“There are an estimated 7 million Muslims living in the United States, and polls suggest that 64% of these Muslims are immigrants”
Muslim Immigration History
- The earliest Muslim immigrants came as slaves from Africa beginning perhaps as early as 1501
- The slave-owners sometimes appreciated and rewarded their literate Muslim slaves, but they despised the religion of Islam and did what they could to prevent it from passing from one generation to the next.
Reasons for Immigrating
- Ethnic persecution. Expulsion of Asians from Uganda, followed by smaller numbers from Tanzania and Kenya, led to some 6,000 Muslims in North America. Saddam Hussein’s extermination campaign against the Kurds led to mass exoduses in 1989, 1991, and 1996.
- Religious persecution. Hindu-Muslim clashes in India cause a steady stream of Muslims to seek safety in America, even as members of the country’s elite leave due to job discrimination. There was even one case of a French Muslim seeking asylum in the United States.
- Islamism. Members of the Ahmadi sect fled Pakistan when their faith was deemed not Islamic in 1974, as did many other Muslims running from the Islamist dictatorship of Gen. Zia ul-Haq. The Iranian revolution of 1979 targeted the sort of person most likely to seek refuge in the United States. Persecuted by Islamists, members of anti-Islamist movements such as the Republican Brothers of the Sudan and the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects of Lebanon immigrated to the United States.
- Anti-Islamism. Conversely, Islamists flee repression from countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, and India by moving to the land of the infidel, where they (ironically) find the freedom to express their views.
- Civil wars. Waves of immigrants arrived as a consequence of the endless civil war in Sudan, the 1971 Pakistani civil war, the 1975-90 Lebanese civil war, the 1990s anarchy in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia.
- International wars. The Israeli victories in 1948-49 and 1967 caused waves of emigration. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 and the decade of warfare that followed prompted the educated to flee. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 brought not only Kuwaiti citizens and residents, but also 10,000 Iraqis, one-third of them soldiers (and their family members) who surrendered to the Allied troops and could not be sent back without imperiling their lives.
Overall Theme: Religion
Although the number of Muslim immigrants is rapidly growing, we have very little understanding of their assimilation and adaptation to the United States. Recently there has been prominent shifts in immigration when scrutinizing the progression of settlers in the United States. The alterations in immigration are centered primarily on either how well new immigrants integrate into the American economy or how poorly they integrate into American culture. The underlying theme of immigration is the dynamic relationship between immigrants’ cultural belief systems and their integration into the United States.
Individual vs. Community: Interview of student vs. interview of mosque immigrants
Religious institutions and groups serve diverse functions for immigrants. Individuals either seek membership within these organizations, or lose sight of their cultural identity to become an Americanized accent. Kurien found that Muslim immigrants tend to “increase their religious participation once they arrive to the U.S. because religion becomes more salient, allowing individuals the ability to create and sustain their immigrant ethnicity”
Luckily, I was able to observe a religious organization that encompassed all individuals with similar religious practices. Engulfing myself into the Muslim culture evaluating religious values and customs, I attended a local Staten Island mosque. Consuming Muslim food and learning lessons for the Quran, I recognized the similarity between the other conventional divine religions: Judaism and Christianity. Juxtaposing all three religions, the only difference that Muslims believe in the last prophet being “peace upon him” Muhammad. Initially, the three Pakistani gentlemen provided significant insight into the life of a Muslim American immigrant.
- Muslim-Americans feel the need for a strong community based on a common identity with collective goals and interests. The Pakistani gentlemen at the mosque visually described the Pakistan home life filled with delicious food, family oriented, greatly populated, well-educated, traditional, and beautiful scenery. However, the Pakistani immigrants explain the struggle to maintain their cultural value and to establish their socioeconomic status when immigrating to America and how uniting together as a community helped to better assimilate.
Interview with Wagner student
“How liberal muslim student Reko Rasool claims that “accepting Islam is quite optimistic”
“Home”- Kurdistan, Iraq
Some immigrants lose sight of their cultural identity to become an Americanized accent. Reko Rasool, freshman at Wagner College, explained his adaptation and acculturation into the United States from Kurdistan.
- He acclaimed himself “as a chameleon” one able and ready to adapt to a new inviting environment. Reko traveled to the United States to experience a change of life and to obtain a college education.
- However, when immigrating to the United States Reko decided to take the role of the individual instead of the community.
- As a liberal muslim from secular Kurdistan, he is proud of his ethnicity and religion, however doesn’t outwardly display it.
- Studying at Wagner College, he does not practice the daily rituals of his religion or culture. Although he does not frequently practice his customs, he has not lost sight of them. Similarly to AC in the novel Home Boy, Reko is “a self-respecting Muslim atheist, just like any, ah, non practicing Christian, secular Jew, or carnivorous Hindu…”(Naqvi 2009).
“He is someone I look up to, and want to be like in the future”
Although Reko has not practiced his religious customs in America, he remains proud of identifying himself as a Kurdistan particularly because of Kurdistan’s struggle against the Iraqi regime for freedom.
- Specifically, Reko’s family history about the battle for freedom was most intriguing. Reko’s father was one of well known freedom fighter for Iraq and remains a symbolic figure for the patriotic unit of Kurdistan. Eventually, his father became a political figure of Kurdistan, Iraq and Reko hopes to follow in footsteps hopefully becoming an American politician with the knowledge of international affairs to enlighten Americans about the corruption of social media.
- However, this cannot be reached without common media and other means of communication in which identities, goals, and purposes can be articulated and discussed. In other words, Muslim Americans consider “public communication crucial to the ‘empowerment’ of their community”. However, the negative perception of the Muslim community leads to discrimination and prejudice.
Discrimination: “Walked into a room amongst typical foreigners”
When touching upon the topic of discrimination in the interview with Reko, Reko was happy to report that he has not encountered discrimination here at Wagner College. In fact, he very much enjoys the diversity within Wagner’s community and especially the D (diversity) requirement for Wagner’s general education requirement. However, traveling to NY Reko encountered some impediments along the way. Entering the United States through JFK airport, Reko faced difficulty passing through the security system.
- Reko stated that the TSA was “giving him a hard time”. Even though the TSA gentlemen seemed sociable and friendly, he still sent him into the other room to be further inspected. Walking into the room, Reko observe the other individuals that were asked to be searched further.
- He stated that all the individuals were “typical immigrants”. From an Iraqi to a Hispanic, Reko assumed that based on their appearance or location from their departure that they were personally asked to be interrogated further.
- Eventually after hours spent being interrogated, Reko finally made it through American security and finally arrived to Wagner College to obtain his education.
Among several difficulties, issue of identity and integration into American mainstream appears to be the most important one.As long as both communities continue to demonize each other, the integration of American Muslims into the American mainstream will be discourage; and prolonged alienation of Muslims will continue. “Perceptions of threat, party identification, and ideology”with assistance of the corrupted media skew the view of the American people.
The obvious explanation for the unpopularity of Muslims in contemporary American society centers on the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011. After 9/11, attentions re-focused on Muslims around the world in general, and specifically on the Muslim immigrants in the United States specifically. The attacks were carried out by Muslim extremists, however, with the negative media coverage, there has been greater distaste for muslim community. The interview with Reko Rasool helped disclosed the perplexity of this relation.Reko postulates that eventually in time there will is an American Islam gradually being created.
- Potentially a version of the faith that aligns with the contemporary United States both organizationally and culturally. This faith formation is connected to the immigration of Muslims to the United States since the 1965 changes in immigration laws, even though Muslims have been in the United States, especially among African Americans, much longer than that.
- Two sets of social forces are creating this American Islam: the lived religious practices of the second and third generations of these post-1965 families; and the imposed images of Islam and institutional constraints of civil society coming from major social institutions and native-born Americans.
With the help of this project, both interviewing an immigrant and engulfing myself into the culture at the mosque, I am more aware of America’s narrow-mindedness than I have ever been before. I strive to commit to service America and provide awareness to the many disillusioned Americans. I cannot help America dramatically because I am only one person, one voice. However, I will advocate to many individuals as much as I can and hopefully this will eventually enlighten some individuals that were unaware.
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