The Muslim community in the US is going through growing pains. This is not surprising, as it is a very young community, which has been in the country for only forty years. Most current Muslim immigrants came to this country as a part of a tidal wave of migration initiated by Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" program in the 60's. The earlier waves of migration that occurred around the World Wars were much smaller and the community did not take root. Most African-American Muslims who have come to accept mainstream Islam were initially part of the "Nation of Islam" (NOI) movement founded by Elijah Muhammad. This movement was very active in the 50's and 60's. The shift to mainstream Islam from the NOI occurred with the change in leadership to W. D. Muhammad in the 70's.
The American Muslim community that consists of these two major components, the immigrant Muslims and the indigenous African-American Muslims, is currently estimated to number between 6 million to 8 million. (There is a smaller segment of Caucasian-American Muslims and a miniscule Hispanic-American fraction). It has built itself over a thousand Masajids (mosques), scores of schools, a handful of social institutions (like women's shelter, (Hamdard). and organizations to help the needy and the indigent, (Ummeed)), a media watch group (CAIR), a couple of lobbying organizations, a large umbrella organization (ISNA), and even a Think-Tank (ISPI). Quite predictably it finds itself facing new and unique challenges. Like the growing pains, these challenges hurt but it is a sweet hurt as it is a sign of rapid growth and maturity. These new challenges and problems require careful analysis by thoughtful scholars and demand creative solutions that are in synchrony with the times and are concordant with the ethos of Islam.
This type of deep probing analysis is easier to do for an outside critic. However if one is probing one's own nerves then the exercise can be excruciatingly painful. To be objective and balanced in self-analysis, as well as critical and constructive is a daunting challenge. It is therefore with enormous pride and satisfaction that the Think-Tank International Strategy and Policy Institute (ISPI) is publishing this collection of exquisitely intellectually honest papers focusing on the many dimensions of the struggle of reconciling the identity of being a Muslim and an American.
We are fortunate in having scholars with uncommon knowledge, insight and wisdom write for us. Ali Mazrui is arguably the premier social scientist in the country. Sherman "Abdul Hakim" Jackson is a brilliant scholar of Fiqh, Sharia and US law. Both he and Aminah McCloud, another widely respected Islamic scholar, bring the African-American perspective to the issues analyzed in this book.
The project was ably and efficiently shepherded by a second generation Muslim (someone who looks like he should have an accent but doesn't!) Azam Nizamuddin. He brings to the work his grounding in Islamic Studies, US law and the life experience of growing up in the US.
The Muslim reader might find the discussion and analysis of the complex issues in this book so unflinchingly candid that he might find it cathartic. As the great Urdu language poet Ghalib wrote, "if the pain becomes extreme then it becomes an analgesic", the poison becomes it's own antidote. The areas addressed in these essays include:
The salient conclusions from these papers that constitute ISPI's position are:
- The Islamic legal (Sharia) as well as common-sense angles of participation in the US political system.
- The dilemma of double consciousness, that is being a Muslim and an American.
- The lack of communication between the immigrant and the African-American communities.
- The differences between the varying and sometimes conflicting interests of the different ethnic groups within the Muslim immigrant community.
If Muslim community is successful in putting its house in order it is possible that it can have a major influence in giving direction to the national and foreign policy makers in the US.
- Muslims should actively participate in the political process as it is consistent with requirements of Islamic law and fulfills the demands of common sense.
- Muslim should be active in building bridges with like minded people of all traditions and faiths and in particular with other minority groups.
- Muslims should initiate an active and ongoing dialogue to identify and remove stereotyping and misunderstandings between African-American and immigrant Muslims.
- Muslims should try and formulate agendas based on interests common to the entire community rather than allow ethnocentric considerations to prevail.