Myths About Muslims In America: Highlighting Ignorance Of
09 April 2011
By Feisal Abdul Rauf
I founded the multi-faith Cordoba Initiative to
fight the misunderstandings that broaden the divide
between Islam and the West — each perceived as harmful
by the other. Millions of American Muslims, who see no
contradiction between being American and being Muslim,
are working hard to bridge this gap. It is therefore
not surprising that they have become the target of
attacks by those who would rather burn bridges than
build them, and the subject of recent congressional
hearings exploring their "radicalization." What myths
are behind the entrenched beliefs that Muslims simply
do not belong in the United States and that they
threaten its security?
1. American Muslims are
Islam was in America even before there was a United
States. But Muslims didn't peaceably emigrate —
slave-traders brought them here.
Historians estimate that up to 30 percent of
enslaved blacks were Muslims. West African
prince Abdul Rahman, freed by President John Quincy
Adams in 1828 after 40 years in captivity, was only
one of many African Muslims kidnapped and sold into
servitude in the New World. In early America, Muslim
names could be found in reports of runaway slaves as
well as among rosters of soldiers in the Revolutionary
War. Muslims fought to preserve American independence
in the War of 1812 and for the Union in the Civil War.
And more than a century later, thousands of African
Americans, including Cassius Clay and Malcolm Little,
converted to Islam.
Currently, there are two Muslim members of Congress
and thousands of Muslims on active duty in the armed
forces. Sure, some Muslim soldiers may have been born
elsewhere, but if you wear the uniform of the United
States and are willing to die for this country, can
you be really be considered a foreigner?
2. American Muslims are
ethnically, culturally and politically monolithic.
In fact, the American Muslim community is the most
diverse Muslim community in the world.
U.S. Muslims believe different things and honor
their faith in different ways. When it comes to
politics, a 2007 Pew study found that 63 percent of
Muslim Americans "lean Democratic," 11 percent "lean
Republican" and 26 percent "lean independent."
Ethnically, despite the popular misperception, the
majority of Muslims in the United States (and in the
world, for that matter) are not Arabs — about 88
percent check a different box on their U.S. census
form. At least one-quarter, for example, are African
American. Anyone who thinks otherwise need look no
further than the July 30, 2007, cover of Newsweek
magazine, which featured a multicultural portrait of
Islam in America.
Muslim Americans are also diverse in their
sectarian affiliation. And whether they are Sunni or
Shiite, their attendance at religious services varies.
According to the State Department publication "Muslims
in America — A Statistical Portrait," Muslim Americans
range from highly conservative to moderate to secular
in their religious devotion, just like members of
other faith communities.
With above-average median household incomes, they
are also an indispensable part of the U.S. economy.
Sixty-six percent of American Muslim households earn
more than $50,000 per year — more than the average
3. American Muslims oppress
According to a 2009 study by Gallup, Muslim
American women are not only more educated than Muslim
women in Western Europe, but are also more educated
than the average American. U.S. Muslim women report
incomes closer to their male counterparts than
American women of any other religion. They are at the
helm of many key religious and civic organizations,
such as the Arab-American Family Support Center,
Azizah magazine, Karamah, Turning Point, the Islamic
Networks Group and the American Society for Muslim
Of course, challenges to gender justice remain
worldwide. In the World Economic Forum's 2009 Gender
Gap Index, which ranks women's participation in
society, 18 of the 25 lowest-ranking countries have
Muslim majorities. However, as documented by
the Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and
Equality , Muslim women are leading the struggle for
change through their scholarship, civic engagement,
education, advocacy and activism in the United States
and across the world.
4. American Muslims often
become "homegrown" terrorists.
According to the Triangle Center on Terrorism and
Homeland Security, more non-Muslims than Muslims were
involved in terrorist plots on U.S. soil in 2010. In a
country in the grip of Islamophobia — where Rep. Peter
King (R-N.Y.) can convene hearings on the
radicalization of American Muslims — this has been
overlooked. In 2010, the Triangle Center also found,
the largest single source of initial information on
planned terrorist attacks by Muslims in the United
States was the Muslim American community.
As an American Muslim leader who worked with FBI
agents on countering extremism right after Sept. 11,
2001, I fear that identifying Islam with terrorism
threatens to erode American Muslims' civil liberties
and fuels the dangerous perception that the United
States is at war with Islam. Policymakers must
recognize that, more often than not, the terrorists
the world should fear are motived by political and
socioeconomic — not religious — concerns.
5. American Muslims want to
bring sharia law to the United States.
In Islam, sharia is the divine ideal of justice and
compassion, similar to the concept of natural law in
the Western tradition. Though radicals exist on the
fringes of Islam, as in every religion, most Muslim
jurists agree on the principal objectives of sharia:
the protection and promotion of life, religion,
intellect, property, family and dignity. None of this
includes turning the United States into a caliphate.
For centuries, most Islamic scholars around the
world have agreed that Muslims must follow the laws of
the land in which they live. This principle was
established by the prophet Muhammad in A.D. 614-615,
when he sent some of his followers to be protected by
the Christian king of Abyssinia, where they co-existed
peacefully. Not only do American Muslims have no
scriptural, historical or political grounds to oppose
the U.S. Constitution, but the U.S. Constitution is in
line with the objectives and ideals of sharia. Muslims
already practice sharia in the United States when they
worship freely and follow U.S. laws.
In his 1776 publication "Thoughts on Government,"
John Adams praised Muhammad as a "sober inquirer after
truth." And the Supreme Court building contains a
likeness of the prophet, whose vision of justice is
cited as an important precedent to the U.S.
Feisal Abdul Rauf is the founder
of the Cordoba Initiative.
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