The Diversity of Muslims in the United States: Views as Americans

Published: 
February 1, 2006
By: 
Qamar-ul Huda

With the war against terrorism and an increased attention on the Muslim world, this report analyzes ways Muslims in the United States understand their roles as Americans in combating terrorism and their unique contributions toward conflict prevention and peacemaking.

Summary

  • There are approximately 6 to 7.5 million Muslims in the United States who identify themselves as Americans. The community consists of a combination of immigrants and second- and third-generation Arab, Latino, Asian, European, African, and African-American Muslims.
  • The growth of the American Muslim community has fostered the development of a variety of religious, civic, political, cultural, economic, social, ethnic, feminist, artistic, and professional organizations.
  • The diversity of American Muslim organizations provides a vast number of voices addressing such issues as terrorism, democracy, peacemaking, and human rights.
  • American Muslims do not see contradictions between Islam and such ideals as democracy, pluralism, or political activism; rather, in recent years several national groups have made it their primary mission to reconcile all three with Islamic values.
  • Some leaders see the blending of Islamic values with the American experience as a solid bridge to mutual understanding between the United States and the Muslim world.
  • American Muslim advocacy organizations often collaborate with the White House and law enforcement authorities to devise strategies on public policy, civil rights, the war against terrorism, and other related issues.
  • Many organizations emphasize the importance of self-scrutiny and education in relation to the larger Islamic heritage.
  • Interfaith dialogue has taken the forefront on the agendas of many American Muslim organizations, demonstrating a belief that building trust, peace, and reconciliation will ultimately lead to harmonious interfaith relations in the United States.
  • American Muslim scholars advocate greater involvement by Muslims in the political, social, economic, and cultural spheres of American society.
  • American Muslim scholars believe Muslims have an enormous responsibility and talent for resolving conflict and being agents for peace.

Conclusion: Multipronged Conflict Prevention

The American Muslim community is diverse in every conceivable way. There are numerous national and regional organizations dedicated to important civic, religious, cultural, educational, political, and social issues. On the subject of terrorism and conflict resolution, clearly all American Muslim groups have denounced it emphatically, while some have gone beyond words by becoming involved with foreign policy, lobbying efforts, and mobilizing grassroots campaigns in the community.

The Fiqh Council of North American fatwa is an example of American Muslims taking proactive positions on global terrorism, while practicing zero tolerance of violence and religious extremism. Their positions have examined conflict and peacemaking in Islam and have advocated the explicit need for American Muslims to cooperate with law enforce- ment.

National American Muslim organizations like MPAC, CAIR, ISNA, and AMA have focused on violence and religious extremism as critical issues with local and international strategies. MPAC's "National Grassroots Campaign to Fight Terrorism" and CAIR's "Not in the Name of Islam" efforts are examples of American Muslims' innovative programs to raise awareness on issues of radical ideologies. The coordination of their efforts with those of law enforcement agencies demonstrates mutual recognition of the roles each group plays in conflict prevention.

Organizations like CSID, FMC, MAT, and AIFD exhibit new types of thinking in the American Muslim community by fostering, cultivating, and institutionalizing democratic reform in the Muslim world as the primary answer to extremism. Their own experiences in the United States confirm that Islamic values and democracy are compatible, and it is vitally important to institutionalize democracy in order to reform despotic totalitarian societies. Their activities display a conscious effort to make for themselves in American society, while contributing as bridge builders to the Muslim world. Their activities have already established a definite American Muslim model of inclusion and participation that differs from Muslim communities in Europe where Muslim communities are less involved in law enforcement and civic participation.

The participation of American Muslims in mainstream politics is to empower the community in many different levels of public life. American Muslim advocacy groups have tackled stereotyping of Muslims as a matter of public debate, and they have aggressively worked toward resolving incidents of discrimination and civil rights abuses. These achievements have shifted political attitudes that have enabled American Muslims to integrate in American political institutions.

Another strategy in the American Muslim community is to focus on human rights, gender inequality, and interfaith dialogue, and to increase the Muslim presence in the American legal system. KARAMAH, NAML, and ASMA represent specialized groups whose members believe that injustices can be overcome by addressing the various legal, socio-economic, political, and religious systems involved. ASMA's interfaith dialogue programs in the United States and around the world reflect the desire for reconciliation and humanizing of all people. Each of these groups recognizes that mutual respect is tied to taking real steps toward tolerance and is part of alleviating suffering.

Some organizations are concerned with improving the condition of all human beings through education and spiritual awareness, not terrorism. Other groups believe their particular expertise is not conflict resolution, but rather a focus on cultural, social, professional, artistic, democratic, and human rights issues. With such immense diversity in the American Muslim community, it is difficult to reduce it to a single voice. Instead, there needs to be greater appreciation for the efforts and contributions of Muslims in areas of conflict resolution, interfaith dialogue, peace building, education, political activities, civic work, human rights and women's rights advocacy, legal expertise, and humanitarian efforts. The immense contributions and growing involvement of American Muslims in the public square clearly reflects that Muslims in the United States are situating themselves within civic, governmental, and political structures of the nation. Each organization has its own vision for its members as Americans and for their contributions to contemporary issues of conflict and peacemaking.

About the Report

With the war against terrorism and an increased attention on the Muslim world, this report analyzes ways Muslims in the United States understand their roles as Americans in combating terrorism and their unique contributions toward conflict prevention and peacemaking. The assimilation and integration of American Muslims has effectively enabled the flourishing of dozens of national and regional organizations to work in areas of civil rights, human rights, interfaith dialogue, education, charity, public diplomacy, political activism, and other religious and secular activities. Despite the post 9/11 scrutiny of the Muslim community, American Muslim groups have devised sophisticated grassroots campaigns on counter-terrorism and anti-extremist ideology.

Qamar-ul Huda is the Senior Program Officer in the Religion and Peacemaking program at the United States Institute of Peace. Formerly a professor of Islamic Studies and Comparative Theology at Boston College, he examines ethics, violence, conflict resolution and nonviolence in juristic and nonjuristic Muslim authorities in contemporary Islam. This report is part of a larger book project on American Muslim identity formation and Islamic approaches toward mediation and peacebuilding.

The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect views of the United States Institute of Peace, which does not advocate specific policy positions.

February 1, 2006
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