Tinggalkan komentar

American Dreamers

American Dreamers


by Lisa MillerJuly 30, 2007

Muslim Americans are one of this country’s greatest strengths. But
they’re vulnerable as never before.

Fareed Siddiq is a successful businessman and a father of two. He
lives in Chagrin Falls, Ohio—a 19th-century mill town built on a river
and known for its scenic waterfalls and dams—in afive-bedroom house he
recently paid for, in cash, with his savings.Prominent in local civic
and religious organizations, including the Red Cross and the chamber
of commerce, Siddiq was invited to the InterContinental Hotel in
downtown Cleveland earlier this month along with about 400 other
business leaders to hear President George W. Bush speak.

He was moved to ask his president a question: “What,” he asked,
hauling his 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame to the microphone, “are we doing
with public diplomacy to change the hearts and minds of a billion and
a half Muslims around the world?” What should he tell his friends and
relatives in Pakistan about why he continues to live in the United

“Great question,” answered the president. “I’m confident your answer
is, ‘I love living in America, the land of the free and the home of
the brave, the country where you can come and ask the presidenta
question and a country where—’ Are you a Muslim?”

“Yes,” answered Siddiq.

“Where you can worship your religion freely. It’s a great country
where you can do that.”

It was a good answer, says Siddiq, but not enough for him—not when he,
a financial adviser at a major investment bank, is afraid to use the
bathroom on flights because he doesn’t want to frighten his fellow
passengers as he walks down the aisle. He thinks anti-Muslim sentiment
in the country is getting worse, not better. “I’m not so much worried
about myself,” he adds. “It’s the young people I’m concerned
with.Those are the people we need to try—not only as Muslims but
asAmericans—to make them feel part of America. If you alienate the
Muslim young people from America, that is dangerous.”

Nearly six years after 9/11, the story of Muslims in America is one of
overwhelming success. The National Intelligence Estimate released last
week warned that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda continue to have their
sights set on an attack within the United States. The report also
notes a growing radicalism among Muslims in the West. But at a press
briefing, intelligence officials were particularly concerned about the
threat of homegrown terror cells within Europe’s Muslim communities.
America, the officials said, has so far provided relatively infertile
ground for the growing and grooming of Muslim extremists. “Most
Muslims in America think of themselves as Americans,” says Charlie
Allen, intelligence chief at the Homeland Security Department.

In fact, Muslim Americans represent the most affluent, integrated,
politically engaged Muslim community in the Western world. According
to a major survey done by the Pew Research Center and released last
spring, Muslims in America earn about the same as their neighbors, and
their educational levels are about the same. An overwhelming number—71
percent—agree that in America, you can “get ahead with hard work.” In
stark contrast, Muslimsin France, Germany and England are about 20
percent more likely to live in poverty.

The alleged terror plots uncovered since 9/11 are asign that this
success cannot be taken for granted. Ire among Muslim Americans at
U.S. policies in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories is
at a peak, and thanks to satellite news channels like Al-Jazeera and
the Internet, that dissatisfaction can spread like fire. As the Muslim
community expands and becomes more established, tensions within the
community are also growing—between young and old, immigrant and
native-born. Across the country, second- and third-generation Muslims
are visibly grappling with how to be Muslim and American at once,
while their parents look on with pride—and, like Siddiq, concern.

There are 2.35 million Muslims in America according to Pew, though
many estimates put that number much higher, and 65 percent of them are
foreign-born. These Muslims began coming here in large waves
after1965, when U.S. law changed to allow increased immigration from
countries beyond Western Europe. Over the past four decades they have
come from South Asia (Pakistan, India and most recently Bangladesh),
the Arab world (the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Egypt), as
wellas Europe and Africa. They came for education and advancement, but
also to follow family, and—as in the case of the 35,000 Somalis who
began arriving in the 1990s—to flee war and oppression in their home
countries. The pull of the American dream remains strong. “The U.S. is
founded on the idea that we’re all connected to a set of ideas, not a
set of histories,” says Keith Ellison, the Democrat from Minnesota
whois Congress’s first Muslim. “For all our criticisms, the idea of
America is an amazing thing—a society organized around a set of
principles instead of around racial or cultural identity.”

Most of the Muslims who were born here are African-American converts
and descendants of converts. But a fast-growing number are the
children of immigrants, and this last group is extremely young; nearly
half are between 18 and 29. In this melting pot, no one group is
significantly bigger or more powerful than any of the others—it is,
Muslim Americans like to say, the most diverse group of Muslims
anywhere except in Mecca during the annual pilgrimage, or hajj.

This profound diversity and relative affluence sets the Muslim
community here dramatically apart from those in Europe, where Muslims
came from their native countries as many as four generations ago
largely as factory workers or laborers. “The Moroccans, the Turks,
they were recruited for their illiteracy, for their strong hands and
good teeth,” says the provocative Dutch singer Raja el-Mouhandiz,
whose parents were from North Africa. When the factory jobs went away,
Europe’s Muslims continued to live in ethnic ghettos, isolated from
the larger society—a society that tended to be white, homogenous and,
on some basic level, impenetrable. In most European countries, Muslim
employment is 15 to 40 percent below the population at large.

Significantly, one of the more notable cases in America—the young men
from upstate New York, dubbed the Lackawanna Six, who were arrested in
2002 and pleaded guiltyto having trained with Al Qaeda in
Afghanistan—grew up in an environment somewhat analogous to that of
Europe. Yemenites migrated to Lackawanna in the 1930s for jobs in the
steel mills. Those jobs disappeared, but the Yemenite population, now
fully American, grew and stayed, and the young people there continue
to struggle with drugs, crime and unemployment. In the Yemenite
neighborhoods of Lackawanna, about a third live below the poverty

An equally critical but perhaps less obvious benefit to U.S. Muslims
is the religiosity of the American people. Even if a religious
practice is regarded with suspicion in America, it is generally
treated with respect. In aNEWSWEEK Poll, 69 percent of Americans said
they thought Muslim American students should be allowed to wear
headscarves in class. (The devout prime minister of Turkey, a Muslim
country with a tradition of militant secularism, actually sent his
daughters to America for colleges o they could continue wearing their
scarves.) “When I say to an evangelical Christian, ‘It’s prayer time,’
they might question the way I pray, but they understand viscerally the
importance of prayer,” says Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith
Youth Core in Chicago. “When  I lived in England”—which Patel did from
1998 to 2001—”and I said, ‘It’s prayer time,’ people looked at me as
if I was an alien.”

It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that on September
10,2001, the Muslim American universe was largely invisible. The only
Muslims most people here knew by name were Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan
and Muhammad Ali. If their doctor or accountant was Muslim, the
average American probably didn’t give it much thought.

The Muslim community itself was partially responsible for this
isolation—like the Italian, Irish and Jewish immigrants before them,
many hunkered down in ethnic enclaves. They strove to fit in, but
quietly. For decades, the Islamic Center of New England, in Quincy,
Mass., was home to a growing group of Lebanese immigrants who came to
America for work in the ship yards. It was a cozy place, where people
with similar backgrounds came to meet, pray and gossip. The imam, a
Lebanese man named Talal Eid, was a perfect fit—he understood the
community’s values and he shared their interest in becoming American.
“I have a woman with a headcover and a Muslim woman without a head
cover,” he says of his congregation at the time. “I’m not here to
judge which is good and which is bad. I am here to serve them all
equally.” (In the past decade, however, his congregation changed as
new immigrants arrived from Algeria, Morocco, Egypt and Pakistan; Eid
was ousted in favor of a more conservative imam in 2005.)

The relative peace that came with invisibility disappeared after 9/11.
When Muslims became object sof fear, “people who had never recognized
and seen themselves as Muslims had no choice but to see themselves as
Muslim,” says Muzaffar Chisti, director of the Migration Policy
Institute at the New York University School of Law. Young women who
had never before worn the traditional Islamic head covering—and whose
mothers saw it as a symbol of the backwardness they had left at
home—put on the veil. According to a 2002 study from Hamilton College,
more than a third of Muslim American women now wear the veil every

The first thing Razi Mohiuddin and his wife, Tahseen, did after 9/11
was to host an open house for the larger community at their mosque,
the Muslim Community Association in Silicon Valley. More than a
thousand non-Muslims showed up. The next thing they did was take their
children out of their elite private school and install them in the
school at the mosque. Before the attacks, the Mohiuddins lived the
lives of busy, successful professionals: he launched start-ups; she
was a pre-K teacher. Their own religious observance, the backbone of
their family life, was private.

After the attacks “our responsibilities changed,” says Mohiuddin, who
emigrated from India when he was 17. “It forced people to say, ‘Where
do I stand? Either I walk away from the faith or I become more
involved in defending the faith, which [is] under assault’.” His
children, he thought, needed to know they were Muslim and feel proud.
Hindsight has given Mohiuddin more reason to feel glad of this
decision; the boys are teenagers now, and Mohiuddin is thankfu lthat
they have more than a passing knowledge of the restraint required of
an observant Muslim.

To combat the discrimination many were feeling, many Muslim Americans
turned, in classic American fashion, to the courts. The Council on
American Islamic Relations, an advocacy group, counted nearly 2,500
civil-rights complaints by Muslim Americansin 2006, a dramatic
increase over the previous year. These are the kinds of stories that
make news—women who sue for the right to wear the hijab in their
driver’s license photo—and Muslim Americans say they show how invested
they are in the American system. This is important: history suggests
that thriving civil societies tend to smooth the sharper edges of
faith. Religious convictions are no less firm or real, but they are
less likely to fuel the kind of extremism that can lead to violence.
The six imams who were pulled off a US Airways flight last fall after
praying openly at a Minneapolis airport gate have sued the airline and
the airport commission for civil-rights violations. “I believe in
justice in the United States, and that’s why we’ve taken this case to
court,” says Didmar Faja, one of the imams.

For younger Muslims the attention of the world means they have to
grapple in a very conscious way with what they call their hyphenated
identity.The result has been an open embrace of their religion, but in
a manner suited to the community’s diversity. According to Pew, 60
percent of Muslims age 18 to 29 think of themselves as “Muslim first,”
compared with 40 percent of people older than 30, and they are much
more likely than their parents to go to mosque every week. At the same
time, they tend to be blind to ethnic and racial differences, and they
dismiss Islamic customs about gender roles as so much cultural
baggage. Sakina Al-Amin, a student at the University of Michigan at
Ann Arbor who is active in the Muslim Students’ Association there,
says that sometimes “parents are too into culture, and then the child
tries to find ways out of it.” When a parent objects, for example, to
an inter-ethnic marriage, Al-Amin says the children may argue that
Islam does not prevent such a union. Idil Jama Farah, a 21-year-old
Somali student at the University of Minnesota, is a case in point. She
recently married a white Muslim convert from Boston, in spite of her
mother’s initial disapproval. “I don’t think culture is very
important. I think religion is important,” she says.

In Muslim intellectual circles, imagining ways to accommodate these
young people is topic A, but the reality is somewhat grimmer. There
are so few homegrown Muslim clerics in America today—and almost no
institutions for training them—that prayer in most mosques is led by a
scholar fresh off the plane from Lebanon, say, or Saudi Arabia,
someone with no connection to America and no affinity for its culture.
The foreign-born imams “are at a disconnect with our new generation,”
says Maher Hathout, an Egyptian-born cardiologist and senior adviser
to the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles. “If you get the
best scholar in Islamics, but he cannot connect with my child or my
grandchild, it’s a waste. It’s the opposite of what we want.”

More unsettling is thequestion of what these foreign-born imams
preach. According to unofficial estimates by government investigators,
at least 50 percent of American mosques may receive some funding from
foreign governments or institutions, mostly Saudi Arabia. The danger
is obvious: if Saudi Arabia is exporting its Wahhabi Islam to this
country via imams, pamphlets, Qur’ans and buildings, how long before a
warped version of this extremist ideology intersects with a vulnerable
group of teenagers? So far, connections between Saudi influence and
the handful of suspected terror plots hatched here since 9/11 have
been tenuous, according to the public record. However, Hathout deems
such gifts risky enough that the bylaws of his mosque mandate against
them. Foreign money, he says, is “problematic to the point of being
dangerous. It creates a dependence.”

Whatever its source, fundamentalist Islamic ideology is readily
available on the Internet as well as in U.S. mosques. In one poor
neighborhood in Trenton, N.J., at the Masjid As-Saffat, which for more
than 20 years had served a mixed community of Muslims from
Afghanistan, Egypt, Somalia and the Palestinian territories, the
presiding imam several years ago suddenly and inexplicably had an
ideological change of heart. Whereas once people worshiped together in
a communal, almost relaxed way, imam Sabur Abdul Hakim began applying
rigid standards to prayer and worship. Last yearhe closed the mosque
school, saying it wasn’t sufficiently Islamic, congregants say. He
began to preach a Salafi ideology, invoking the purity of the earliest
Muslims and disapproving of any variation. In a perfectly American
response, a group of Hakim’s opponents sued him, demanding that he and
his supporters be removed from the board of directors, that they turn
over the mosque’s accounting books and records and that elections be
held to instate new trustees. The case is in mediation; Hakim and his
lawyer declined to comment.

While the schism within the mosque is on the surface ideological, it
is also at least partly racial and ethnic. The majority of the
congregation is foreign-born. Hakim and most of his supporters are
African-American. And while the community lived and worshiped together
peacefully for almost two decades, Hakim’s new stance elicited
powerful, dormant feelings about whose Islam is authentic. Gulgai
Masuod, a 62-year-old immigrant from Afghanistan, had been close to
Hakim for years, but strongly disapproves of his changes. Hakim and
his cohorts, says Masuod, “have no knowledge of Islam … My father
and great-grandfathers have been Muslim for 1,400 years. You are not
telling me how to practice Islam.”

African-American Muslims say such reactions are common. Growing up
African-American and Muslim in Chicago, Ismail Mitchel says he never
fit in. Black Muslims are in a “no man’s land,” says Mitchel, a
21-year-old student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“We get flak from Arabs and we get flak from other black people.”
Neither group, he says, wants to embrace him. “It’s like we’re the
black sheep of the whole community, literally.”

Muslim American advocates have critiqued the press coverage of the Pew
study, saying it focused too much on the bad news and not enough on
the good. The bad news, however, bears repeating: 26 percent of
Muslims age 18 to 29 believe that suicide bombing can be justified.
Thirty-eight percent of that group believe that Arabs did not carry
out the 9/11 attacks. These data, combined with the rising religious
conservatism of young Muslim Americans, have led some expertsto argue
that differences between Europe and America have been overblown, that
affluence and education do not inoculate a society against
radicalization. “This idea that all those who are middle class are
exempted from extremism has always been false,” says Geneive Abdo,
author of “Mecca and Main Street.” “The leadership of the extremist
movements have always been highly educated Muslims.”

It’s impossible to underestimate the emotional nature of anti-Israel
sentiment among Arab-American youth, argues Ismael Ahmed, executive
director of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social
Servicesin Detroit. “I think the poll miscaptures what’s being said,”
he says.”There is such a thing as legitimate resistance to oppression,
and there is terrorism on both sides. It’s wrong, but there’s also the
right to resist.” The poll numbers, in his view, don’t point to a
threat of homegrown suicide bombers, but to a passionate defense of a
resistance movement—the way, 30 years ago, an Irish-American teenager
would have supported the IRA.

The deeper problem is a growing sense of alienation among young
Muslims, a sense that they don’t feel part of the American story.
According to Pew, 39 percent of Muslim Americans age 18 to 29 believe
that newly arrived Muslims should remain distinct from society at
large, compared with 17 percent of Muslims older than 55. Ferdous
Sajedeen arrived here from Bangladesh in 1975 and built a successful
pharmacy business in Queens. For years, Sajedeen imagined that he
would eventually return to Bangladesh, but after visiting Dhaka
several years ago, he realized how impossible that was; he didn’t
understand the jokes anymore, he didn’t feel part of the culture. “I
don’t deny my roots,” he says. “I am proud to be a Bangladeshi, but at
the same time the reality is I am a Bangladeshi-American.” September
11, he says, was “one of the saddest stories anywhere in the world.”

His son Autri, who at 21 is in his fourth year of pharmacy school and
lives at home with his parents, does not feel his father’s patriotism.
“When we grew up, nobody everlooked at us like we were Americans,” he
says. On 9/11, “it sounds bad to say, but I remember thinking that I
didn’t care that it happened. A lot of my friends didn’t care. I think
it’s because we’re Muslim.” For him, the bombing of Afghanistan that
followed was much more tragic and painful. Fundamentalists are
“crazy,” he adds emphatically. He would never condone terrorism.

This sense of alienation can be seen most clearly in places like
Lackawanna, home of the six convicted young men. Earlier this year the
Lackawanna varsity and junior-varsity soccer teams were suspended from
the local league for rough play. The varsity team, which is
predominantly Yemenite, accuses some of the referees and fans of being
racist. (Fans called them “terrorists” and “camel jockeys” during
games, players say.) At the same time, the players broke the rules of
good behavior: after losing a critical game, 3-2, they swore at and
allegedly spit on the other players, and in one case allegedly shoved
a referee. In a town with high unemployment and the constant risk of
losing kids to drugs and crime, soccer was a wholesome, if
occasionally rough, way to pass the time. The team played “all night,
all day,” says star varsity forward Hamud Alasri, 17.Alasri was hoping
to get a soccer scholarship to the University of Buffalo, but with the
team’s suspension, that opportunity has passed.

Kathy Ahmed, 37, refused to let her son, Jamil, now 20, join the
soccer team; she didn’t like the racist environment of the public high
school or the league play. Asked if she’s worried that the young men
in her community are at risk of becoming terrorists, Ahmed says no:
the Lackawanna Six were vulnerable boys seduced by a charismatic
radical. “I’m not worried about [boys in Lackawanna] becoming
terrorists. I worry that they’ll lose their spirituality. There are so
many things calling them. I see them as lost.” Losing Jamil Ahmed and
Autri Sajedeen would be the worstthing in the world—not just for them,
but for all of us.


Abdi M. Soeherman

Tinggalkan Balasan

Isikan data di bawah atau klik salah satu ikon untuk log in:

Logo WordPress.com

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Logout /  Ubah )

Foto Google

You are commenting using your Google account. Logout /  Ubah )

Gambar Twitter

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Logout /  Ubah )

Foto Facebook

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Logout /  Ubah )

Connecting to %s

Atlantis in the Java Sea

A scientific effort to match Plato’s narrative location for Atlantis


Membahas ISU-ISU Penting bagi Anak Bangsa, Berbagi Ide, dan Saling Cinta




The greatest WordPress.com site in all the land!

Covert Geopolitics

Beyond the Smoke & Mirrors

Catatan Harta Amanah Soekarno

as good as possible for as many as possible

Modesty - Women Terrace

My Mind in Words and Pictures

Kanzunqalam's Blog

AKAL tanpa WAHYU, akan berbuah, IMAN tanpa ILMU


Cakrawala, menapaki kehidupan nusantara & dunia


hacking the religion


Just another WordPress.com site


WordPress.com is the best place for your personal blog or business site.

%d blogger menyukai ini: