Can Muslims be American?
Is there such a thing as an American Muslim? Is it really possible to be both? When most people think of Muslims, they picture the stereotypical Muslim man with a beard and a turban or a stereotypical Muslim woman covering herself from head to toe. Most people don’t realize that not all Muslims look alike, and sometimes Muslims look just like the stereotypical American.
American Muslims are one of the most racially diverse religious groups and although the U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t collect data on religious affiliation there is estimated to be about 2 million to 7 million Muslims in the United States.
While most Americans associate Muslims with Arabs, African-Americans make up approximately one-third of the total of all American Muslims and South Asians are the fastest –growing Muslim community.
Contrary to popular belief, Muslims are just like everyone else. It is important to remember that being Muslim is not a race or a political movement it is just a religion.
It seems that many Americans believe that they would be able to quickly identify a Muslim man or woman from a group of people just by looking at them. While walking down the street you can’t tell the Christians from the Catholics so why do we tend to think that Muslims would easily stand out in a crowd.
I walked around the California State University Northridge campus and asked students if they believed Muslim to be a race or a religion. Surprisingly about half of the people I asked thought that being Muslim is a type of race. If educated young adults believe this, this must mean that many other people believe this too.
American Muslims come in all different races and ages, they live in the same neighborhoods as other Americans, they get degrees from the same colleges and they vote in the same elections.
Ismail and Lina Ismael don’t come across as the “typical Muslim”. They live in a beach house in Rancho Palos Verdes and inside their walls are covered with artwork and family portraits. Outside the driveway is lined with seashells and an American flag waves proudly by their front door. There’s nothing to suggest their religion. Both of them identify as Democrats and have a deep love for the United States.
Nothing seems out of the ordinary and one might never guess that the Ismaels are in fact, American Muslims. They are proof that you don’t have to be a violent extremist or a taxi driver with a heavy accent and a turban to be a “real Muslim”.
How do people react when they find out you’re Muslim?
Lina: Usually people seem very surprised. As you can tell I don’t seem like a normal Muslim. A couple of people have told me before that they’re surprised because they thought I was American.
How do you explain to people that you are an American Muslim
Lina: It seems that people have a hard time wrapping their head around the idea that someone can be both American and Muslim. I just tell them that being Muslim is different than being American because it has nothing to do with where I’m from and that’s why I can be both.
Do people ever treat you differently when they find out you’re Muslim?
Ismail: Not really. Maybe for the most part, no. Sometimes people act like it’s a little weird but we don’t suffer from being Muslim.
Lina: I would say no also but I think that’s because a lot of people don’t think of us as real Muslims or they don’t associate us with being Muslim.
What do you think people expect from a “real Muslim”?
Lina: I think that people expect the stereotypical Muslim, someone that dresses and looks the part.
Ismail: People think that real Muslims are just like the ones they see on TV or in the movies. They think Muslims are angry people who hate America but its possible to be American and love this country and still be a devout Muslim.
Not all American Muslims are as lucky as the Ismaels, many of them face discrimination for not being “real Americans”. In 2011 Pew Research found that 43% of American Muslims face discrimination. Unfortunately they are faced with quite the dilemma. Our society refuses to acknowledge them as “real Muslims” unless they look the part but it also refuses to include them as “real Americans” because of their religious beliefs.
Being an American Muslim is not a question of possibility it’s a question of acceptance.