Muslims have played a fundamental function in the American history since the colonial times. From the 1880s about 20,000 African Muslims immigrated to the United States as slaves, up to around 1914. Most Muslims were from Asia, Middle East and Europe, and up to the present day Muslims have still been immigrating to America. The terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 led to a very hostile response against Muslims all over the world, causing them to be marginalized and stereotyped more so in the American society.ÿHowever, Islam has always been a fundamental element of the American experience. This is despite being one of the most culturally diverse religious groups in America.
In the 20th century, the population of Muslims in the US increased to a great extent. With about 96,000 Muslims becoming legally permanent American residents in 2005 alone, the population of Muslim Americans has been on the rise in the recent past. This growth has been attributed to the rampant conversion of people in urban areas and prisons to Islam and also immigration. Majority of the entire Muslim population in the United States today consists of the recent immigrants. Asians from India and Arabs comprise of the largest group of the Muslim population at about 60%, while the Native American Muslims mostly African Americans make up the smallest percentage of the population. Despite American Muslims making up about two percent of the population, it is the most discriminated against community in America today, more than even the Jews.
The history of Muslims in America can be categorized into two major significant phases: the post World War 1 period and the most recent decades. According to historical records, Estevanico of Azamor was probably the first Muslim to land in America and to introduce Islam in America. However, the Turks had ceased the practice of Islam until the 20th century when the Muslims formed small community groups in the USA. The American view of Islam affected various debates pertaining to religious liberty during the drafting of the constitution of Pennsylvania. Americans largely viewed Islam as a threat to republicanism and Christianity. This was because their perception of Islam was majorly influenced by the Europeans and more so from their writings which portrayed Islam in bad taste.
The Constitutionalists promoted religious freedom, while the Anti-constitutionalists argued for reliance on Protestant principles in the formation of the republican government. Although a clause for religious freedom was inserted in the state's constitution, the Americans still viewed Islam and Muslims with doubts. Some politicians were displeased with the religious impartiality of the Constitution, which outlawed any religious evaluation of citizens. These Anti-Federalists opposed the new Constitution and raised Anti-Islamic sentiments. The main reason for their opposition was the worry that Muslims and Catholics would one day be elected as presidents.
In the 19th Century, during the Civil war of America, a lot of property including churches, libraries and schools were destroyed in the process. However a rare copy of the Qur'an was saved by the commanding officer when they attacked the University of Alabama as a memento of the incident. As a result, the Muslims in a way developed a deep hatred for the Americans in the North as they suffered greatly as a result of the war which was meant to scare them into going back to their mother countries. Also, during the colonial times, most of the slaves brought to America were Muslims. Many enslaved Muslims met for communal prayers; however they encountered problems when performing their religious rituals. The fact that they served as slaves contributed to the rift between the Americans and Muslims. Most of the Muslim immigrants were from South Asia and today form the majority of Muslims in the USA. Their migration was largely because of the destruction of South Asia by the British.
The American populace view on Islam has all along been maliciously stereotyped. According to surveys carried out in 2003 by Research Centers on Public Life and religion revealed that the percentage of Americans with a hostile view of Islam increased to 34% between 2001 and 2003 and to 36% in 2005. This was mainly attributed to the terrorism attacks of September 2001 which members of the Muslim community perpetuated. However, in the recent past, the ideology that Islam as a religion was likely to encourage violent behavior among its believers fell to 36% in 2005 from 44% in 2003.
The life of American Muslims after the September eleventh attacks changed negatively in various ways. There was an increase in the number of hate crimes perpetrated against individuals who were alleged to be Muslim, in particular those of Arab and Asian descent. Anti-Muslim hate crimes in America alone increased to shocking levels in 2001 following the terrorism attack. These attacks ranged from aggressive intimidation and assaults some of which resulted in deaths, racial favoritism to damaging of personal property. According to a survey carried out in 2007, about 53% of respondents revealed that it was very difficult to be a Muslim especially after the 9/11 attacks. They reported to face problems like being regarded as a terrorist, the public's ignorance about Islam as a religion like any other, racial discrimination and stereotyping. Most of the America Muslims believe that the U.S. government is biased by singling out Muslims as the main targets in their efforts against anti-terrorism. The rise of Islamic radicalism all over the world is a major concern for most of the American Muslims as they regard extremism with fear. On some occasions some women were harassed for wearing a hijab. This caused panic and most Muslim women preferred to stay indoors, while others opted to stop wearing the hijab altogether. American Muslims express the fear that women wearing hijab are treated badly.
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The American Muslims' views of the United States general public is still a thorny issue. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2007, they revealed that Muslims contented with life there, very integrated in society and in agreement with most issues that alienated the Westerners and Muslims around the world. They were of the opinion that their community is good and agreed that they could also earn honorably and get ahead in life by working hard. However, there is a great disparity in income. The financial situation of Muslims is conversely very different, with the percentage of Muslims living in poverty being 2% higher than that of the general populace; a reason why they prefer to consider themselves as Muslims first and as Americans second.
Politically, American Muslims are socially conventional and critical of the United States government. Very few are satisfied with the general state of America, for instance, 70% of the U.S Muslims would prefer a larger government providing more social services. Another 61% preferred that homosexuality should not be tolerated in society. Nonetheless, regardless of their social conservatism, about 71% of Muslims in America expressed a liking for the Democratic Party. The study by Pew Research also reported that about three quarters of the respondents are of the opinion that America rewards them equitably for hard work in spite of their religious differences and perception. The same survey also revealed that merely 40% of American Muslims believe that Arabs carried out the attacks of September eleventh. The rest do not believe it, while others had no views on the matter.
Just 26% of the respondents considered that the war on terrorism by the U.S is a genuine attempt at putting an end to terrorism internationally, with most American Muslims not supporting the use of military force in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Though, most of the respondents were not in favor of the Al-Qaeda, a terrorism group in Afghanistan. Which in a way indicated that being a Muslim does not necessarily entail being violent and in favor of terrorism. Some Muslim Americans have been criticized for letting their religious values influence their capacity to act within the conventional American value systems, which has led to a major controversy between the general public and the American Muslims (Curtis, 2009).
It is strange that this religion of peace has been faced with sadistic conflicts from both within and without. The Muslim history in America has been marred with disappointments and successes. As of today, Islam is the fastest growing Religion in America and the second largest religion in the United States. In a way this has triggered mixed reactions from the non-Muslim community of the United States.