government, it is important to realize that the US is our home. We live in a multi-faceted society that cannot be defined by any one attribute. It is a government intended to represent democratic ideals of freedom and equality. It is also a diverse people who embody numerous praiseworthy attributes mandated in Islam, such as kindness, generosity, and respect. The US is much more than the sum total of its foreign policy and cultural flaws and we must stop viewing it as such in order to integrate and positively affect the world around us.
History demonstrates that Muslims come from a rich and beautiful tradition which has a great deal to contribute. Muslim architecture dominates buildings across the Middle East and Europe. Great academic sciences such as algebra, geometry and medicine trace their roots to Muslim scholars. Upon immigrating to Medina, the Prophet (saws) did not isolate Muslims from the greater society. Rather, he integrated and positively impacted all those he contacted (both Muslim and non-Muslim).
Thus, there is no reason that the terms ‘American’ and ‘Muslim’ need be mutually exclusive. Muslims in the US have the same claim to the American identity as any other race, religion or culture. We simply must accept the US as our home, stop isolating ourselves within Muslim-only social networks and work for the benefit of US society as a whole. As my friend, Saud Inam, states so wonderfully in his previous article, we must show our faith through our actions. Go interact with others at school/work, vote, engage with clubs and political advocacy organizations, do anything!
Research suggests that, following 9/11, most Americans held a more negative view of Islam than before, with one major exception. The exception was those Americans who knew at least one Muslim personally.
Americans who had interacted with Muslims on a personal level responded that their view of Islam had not been impacted by 9/11. Therefore, the best way to affirm our American identity and correct the image of Islam is to become active. Like so many sub-cultures have done before us, we must work to demonstrate that we, too, are America.
Liked this story?
Check out our recent podcast "Our Masks of Identity".
Free Weekly Emails