Islam in America
For Muslims, traveling the American road
A growing desire among young Muslims for strong cultural ties was on display among the hundreds who gathered in Chicago last month to discuss...
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A growing desire among young Muslims for strong cultural ties was on display among the hundreds who gathered in Chicago last month to discuss ways to maintain their Muslim identity and keep pace with American trends.
Muslims are members of the world's fastest-growing faith, a religion largely made up of moderates yet one that has been exploited by dangerous extremists. As a result, synergy between being Muslim and being American can be difficult. But Muslims "are Americans because we believe in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights just as we are Muslims because we believe in God and the Quran as the word of God to man," said Maher Hathout, a senior adviser to the Muslim Public Affairs Council, to the Chicago attendees.
"The synergy between our Muslim identity and American identity can revive our dynamic understanding of Islam and, at the same time, contribute positively to America's pluralism," Maher said.
This duality is vividly illustrated by young Muslims. They stand at the crossroads between old and new and navigate a generational chasm as timeless as the hills. Every immigrant group has experienced the tug of war between assimilation and identity, home and the outside world. For Islam, factor in the religious dictates of dress and behavior and the universal suddenly becomes the specific.
There is also the matter of post-9/11 tensions. Young Muslims are growing up hearing a different conversation around the dinner table than their forebears heard. The talk is often about disparate treatment. Muslims pulled over by law enforcement, humiliated at the airport or stared at with suspicion. To believe these things don't happen is to ignore the history of minorities in America.
Schools offer a microcosm of these tensions. They contain the Sturm und Drang of youthful angst coupled with racial, ethnic and religious tensions. The clash of civilizations that pits religious East against secular West plays out among the young through a tension between popular culture and religious piety.
Many public school districts are grappling with how to accommodate the Muslim students in their midst. Few schools are willing to broaden their Judeo-Christian holiday schedules but they are taking notice of the Muslim students they serve.
The Hillsborough, Fla., County School Board got embroiled in a flap when it decided to jettison all religious holidays rather than comply with one family's demand for an observed Muslim holiday. The new secular calendar created a community backlash from Christians and Muslims and made national news. The board backed off and reinstated the old calendar.
In Seattle, 30 parents of Muslim students recently sat down on a Saturday with a public-school official and ticked off the many ways their children feel excluded from school.
The parents spoke of the need for private places for their children to pray. They asked for a school calendar that includes Islam's holy days — not for observance purposes but so teachers will understand what is going on in the lives of Muslim students.
The parents pointed out that some Muslims interpret their religion as forbidding music and they wanted assurances they would not be penalized for removing their children from music classes.
Language interpretation was another request. Roughly 97 languages are spoken within the School District. While it cannot provide translation services for each one, the district did agree to link parents with translation services and find alternative ways of communicating school information.
These are positive signs that young Muslims will make their way into American society much like their parents before them. We are not in danger of exploding like France. Economic opportunity, or a lack of it, contributed mightily to the antipathy felt by the young French Muslims who set fires and clashed with police last month in nearly 300 French cities and towns.
America is not perfect but we've been down this road before. The challenge for young Muslims is to traverse a road well-traveled by many groups before them.
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.