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.
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
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!
I resommend putting this bumper sticker on your car"Discover Jesus in the Quran,www.freequran.org."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.
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"
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
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 Islamicity.com editors to please comment on this and provide relevant information links if you have any.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dr. Akhter, a well written article. Sir, you are a writer, so you don't have to "imagine" any more.
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