Islam in America

by Mark on July 21, 2010

A New York developer wants to build an Islamic culture center and mosque within two city blocks of the World Trade Center site. An amusement park is sponsoring an Islamic Day on September 12. Both issues are igniting debates in social media and on the 24 x 7 cable news. How dare they? What a lack of sensitivity! Why do Muslims think they are so special?

I am teaching an international culture and diversity course this fall where we will address these and other issues. Thanks in advance for being my sounding board as I practice a lecture.

There are 1.8 billion Islamic people in the world. It is the second largest and fastest growing religion. In the United States there are estimates of 1.5 to 2.2 million Muslim citizens. Believe it or not, Islamic settlers came to America before the Mayflower. Estevanico of Azamor, a Muslim from North Africa, escaped enslavement, wandered into the Gulf of Mexico, and scouted the first Spanish expedition into the American Southwest in 1527. Moors and Turks joined Sir Francis Drake’s early English settlements. The first foreign leader to recognize the United States was the Sultan of Morocco in 1790. In return South Carolina granted ‘special citizenship’ to Moroccan immigrants.

In the first decade of the 20th Century Muslim cultural centers were established in New York and Chicago. The first American building, dedicated to a mosque, was built in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1934. Dearborn, Michigan, home of the largest U.S. Islamic population, built their mosque in 1945.

For 474 years we co-existed with American Islamic citizens in relative peace. Then came September 11th followed by: Iraq and Afghanistan wars; a shoe bomber; a crotch bomber; and a Times Square bomber. All killed or tried to kill Americans. We chose to hold a major religion and centuries of American citizenship responsible for the evil of a few. While most religious scholars believe the Koran projects as much peace as the Bible, a 2006 Pew poll shows 36% of American believes Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence. Christian and Judaism religions received an average of 50% favorability in a 2006 CBS poll, but Islam favorability was 19%. A 2007 Pew survey revealed 51% of American Muslims find life more difficult after 9/11.

This lecture is not likely to change many minds. I ask us to separate religion from terrorism. Hitler and many of his cronies were Catholics. Thank God my religion is not held responsible for their terror. I ask us to not throw away a very long history of U.S. Islamic citizenship because of a handful of villains during the last decade. Finally, I ask us not to put too much reverence on city blocks and amusement park special dates. What makes this country special is not who we fear or hate. What makes us special is who we accept. Someone accepted my poor, dirty, and hungry Irish ancestors. Thank God for that.

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