February 1, 2007
Written by C.N.
In this day and age, we all need a little bit more understanding of Muslims, and in particular, of Muslim Americans. Ever since 9-11, it’s no secret that they have been targets of suspicion, prejudice, paranoia, government surveillance, and misunderstanding. Salon.com reviews a book that tries to educate us on the many facets of Muslim American lives — American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion by Paul Barrett:
Few of the American Muslims that Barrett profiles match any stereotype that Westerners are likely to harbor about Islam’s faithful. In truth, he leans a little toward the unconventional and even progressive members of the religion, but he aims to give all sides their due. What he gets across is the remarkable diversity of Islam in America, pointing out that Muslims are no more all alike than Christians are. . . .
He explains that “most American Muslims are not Arab, and most Americans of Arab descent are Christian, not Muslim. People of South Asian descent — those with roots in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan — make up 34 percent of American Muslims … Arab-Americans constitute only 26 percent, while another 20 percent are native-born American blacks, most of whom are converts. The remaining 20 percent come from Africa, Iran, Turkey and elsewhere.”
As a group, Muslims are “more prosperous and better educated than other Americans.” Almost 60 percent of them have college degrees, compared to 27 percent of American adults overall. The median family income among Muslims is $60,000; the national median is $50,000. Eighty percent of them are registered to vote. Compared to the larger, and largely poor, Muslim populations of Western Europe . . . American Muslims show, in Barrett’s words, the traits of “a minority population successfully integrating into a larger society.”
In fact, I did not even know that most Muslim Americans are not Arab, nor that most Arab Americans are Christian, rather than Muslim. Not only that, but I’m a little embarrassed to say it’s only recently that I’ve sought to learn about the historical, cultural, and political differences between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. That just goes to show that just like we can’t assume all Asian Americans or all Latino Americans are the same, nor should we assume that about Arab Americans or Muslim Americans.
At a time when so many people are making all kinds of “authoritative” pronouncements about Muslims or Arabs, I have to wonder how many of them actually know about the wide diversity that exists among such groups. For more information, here are some other recent books about Arab- and Muslim-Americans:
Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith
American Islam: Growing up Muslim in America
Arab Voices Speak to American Hearts
American Muslims: The New Generation
Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Many Faces of American Muslims" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2007/02/many-faces-of-american-muslims/> ().
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