Dispelling Myths about American Muslims

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Since 9/11, I’ve found more interest in learning about Islam and at the same time seen spike in misinformation and hate groups. Myths are behind the misunderstanding.

By Ghazala Hayat

I have been in America for the last 37 years.
Initially when people learned I’m Muslim it would trigger curiosity about Islam and eastern cultures. Sometimes I would encounter misinformation in the mainstream media, but mostly Muslims in America were under the radar.
Since 9/11, I’ve found more interest in learning about Islam and at the same time seen spike in misinformation and hate groups. Myths are behind the misunderstanding. I’d like to tackle a few of those here:

Myth: Muslims are relatively newcomers in America.
Historians trace first Muslims in America towards the end of the 15th century. African-American Muslims, who have been here for centuries, make about quarter of the total U.S. Muslim population. A recent estimate in 2016 placed the nation’s Muslim population at over 3.3 million.
Most of the American Muslims who immigrated in the last century, probably came from South Asia, Middle East, and Africa in 1960s, when The Hart-Celler Act of 1965 was enacted. This law changed the immigration policies from being nation-based formula to one that lifted restrictions against immigrants from Asia and Africa. It gave priority for relatives of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.
It also gave preference to professionals and other skilled workers. Most of Muslims came here for the same reason that brought the majority of non-Muslim Americans: opportunity

Myth: Muslims are monolithic
According to a 2009 Gallup poll, Muslims in America are one of the most racially diverse religious groups in the United States. Not all Arabs are Muslims and not all Muslims are Arabs. We don’t have a religious hierarchy to speak for almost 1.6 billion Muslims.

Myth: Muslims are not part of the society at large.
Like any other first-generation immigrants, Muslims who come to the U.S. spend their first years working to succeed, become part of the society at large, and make sure their children received the best possible education. Most recent Muslim immigrants are professionals: physicians, engineers, computer programmers and in other technical fields. A Pew survey in 2007 showed that foreign-born Muslims were more likely to have graduate degrees and earn more than $100,000 than the overall U.S. population.

Myth: Islam and Muslims cannot integrate in our society.
People who interact with the Muslims have better understanding of the faith and its practices. A woman wearing Hijab is not a suppressed one. She is following her faith to be dressed modestly. Some Muslims asking for accommodation during the month of fasting are not being unreasonable. They are willing to do extra duties later on. If we politely decline to drink alcohol during celebrations, we are not being disrespectful. We share all the joys and sorrows of our non-Muslim Americans.

Myth: Islam is so different from other faiths.
When I speak with different groups about Islam, the most common response I hear is, “I did not know the tenets of Islam were so similar to my faith.”

Myth: Muslims espouse violent ideology.
According to a recent estimate, the radicals in Islam represent less than 1 percent of Muslims. Are there some extremists in Islam? Yes, just like in any other faith. But it does not mean that these fanatics represent the faith of the majority.

Myth: Muslims do not condemn the radical acts committed in the name of Islam.
The overwhelming majority of Muslims condemn such acts and more repulsed by efforts to manipulate our faith. More Muslims have been killed by these fanatics all over the world. Day after day, many Muslim soldiers are giving their lives to fight these extremists. In America, Muslims have helped law enforcement agencies to thwart many potential threats.
Many American Muslims are apprehensive at the current spike in Islamophobia. But I also must mention the overwhelming support from non-Muslims. For every negative comment in the media, I get many more words of support, and see acts of kindness. Please know, we are touched by your generosity. These acts strengthen our resolve to work together towards a harmonious America.
I can say without hesitation that most of the Muslims welcome dialogue about our faith. May peace be on all fellow Americans.
(Ghazala Hayat serves as chair of the public relations committee of the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis).
(Extracted from stltoday.com)