American Muslims under Suspicion

Category: Americas, Nature & Science Views: 7128

Muslim in America:
A subject of others' suspicion

I am a Muslim from South Asia by birth and choice, an American citizen by desire, and a physician by preference. I am a family man, a friend to many, a mentor to some. I fancy myself thoughtful. I like to read and write. In my dreams, I imagine that I am a recognized writer.

So how should I define myself?

Too often, it seems, I am defined solely as a Muslim-American, these other identities--husband and father, doctor, writer--submerged.

And as they are submerged there rises the uneasy question of loyalty: Can Muslims living in the U.S. still be loyal American citizens?

Daily, I have the distinct impression that those who are not close friends are suspicious of me simply because I am Muslim. This is most apparent in public places and, in particular, during air travel. Twice, my luggage has gone through a secondary search; the decision to search, officials told me, was random.

I worry how my neighbors on an airplane will react when they see me reading books with explicitly Muslim titles, no matter how benign the books.

This question of loyalty has taken on certain urgency ever since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, and even more so in recent weeks with the pre-emption of the alleged terror plot in Britain and the arrests of several Arab-American men carrying a large number of cellular telephones in the Midwest.

Terror charges were filed against the men and then quickly dropped--suggesting that racial profiling, and not any crime, prompted the arrests.

My concern is not unfounded. A USA Today/Gallup poll published in August 2006 reported that 39 percent of respondents favored requiring Muslims, including U.S. citizens, to carry special identification.

More and more politicians are calling for racial profiling. They include Rep. Peter King, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee; U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.); and John Faso, a New York Republican running for governor.

This concern is new. Growing up in India, I wasn't self-conscious about my identity. I was an Indian by birth, a Muslim by faith and, truth be told, a bit of a nerd. The city that I grew up in, Hyderabad, has a Muslim past, which is visible in the architecture, language, cuisine and the social behavior. For me, all of that made it a comfortable place in which to grow up and live.

The Muslim rulers of Hyderabad were feudal, and they had many faults. But they valued education and architecture, and they respected the differences of their Hindu subjects, who were the majority of the population. An example of this is the blend of Hindu and Muslim architecture in the Arts College of Osmania University, one of the city's premier buildings. My identities--Muslim and Indian--were as seamlessly merged as the Arts College architecture. I never questioned either identity, nor do I remember anyone questioning my identity or my loyalty. Muslims and Hindus, for the most part, have learned to live together.

Given that the U.S. has ongoing wars in Muslim countries and that Muslim militants in foreign lands are targeting the U.S., it is, perhaps, understandable that many Americans are anxious about Muslims' loyalty.

For Muslims loyalty is straightforward. Part of being a Muslim is to abide by covenants you take; the oath of allegiance may not be broken. This does not mean we support the policies of whoever is in the White House or in control of Congress. Dissent is part of American and Muslim traditions.

Muslims are not the only group that faced questions of loyalty. Thousands of innocent Japanese-Americans, for example, were interned in camps after Pearl Harbor because their loyalty to the U.S. was doubted.

If history is any guide, this anti-Muslim bias we are experiencing shall pass too. It may take a long time for the situation to normalize, but I am optimistic it will.

When I talk of my identity, I speak mostly from an immigrant experience. The issue of identity is different for the generation of Muslims born here. As a group, they relate only marginally with their parents' country of birth.

Many kids of Indian parents think cricket is an insect, not the most exciting sport in the world, that Indira Gandhi is a relative of Mahatma Gandhi, that Nehru is not Indira's father but someone a jacket was named for. They have no other national identity than being American.

Muslim-Americans have many identities but generally have a common thread running between them. This is the belief in the basic tenets of Islam: belief in one God and Prophet Muhammad as the final messenger of God, charity, fasting, prayers and the hajj pilgrimage for those who can afford it.

My different identities inform and reinforce each other. I am a man from South Asia. I spend most of my waking hours as a physician. And my behavior is influenced by my personal faith, my heritage and the nurturing qualities of the American society I live in. I am as loyal an American as any. But my identity is intensely personal, complex and dynamic. And it is nearly impossible to define.

Javeed Akhter, is the Executive Director of the Chicago based International Strategy and Policy Institute and he is the author of the book "The seven phases of Prophet Muhammad's Life,"

Click Here to read book review of The seven phases of Prophet Muhammad's Life

  Category: Americas, Nature & Science
Views: 7128
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Older Comments:
Well written article, I think every muslim can relate to this article in one way or another.

i tink that it is un fare whate pepole think of muslims .that gist becuse some dumasses blow up a airplane and becuse of that the world is afrade of muslims and peploe are raseole to muslims. and i tink that u shoud do whate u want whit your life and becume a writer .if god wans that to hape the it will...............................god bless you

I just would like to state that i totally understand what you are going through everyday. And it is a struggle that all Moselem Americans have to deal with. I converted to Islam 2 years ago now and i could honestly say that whether i am shopping at Marshalls or at Food Max i get looked at more than others. And i blame this on all those terrorists who are making us:honest moselems look bad. I could also balme it on ignorance, because many see us as Osama Bin Laden's cousins and we are NOT!!! i am an American and i am heck of glad to be Mexican American!!! Oh, and about your traveling, my boss experienced the same thing only, because her passport was from Syria. I know what you mean, but that is why we must never give up prayer and having faith that things going on in the world will change inchallah!!!!

sALLAM aLaiKom!!!!

Salaamalikum Brother Javeed
Very nice article. I can totally relate to it and have written similar sentiments locally where I live and it was received very well by the local community. I hope more Muslim Americans will become active in their communities and neighborhoods and bring about awareness.
a sister in Islam

Actually Jesus wasn't blonde, the Bible says He had bronze skin and wooly hair (sounds like a person of color not a white man). Anyway, I agree that we need to give dawah, but first it should be given to the Muslims. Too many of us do not know our deen. We have brothers crying about their girlfriends cooking pork (disrespecting their religion), when they are the one's who are disrespecting Islam via dating. Today's Christians ARE NOT people of the book, they associate partners with Allah, unless you find a Unitarian which is rare here in America. We have too many racist Muslims, at least in the DC metro area, and we pull the "religion card" too often. When we go back to the guidance in the Quran and Sunnah, then we no longer be humiliated. How can we ask for our religous rights, when 10 brothers/sisters will tell you a beard/hijab is optional, shorts are okay, smoking, etc..or they refuse to marry certain groups of (wo)men becaue of her skin color, she's divorced, has children, not wealthy, etc...Let's go back to the basics and educate ourselves. Let's act on the guidance instead of reciting as we rush through salat.

I am a Muslim woman. I started to work in healthcare establishments in USA due to financial needs. I have started to gain weight because of the racist and subtle Islamophobic environment in hospitals. I have come to the conclusion- "Hospitals are the leaders in hating Islam because they are the ones who know the creation of Allah (SWT) the best and they are intensely depressed how they are WRONG and how Islamic view of life, marriage, family relations, child psychology is all beyond and above any PhD dissertation. This makes them (the true scholars) feel defeated and small. So, their non-islamic corrective behavior is to slay that fear and smudge or spread words of evil to destroy Muslims and Islam. What these poor souls DO NOT KNOW is they are "fighting" God (ALLAH SWT!!). So, I am sitting and watching how they are being scorned by Allah (SWT)...starting from AbuGhareib, Guantanamo, Cheney-lesbian, and ALL the DIRTY laundry. At last the 'world' will see the true face of the ENEMY OF ISLAM- Insha Allah (with God's will). Our job as Muslims is not to be like 'them' and hate. Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) NEVER, NEVER hated even his enemies. He prayed for them to see the 'light' and beauty of Allah (SWT), and His mercy and kindness. They got themselves into this mess and only Allah (SWT) can get them out of it (if He wants). The story of PHAROAH in the Noble Furquaan comes to mind a lot these days. Muslim brothers and sisters FIRST- care of your children- HUG them like prophet Muhammad did to his children (do not leave them in cold cribs alone at night and in strollers- which gives autism and feed them organic yogurt and dark green leaves every day. Give your whole family fish and fish oil three times a week. Eat dark red/orange rich in Vit A roots and eat nuts- cashew/almonds/pistachio- in small amts everyday. Do WUDU to clean the nostrils of dangerous microbes. Brush teeth with siwak (toothpaste has swine gelatine & carcinogens. KKK leader was an Obst/Gynecologist-read.

Jillosophy?Cacosophy?Islamofascist is an oximoron. You can't be an Islamic and a Fascist in the same time. You either are a Fascist or an Islamic person. Whatever doesn't suit the US administration is called a bad name, this day and age are the Muslims who are victimized. Therefore, even trying to defent Islamic values would seem as anti-American and non-Patriotic, guess who would fit the definition of Fascist? The US administration par excellence! Bloodthirsty? Who started the war in Middle East? The Zionist state backed up by USA. Who vetoed every sanction on Israel by UN? Again USA. So in the Muslims books, the Fascists are the Zionists and the Western powers that support it, savvy?

American Muslim:"Sets you apart from the millions who commit terrorist acts as well as those who do not partake in them, but sit idly by and tolerate it." What a sick philosophy, millions of terrorists? The world would end if the terrorists would be in the millions, don't you think? Maybe a couple of tens of thousands, but millions? Now figure that that the Muslim world is 1.3 billion people, are we all terrorists because we didn't join Israel and USA in killing the Arabs? How stupid can you be?
Is this statement belonging to the realm of sanity:"You need to set yourself apart from them and this would be a good way to do it. In this day and age, you cannot fault Americans for needing that reassurance." An American Muslim is an American, you separate the two, that's segregation and racism. Who the hell is an Ameican for you? An American is a person that was either born in USA or was naturalized there, irregardless of his ethnicity, race, faith or political beliefs. Now, are you trying to arrest the American people's constitutional freedom? Therefore you wouls advocate freedom for some Americans and suspician and restriction for others? Jesus Christ, man, I'm jumping happy with tremendous joy that I'm a Canadian and not an American! Thanx God for Canada!

Single most important work that needs to be done is to tell Americans what Islam is meaning not for the sake of conversion but for the sake of outreach to correct misconceptions.Basically whites are people who look down on every one else(due to Jesus being blond,and social side of darwinism)so we have to do special effort otherwise they can do anything .e.g.what they did to local Indians and to blacks.
I resommend putting this bumper sticker on your car"Discover Jesus in the Quran,"In the minimum it informs christians that Islam respects Jesus so is not anti-christ and on its max it invites them to read Quran and tells them how to get it free.Please contact the website for it.Remember a posistive change will come only with a continous and selfless work.

it shouldnt hurt to be a muslim anywhere,where is the truth in muslims,we can't even stand up against injustice for the palestines,a lot of Turks dont want to be europeans because of not wanting to lost their islamic values,masalam

Dear writer,
Assalamu Alaikum. You are very optimistic about this current situation and optimism is a good thing. Inshallah this "racist" behavior against Muslims in the so-called "western world" will soon blow over, but personally, I am not so optimistic.

Living in Germany I also see this "being scared of Muslims" on every street corner and in politics. In several German federal states foreigners must take certain tests to become German citizen, in my opinion it is all right to make sure that the person who wants to be a citizen knows the language and knows something about the political system and the history of the country. But in these test applicants are being asked if their religion will allow them to abide by the laws of this country - what a strange question. In France they are asking the Muslims what is more important to them; being a Muslim or being French.

To me this is a familiar situation - this is exactly how it started in the thirties, when some people started to become "suspicious" of people of another religion - the Jews. And these Jewish people of the German third Reich may have also thought, just as you do: "this will soon blow over". But we all know how that ended up, it did not blow over and to this day every German citizen still feels the guilt over what their grandparents and parents did back then - when almost all of them "looked the other way".

Now, I am not saying that we will all soon have to wear a yellow crescent on our jackets, Inshallah the good people of today have learned from past mistakes.

I think it is up to all of us Muslims to show "them" that the meaning of "Muslim" is NOT equal to the meaning of "terrorist". I know it is not an easy task, but we all have this responsibility. And then, Inshallah, "this whole thing will soon blow over"

Stop the killing in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Chehnya. Freedom to the client states to choose their goverment. No more imperialism and hegemony. Peace is good in the long run for your business.

I checked "I am against it" because there was no mention of Muslims who were born in the U.S. to non-Muslim parents also from here. I was born and raised in Washington, D.C. and my family in America goes back at least to my great-grandparents (as the descendant of slaves it is pretty hard for a 50 year old like me to trace any further back in my ancestry.)

I am a veteran of the U.S. military with an Honorable discharge. I have a college education and have SERVED as a schoolteacher. I have never been in trouble with the law. I became Muslim in 1974 as a high school senior, and that caused some problems for me at home initially. Upon returning from Hajj in 2000, I quietly sang God Bless America as the plane touched down at JFK Airport because I was so happy to have returned safely to my home, America. Later that year, I legally changed my name to the one I had been known as by family and friends since becoming a Muslim.

Then, in 2001 we experienced the infamous 9/11. I too began to get treated differntly when trying to board a flight and being "randomly" checked more than once for a flight. Once, a guard noticed my name after I had already been cleared, then checked through my CD case, one CD at a time while a young white guy with carry on luggage boarded without even being stopped at the gate.

This is why I am against the way this brother wrote his article. Does he not consider those of us whose families have been here for generations as Muslim-Americans? He can go "back" to India to live, while I would have to "move" there. I am by birth Muslim (one who submits) even though I was not raised as such. I am also by virtue of being born in the U.S. an American. I would say that I am "more" Muslim-American than he is, yet I felt no inclusion in his article. Hopefully, it was an oversight on his part and not intentional bias, which we "DO" unfortunately have among Muslims.

I do agree with the ideas he presented and his optimism for this current state i

I think our greatest threat in this country are people like jillosophy who are so bent on their hate for Islam and Muslims that I doubt there can be peace among us. No matter how bad bush is, I think these athiests are worse. But anyone who is an enemy of muslims is an enemy of Allah and Allah will protect us against them.

May be Americans should remove their sticky beaks in Arab and Islamic lands but that seems to be very hard for US Admins whose nature seem to be one of bullying. As long as they do so, then should expect some form of opposition from the people of those lands. Only when America treats others as equals instead of master/slave relationship that we can expect peace to reign. No people can live as slaves anymore. This is human nature and is not unique to Islam. This is the age of enlightenment and Americans must learn to respect others and not dominate by force and co-ersion just because they are a super-power. Indeed when the powerful treats you with respect that you come to admire him and follow him. May be this wisdom will eventually find its way to the American psyche and hopefully before many other innocent lives are lost. Peace.

Imam Bilal,
There are no prophets or messengers after the last Prophet and Messenger of Allah, Muhammad Sallalahu Alahi Wasallam. (Peace and blessings be upon him)

A messenger is a prophet but not every prophet a messenger. There are 124,000 prophets out of which there are 313 messengers. The Prophet Muhammad Sallalahu Alaihi Wassalam is the final Messenger and Prophet.

Here is a link which may help you:

Please correct your beliefs or you will go out of the fold of Islam and cannot be called a muslim. If you need any knowledge about this, please contact any "muslim" scholar or Imam or use the "Ask Imam" service on this website

I would also request the editors to please comment on this and provide relevant information links if you have any.

JazakumAllahu khairun

DearDr Akhter, It's great to be Muslim dan Islam. Nothing wrong with Islamic religion and the way of of it's followers. The mistakes are the followers who thing they are more Islamic than others. This peoples creates uneasy situations to devout muslim followers. Some western leaders refused to acknowledged the goods teaching of Islam although they have all the means in their power to understand it. Islam mean peace, only some followers believed they are the choosen ones. This are the people that made people like you miserable. The American Citizen needs to be informed of the real good teaching of Islam. The converts during the Prophet SAW dan Caliphs periods becomes Islam because good example showed by the Prophet SAW dan the Sahabats. In my country, the citizens are told and preach of the good teaching of Islam. In this way all peoples, from all races dan religion in my country understands the proper and real Islamic teaching as it was the Quran and Hadis. Don't worry Dr.Ahkter go on with you life and spread the real Islamic pratices and kowledge to you friends and clients. Invite them to your house show them Islam means peace.

Dr. Vernon Lawrence is a good man. He didn't mean to say what he said. He was just having a bad day...

Assalaamualaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh.

Dear Dr Akhter, you wrote "If history is any guide, this anti-Muslim bias we are experiencing shall pass too. It may take a long time for the situation to normalize, but I am optimistic it will."

I say amen to that insha Allah. It may take years, or even centuries, but things will change because it's sunnatullah.

May Allah make it easy for you in your work and your daily life.


Dr. Lawrence surely you can see beyond your nose. It is not that Muslims are trying to dominate, but the truth is that eventually only that ideology will dominate that promotes peace, justice and humanity. That is what you are misinterpreting about Islam. Obviously Judeo-Christian values are not full of the milk of human kindness. Did Muslim forces invade Iraq, Afghanistan, Grenada, Panama, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan? Was it Muslim who authored the Holocaust and butchered millions? Or was it Muslims who used nuclear weapons on Japan and chemical and biological weapons on the Vietnamese? Was it Muslims who massacred Muslims in the refugee camps of Arba and Shattila or was it Muslims who were involved in their own genocide in Bosnia and Kosovo? Or was it Muslims who butchered 635,000 souls in Rawanda? No Dr. benign, it was, every time, Christians and Jews. It is not Muslims seeking to dominate but the burning truth is that the failing of your Judeo-Christian values and morals and the brutality of Western policies will cause their own eclipse. In time erstwhile poorer countries will be able to fend for themselves economically and militarily. They will indeed be able to strike back with same vigor and destructive force as you. In time all this destruction, blood and gore that characterises you and your religion and country will naturally be shunned by anyone with an ounce of sense. The Pharaohs fell. Rome fell. You too will fall. Nothing lasts forever and it is no use deluding and lying to yourself.

I believe that in this day and age, thanks to the Islamofascists who insist on declaring and carrying out war against all that is not Islamic - or even Islamic enough to suit their bloodthirsty tastes - you should define yourself as American-Muslim.
The fact that you would state American first defines you - doesn't lessen your Muslim identity - but enhances it, shows you are first for freedom for all. Sets you apart from the millions who commit terrorist acts as well as those who do not partake in them, but sit idly by and tolerate it. There are many Muslims in the world who consider themselves moderate simply because they don't strap a bomb to their child. But they silently condone the terrorist methods as they are mainstream - that being anti-American and anti-West.
You need to set yourself apart from them and this would be a good way to do it. In this day and age, you cannot fault Americans for needing that reassurance.
Give it some thought.
I think that would make a huge difference.

To Dr. Vernon,

I am a Muslim originally from Bangladesh and have been living in this great country for more than 17 years. Over that period I lived in four states and went to two universities. I came across many Muslims from all walks of life and did not find any who wants to be dominant and to impose Sharia on others. I also do not watch Fox news and do not read right-wing pro-Israeli hate materials and do not listen to the anti-Muslim evangelical leaders. Yes, there are Muslims who wants others to embrace Islam, just like there are Christians (have you heard of hundreds of thousands of Christian missionaries working day and night all over the world to convert people?) who wants others to become Christians. Hope this helps.

Interesting; however, with the al-Takeyya, kitman, and hudna of Islam, it is advised to be aware of their presence and report any unusual situation.

I was raised in Pakistan but still I can identify myself in you and being a sincere American and my loyalty to USA but profiling hurts me and I blve that its going to get far worse than we can possibly imagin before it gets better. Tasneem

I acknowledge the author for this wonderful effort.I do appreciate the feelings described. But believe me I have seen many muslim families in US mostly from India who have maintained their culture,heritage, customs and are much more religious than they would have been in India.
Well, I may be talking about a minority in a minority.But I guess, It is the atmosphere at home that will be responsible for overall development of a child.
I think this wonderful article needs to be explained more.As it seems demanding and is an important issue.

As-Salaamu Alaikum,

Dr. Akhter, a well written article. Sir, you are a writer, so you don't have to "imagine" any more.

Two suggestions:

It would be more accurate to say that Prophet Muhammad (prayers and peace be upon him) is the last Prophet; there have been many messengers, before and after our Prophet.

It seems natural to list the articles of faith in the order: Belief in one G-d and Muhammad is His last Prophet, prayer, charity, fasting and pilgrimage.

No big deal, only suggestions.

G-d bless you and your family,

Imam Bilal Yasin El-Amin
The Propagation Congregation
Richmond, Virginia