On Being An American and a Muslim: Dilemmas of Politics and Culture
By Ali A. Mazrui
The Muslim-Jewish Equation
Are Muslims in the United States comparable to Jewish Americans? What do they have in common and where do they differ? Both Muslims and Jews are anxious to avert being completely overwhelmed by the dominant Christian culture. Both Muslims and Jews are nervous about intermarriage across the religious divide. Both Muslims and Jews wish to retain a degree of cultural autonomy and distinctiveness within the wide educational system.
These generalizations about Muslims apply to Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, Egypt, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, and elsewhere. On such issues they are concerned as Muslims. These groups have formed such Pan-Islamic organizations as the American Muslim Council, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the American Muslim Alliance, the Association of Muslim Social Scientists, the Association of Muslim Engineers, the International Institute of Islamic Thought in Washington, D.C., and the International Society of North America (ISNA). This author is a member of the Governing Board of the American Muslim Council, Washington, D.C..
The annual conference of ISNA attracts several thousand participants. This is clearly a Pan-Islamic event and not confined to national origins.
The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences (published from Washington D.C.) does sometimes carry articles of relevance to policy and politics. Volume 12 No. 3 of Fall 1995 included short pieces on "Islam and the West" and "Business Ethics: The Perspective of Islam". The journal is a joint publication of the Association of Muslim Social Scientists and the International Institute of Islamic Thought.
But in what sense are Muslims in the United States different from Jews? Although both American Jews and American Muslims have diverse national origins, Jews in the United States have become Jews first and national origins second, whereas Muslims are still national origins first and Muslim identity second.
It is partly a function of time. After all, Iranian Jews may be as Iranian as they are Jews. They will one day become more Jewish than Iranian in the United States. Will Pakistani Muslims in America one day become more Muslim than Pakistani? Is it a case of socio-religious evolution?
Muslim identity in the United States is more recent than Jewish identity. It remains to be seen whether Islam will overshadow national origins. Today Polish Jews, British Jews, and Moroccan Jews are identified as Jews in America.
But while Muslims and Jews share a cultural predicament in the United States, they do not share the same status in the political economy. The Jews are well-represented in the Congress. They are also well represented in the print media and television, and they have a substantial presence in the commanding heights of university education. This is quite apart from the Jewish economic muscle in banking, trade, and production.
With regard to the numbers game, The New York Times put it in the following terms in August 1995:
Muslims now outnumber Episcopalians
[Anglicans] 2-to-1. With six million
adherents, Islam is expected to overtake
Judaism as the largest non-Christian religion
in the United States by the end of the decade.