Islam in America
Muslims: from unseen to highly visible
For decades , the small number of Muslims in our country moved quietly through the daily routines of American life — the women grocery...
Second of three parts
For decades , the small number of Muslims in our country moved quietly through the daily routines of American life — the women grocery shopping, shuttling kids, many hidden behind their veils; the men working, studying, reaching like other immigrants for better lives.
Then came the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the words Islamic and terrorist began to run together as if there were no difference at all. Certainly, the hideous fact that 19 hijackers of Muslim faith would brutalize American civilians would reverberate many years. It has. It will. But we can't go on like this, misunderstanding, fearing, knowing so little about one another.
The U.S. Census Bureau does not directly ask about religious affiliation, but the best estimate from a large national survey says there are roughly 3 million American Muslims. Other studies say the number is twice that. The first marks on a painted portrait of this important cultural group reveal a population that is young, preponderantly male and well-educated:
• The median age of Americans is 43; American Muslims' median age is 28, according to "Religion in a Free Market," by Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, a book to be published in 2006.
• Forty-eight percent of the U.S. population is male, compared with 62 percent of Muslim Americans, the book says.
• One-third of Americans are college graduates; 46 percent of Muslim Americans have a college degree.
To understand Muslim America is to distinguish carefully between Middle Easterners and Muslims. Many Middle Easterners are not Muslim; many Muslims are not Middle Easterners.
"Immigration from South Asian and Arab countries began in larger numbers in the 1960s and grew through the 1990s," says Ihsan Bagby, author of several studies on Muslim mosques in America. "Among the immigrants was a large percentage of Christians, especially from Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and Palestine."
Today, roughly 33 percent of U.S. Muslims are from South Asia — Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Perhaps 30 percent are African Americans; a considerable number are converts to the religion along with their children. One-fourth are Arabs.
Muslims tend to be urbanites, flocking to New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit and surrounding suburbs.
No one knows an exact number, but one estimate says as many as 15,553 Muslims live in Washington state, setting down roots largely from Snohomish County to Pierce and Thurston counties.
America's disconnect with Islam ties directly to its relative newness here. Eighty-five percent of U.S. mosques were founded after 1970, which makes its adherents unknown and, therefore, a little scary.
Our ignorance of a religion and culture is nothing to brag about. Shortly after 9/11, immigrants who looked different but had nothing to do with Muslims paid a steep price. One Sikh gas-station owner in Arizona was killed merely because he wore a turban.
The biggest single misunderstanding Muslims face is the unfair notion they are all terrorists. The worst place for a Muslim or Arab, therefore, is the airport. Travelers and security officials cannot move past horrific images of that fateful September day. Some Muslims try to avoid flying, or as they call it, Flying While Brown or Flying While Muslim.
Muslims range from newer arrivals who sometimes feel less connected to America, to highly educated academics who see themselves in historical context of other immigrant groups. Americans were not as hard on Muslims after 9/11 as they were on Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor, one expert noted, because of modern civil-rights laws.
New thinking among American Muslims is they must speak out and educate Americans about their culture and religion. The silver lining of the terrorist attacks, if there can be such a thing, is Americans finally are eager to learn more about Muslims. They realize they have to do a better job of understanding and including them in their broader, complicated sense of America.
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.