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Today's Boo Radley: Muslim Americans

American Muslims have had a rough time during this election campaign. The suggestion that Barack Obama is a Muslim has formed part of a concerted smear campaign, as if being a Muslim was an insult to what it means to be an American. Here American Muslim playwright and author Wajahat Ali argues that we are witnessing the emergence of an engaged, diverse and progressive Muslim voting community - one that candidates will spurn at their peril.

By Wajahat Ali

The emerging Muslim American electorate resembles the unpopular prom date that is used for a ride, but upon arrival is quickly abandoned to save face and maintain popularity. Meanwhile, the jilted date waits in the parking lot, observing the festivities from outside and hoping she'll be invited for a dance someday.

According to many, the Muslim American electorate's "official" coming out party was in 2000 when they emerged as a small but powerful voting bloc. This new group consisted mostly of first- and second-generation South Asian and Arab immigrants, who favored George W. Bush. (In the 2000 election, George W. Bush garnered 42% of the Muslim vote versus 31% for Democrat Al Gore according to Zogby International and Project MAPS, which conducted the first American Muslim Poll in November 2001.)

Upon the advice and counsel of Republican lobbyist extraordinaire Grover Norquist, President Bush actively sought these votes by pledging to repeal the use of "secret evidence" in detaining immigrants, personally reaching out to mosques, imams and Muslim community leaders for their support. A delighted Norquist boasted, "George W. Bush was elected President of the United States of America because of the Muslim vote."

In hindsight, many Muslim Americans liken that myopic decision to a naïve, well-intentioned prisoner personally polishing and loading a rifle and handing it to his own executioner.

Even Muslim Republicans like Hesham A. Hassaballa, a Chicago-based physician and Beliefnet columnist, concedes that fateful decision to vote for Bush paradoxically correlates to the new, progressive Muslim political identity:

"The disastrous Bush presidency - the fruits of which we continue to see on an almost daily basis - has energized all people, not just Muslims, to come out and bring change. I think this is the major thrust for American Muslims this time around."

Basim Elkarra, Executive Director of the Sacramento Valley chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), says that unlike the 2000 election, this new Muslim American base is "progressive, young, and engaged. After eight years of psychological internment, American Muslims are finally coming out of hiding."

However, Muslims' initial zeitgeist of "change" and "hope," as popularized and branded by the Obama campaign, gradually transformed into one of cautious optimism, apprehension and, for some, apathy.

Parvez Ahmed, Professor at the University of North Florida, suggests, "The emergence of Obama, a [biracial, African American] minority, has provided them with reasons to be optimistic. However, the manner in which Obama was goaded with the "Muslim" label and his hesitancy to stand up to the bigotry has dampened enthusiasm in the Muslim community."

Indeed, the shameful use and abuse of Obama's name to pillory and smear him as a terrorist - a tactic used by both Republicans and Hillary Clinton - is so virulent that nearly 13% of Americans think the Baptist Obama is an "undercover" Muslim, and as a result many will not vote for him.

The political toxicity of the "Muslim" label is so poisonous that Shahed Amanullah, founder and editor of Altmuslim.com, voluntarily decided to truncate his "MuslimsforObama.com" advocacy site, and instead use it purely for voter registration and GOTV [Get out the Vote] efforts as to avoid a "boomerang" negatively affecting Obama's campaign.

Naturally, some Muslims grow defensive and cynical, humiliated by the reality that in some sectors "Muslim" is equivalent to a scarlet letter. An oft repeated joke in most Muslim American circles highlighting this cynicism - undoubtedly born from a relentless "War on Terror" and what many perceive to be racially-tinged infringement on civil liberties - is the following:

"Who should we vote for - the Democrats or the Republicans? Well, I guess the Democrats will kill us less. So, we'll vote for the Democrats."

However, Reema Dodin, Democratic aide, disagrees with this bitter assessment and offers:

"American Muslims are not kryptonite, but they are certainly not gold. They are somewhere in between but quickly learning their civics and rising to the call of hopeful politics."

Also, Dodin and other Muslims point to the election of two Muslim American Congressman, Keith Ellison [D-MN] and Andre Carson [D-IN], as proof that America and the political parties are beginning to welcome Muslims to the dance.

"The election of two Muslim congressmen (Reps. Ellison and Carson) has given the Muslim-American electorate some points of light to look towards and feel part of the system, even when the system may not always make them feel that way," says Dodin.

However, one of the most interesting transformations is the jettisoning of a vocal minority's antiquated belief that voting in America is "haram" [forbidden] since America is not an Islamic society overseen by a Caliphate. When asked if Muslims should vote in the 2008 election, every single person I interviewed responded exactly the same way: "Absolutely!"

Hady Amr, a fellow at the Saban Center at Brookings, gives a non-partisan view of the situation:

"I am not a Muslim scholar. I am an American Muslim. As an American, it is my social obligation to vote. It is my religious obligation to make the world a better place. The best way to make the world a better place is engage in civil society. Voting is the most basic element of civic engagement."

And so we see the emergence of the Muslims neither as kryptonite, lepers nor political Morlocks. Instead, they resemble the quintessential American literary character Boo Radley: Harper Lee's misunderstood and feared outcast, prone to salacious gossip and isolated by his reclusive eccentricities. However, when Boo decides to leave his home, he does so only with the intention of helping his neighbor, Scout. Instead of being portrayed as the menacing outsider, the 2008 elections are showing us a proactive Muslim American community: one that is energized in helping themselves, and America, by engaging the democratic system and fulfilling their civic responsibilities.


Wajahat Ali is an American Muslim of Pakistani descent. He is the author of the first Muslim American play, "The Domestic Crusaders," [www.domesticcrusaders.com] which premiered in 2005 at the Berkeley Repertory Theater, and runs a blog, goatmilk www.goatmilk.wordpress.com.


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Comments (58)

Rhett1 Author Profile Page:

ABHAB -- You are LYING when you claim the Muslims destroyed he Library at Alexandria. Check the Encylopedia Britannica: It was destroyed in the 4th century by CHRISTIAN mobs (three hundred years before Islam even existed).

Historian Bernard Lewis says this: "Modern research has shown the story to be completely unfounded. None of the early chronicles, not even the Christian ones, make any reference to this tale, which is mentioned in the 13th century, and in any case the great library of Serapenum had already been destroyed in internal dissensions before the coming of the Arabs."

See:

http://www.milligazette.com/Archives/01122002/0112200252.htm

abhab Author Profile Page:


Elevy preaches:

” So are Islamic teachings but those are rarely pointed out as originating from a scholarly Islamic Golden Age which helped spark the European Renaissance. And yet Islamic fundamentals like Al Jebra and Arabic Numerals are part of the foundation of our science and technology even today.”

Hogwash! All those presumed contributions to math and science pale in comparison with the wealth of knowledge that the Muslim invaders of Egypt had destroyed when they torched the Alexandria library.

Afzalq8 Author Profile Page:

We as Muslims should not be carried away by 'change' that Obama is promising. We have been betrayed once before by Bush and now is the time take careful decisions. However we do not have a better choice and we in Florida want to make a difference by voting for Obama.

garrafa10 Author Profile Page:

"For me, this is my home, my country and like it or not, I'm here to stay and so are the rest of us Muslims."

I wouldn't be so certain about that Mustafa. Forced population transfers have been a part of human history for thousands of years; and internment camps in North or South Dakota can be constructed literally overnight.

shirah Author Profile Page:

Yes, I do realize that Muslims face prejudice in America. However, as a Jew, i have experienced prejudice from Muslims. The same Muslims that are asking for tolerance are preaching classic Western antisemitism of `jewish control of congress and endless antisemitic conspiracy theories. American `jews are lucky compared to what is happening to Jews in the UK and Europe.

eruhl Author Profile Page:

Thanks for this very insightful article.

outlawtorn103 Author Profile Page:

DwightHCollins, I have yet to see you get on CNN, MSNBC, or even FoxNews and hold a press conference decrying the murder of the little Caylee girl. For that matter, I haven't seen you on tv publicly apologizing for ANY violence white people have committed over the years.

You have yet to denounce the actions of your brothers or turn these people in...
if you don't condemn, you condone...

thmak Author Profile Page:

If American Muslim feel slighted in American society because of Al Qadai, just think about the Chinese Americans here being blamed for disloyality , Chinese communist industrial and military spies, Chinese communist agents in every American neighborhood for the past 50 more years even though no Chinese Communists ever do great harm to USA like Al Qadai. There are no Chinese Congressman or Senators.

DwightHCollins Author Profile Page:

to this date, American Muslims have yet to denounce the actions of their brothers or turn these people in...
if you don't condemn, you condone...

arrumph Author Profile Page:

This is a great article that gets right to the point of many Muslim Americans' frustration with American society's views of Muslims and Islam. Muslim Americans are citizens, but there's always an underlying fear that they will turn against the rest of American society. That somehow being Muslim is un-American or unpatriotic. That somehow being Muslim must mean one is guilty before innocent. Our government, in effect, has "othered" this large segment of society through its "war on terror". Bush pays lip service to religious tolerance, but reminds everyone that your next door neighboor could be a terrorist in a sleeper cell. In so doing, we have this environment of fear. And so it goes, until one day, we have a black man who is "charged" with being a Muslim by those who know all too well that they just have to throw out a radical proposition to the public at large, and though the charges could be disproved over and over again, they will never go away. Guilt by first impression, not by reality. And then Muslim Americans begin to wonder about what it means to be an American. Do Muslims really have the freedom to practice their religion without fear that they will become a social pariah? How long will Muslims have to wait until they are no longer the "face" of the "enemy"?

kohsar240 Author Profile Page:

This is a very important topic, first for muslims in the US, for US as a nation and for nations around the world. Often the case for or against Muslims is tit-for-tat responses, in many levels both sides are right as they are wrong. First of all, Muslims especially the ones born or raised here in the US or simply lived here for a while and plans to live here for the rest of their lives (how many families have left the US that they did not like it?.)We Muslims need to have an honest dialogue among ourselves and with others. Amongst ourselves the dialogue should be to measure up our militant/political positions or represented by such forces. First of all, we have to challenge Whabbi orthodoxy. Is the method of Whabbi philosophy in engaging with the rest of the world logical, humane and beneficial to mankind or morally right? What is the average education of a Whabbi leader in understanding the world from different perspective, like economics, history, western thoughts and sciences? Is the policy of forcefully converting others, whether they are Muslim (different from Whabbi), Chrisitians, Jews, Hindus or others correct? Muslims should remain missionaries but the method is important. More important, should Muslims and their grievances be represented by Al Qaeda or other extremist groups? What are Muslims doing to bring change in Islamic countries? Change doesn't mean democracy as the term has been misused and conjures western ploy in many minds, but anything that brings economic opportunity, political freedom and rights for men and women. Unless we can answer and take firm positions on these issues and problems facing Muslims, there will always be challenges and struggles to overcome. We can not be on the fence and the Whabbi strategy is no winning strategy. Whabbis made Chechens lose their freedom to Russia, because Whabbis always and mindlessly overplays their hands and they have no clear goals except this thick cloud of challenging the whole world, something replicating the seventh century Islamic militancy. On the other side, Muslims face many foes. AIPAC is number one hate group that always distorts the image of Muslims and puts out false information against Muslims with their vast media resources and reach. But the burden is on Muslims to challenge first Whabbiism and then AIPAC.

vjg3 Author Profile Page:

Why Americans are skeptical of Islam and Muslims, besides the 9/11 and now 5 Muslims tried for a terror plot on Fort Dix ?

Because Islam is easily compared to Communism. Both are intolerant, violent and expansionist ideologies. Only difference is one does it in the name of Allah the other does it in the name of equality for all humans. Both are failed idelogies. When America can ban and destroy Communism, then why not Islam?

uzzyk Author Profile Page:

Excellent article reprensenting the views of American Muslims. We have always been an important part of this society and definitely believe that voting is essential. American Muslims are peaceful and law-abiding citizens. We should learn to be tolerant and respectful to all.

Peace to all. Once again, thanks for publishing such an awesome article!

LarryG62 Author Profile Page:

Sorry, but the only thing I usually hear from muslims is whining about how they are being treated. You might see some difference if you raise your voices about the condct of those who appear to have hijacked your religion and are engaged in terrorism. Included are the crazies in Iran, and the other terrorist groups who practice random murders, decapitation and bombings. Those are your real enemies.

bastiji Author Profile Page:

Nice article.

To all who are complaining of the treatment met out to christians and/or foreigners, all I can say it if you want to do the same thing, how are you different that those who do the same thing in their country? One wrong doesn't justify another wrong, no matter what your reasoning!

For me, this is my home, my country and like it or not, I'm here to stay and so are the rest of us Muslims.

muna1 Author Profile Page:

Thanks Washington Post! We need more articles on such topics. Muslims so often are treated as one monolithic group. So discerning on the part of the author to include Republican and Democrat input! Looking forward to more!

abhab Author Profile Page:

Riobozo the (I am not a Muslim) historian? advises me thus:

“Please stop googling your anti-Islamic sentiments and do some of your own research, actually pick up a Quran. Every single one of those versus are taken out of context”

“You shall fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His messenger have prohibited, nor do they abide by the religion of truth - among those who received the scripture - until they pay the Jizya(head) tax, willingly or unwillingly.”
(Quran 9:29)

What context this verse had been taken out of that would alter its meaning? You might be a non-Muslim but you sure have mastered their tactic of explaining away embarrassing issues as either “taken out of context” or is “allegorical.”

riobrazill Author Profile Page:

ABHAB:
I am not a Muslim, but i do read history, unlike yourself. I do not regurgitate the anti-Islamic rhetoric from groups who have bible thumping agenda's of their own.
Please stop googling your anti-Islamic sentiments and do some of your own research, actually pick up a Quran. Every single one of those versus are taken out of context, read the history, Those were revealed during times when the men were attacking village and posing as Muslims, no believing Muslim simply takes those versus and acts on them. That is idiotic, please give a population of more than one billion people a little more credit than that. They are peaceful people, any group of 1.5 billion might have a few bad apples, of course. But if you do research you would see that its actually the Jewish that have more terrorists per capita. But I am not about hate, Im about intelligence and equal opportunity for all.

Thank for this untapped perspective of the intelligent Muslim, and not the stock footage fox news shows of lunatics with scarfs and machine guns. We need more commentary like this. Thank you Washington Post for allowing this intelligent yet intimidated and suppressed voice to actually speak out.

Allah Bless America!!!

(Allah means God in Arabic for those of you who either fell out of your seat or just gasped at the above statement)

faithfulservant3 Author Profile Page:

With all due respect to Brookings' Hady Amr, the best way to engage in civil society and make the world a better place is to love your neighbor like you love yourself. And this is true no matter what your faith is.

Wouldn't it be nice if there were more unlikely heroes like Boo Radley in both the US and throughout the Muslim world. A sign of this would be Muslims risking all by turning in terrorists in their communities overseas.

You won't see much of this however, because the US has not cultivated much good will in the Middle East through the reckless giving of foreign aid targeted for the people in all Arab and Muslim countries.

This would be loving your neighbor like you love yourself. Both Democrats and Republicans miss this crucial point. Neither party really runs on the "royal law" of love as the epistle James in the Holy Bible calls it. So it really doesn't matter who you vote for.

abhab Author Profile Page:

Hady Amr says:
“It is my religious obligation to make the world a better place.”
A better place for whom should be the pertinent question. In the Muslim ideology there are two types of people; the Muslims and everybody else who are labeled Kuffar or infidels. What is good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander. And in this case it is not. The whole thesis of the Quran, the main Muslim scriptures, is to persecute the others; those who do not believe in the teachings of their prophet.
Sample some of the gems listed in the cite below.
3:85 "Whoso seeketh as religion other than the Surrender (to Allah) it will not be accepted from him, and he will be a loser in the Hereafter."
4:91 "Take them and kill them wherever ye find them. Against such We have given you clear warrant."
4:101 "The disbelievers are an open enemy to you."
4:144 "Choose not disbelievers for (your) friends in place of believers. Would ye give Allah a clear warrant against you?"
5:51 "Take not the Jews and the Christians for friends. ... He among you who taketh them for friends is (one) of them."
8:39 "Fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is all for Allah."
9:5 "Slay the idolaters wherever ye find them.
http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/quran/says_about/religious_tolerance.html

Alidost Author Profile Page:

Comments here are a proof that Media has done its job in portraying Muslims as intolerant, dangerous, and whining...and many have been fooled by this portrayal.
When a Jew complains of anti Semitic portrayals, is it logical to cite Israel's brutal butchering of Lebanese children and then allege "cry of victimhood"?! No.
It's amazing how people forget so many Holocausts that Muslims suffered in the 20th century.

When Muslims complain about unfair treatment in America, it's because Muslims believe that America should remain a free country for all races and religions.
As for those regimes that are intolerant like "Saudi", those are the very regimes that our government helps and promotes and calls "Allies".
Let's fix home before worrying about others.

vjg3 Author Profile Page:

Another intellectual American Muslim crying victimhood. What happens to non-Muslims when Muslims are in majority? Don't you think declaring the whole nation Islamic (57 and killing and fighting for more) insults the minorities? Instead of being thankful of living a dignified and prosperous life in America, Muslims are usually complaining.

Why are there almost daily terror attacks by Muslims against civilians all over the world? Why no Bible allowed inside Saudi? Why no significant number of minorities in Muslim nations? Please answer these questions and then complain.

Athena4 Author Profile Page:

"Why should we listen to their pleas for tolerance when the media of every Muslim country is full of bigoted condemnation of Jews and Christians? Substantially every madrassa is an education in hatred and condemnation of non-Muslims."

Because we're Americans. We're better than that, or at least we used to be. Unfortunately, people can't seem to rise above hatred.

jack5 Author Profile Page:

Its the price Muslims pay for not being more vocal and organized against the negative aspects of seperatist radicals. In addition, its a lack of financial backing by prominent Muslims that will easily allow those efforts fail. The Jewish comunity owns Hollywood, banking, and many other stakes in society. They also police their comunities heavilly and ouster the rare insiders that defy the religion. That posture allows them to shut down uprisings and contain incidents and command public respect these days. Look how quickly they quieted Mel Gibson!?

Don't get me wrong on this, I fully believe what is occurring in modern society is deplorable when you look at the stereotypes that plague Muslims in the U.S. but its the same crisis that black people in the U.S. have been facing for years. It is unnaceptable for people to be using the term Muslim as if it were a bad word, but in the same sense, responsibility for letting the taliban and terrorism grow into communities without seriously makng efforts to stop them of course would have this backlash.

msiddiqu Author Profile Page:

Good article. We may have many opinions about what Muslims are? One thing is sure that they permanent part of American landscape. They are learning to empower themselves by exercising their voting right.
Obama is NO Muslim, the Muslims even do not accept him as Muslim, not that it matters. But Obama should have declared that "I am NOT a Muslim, but being a Muslim is not against the constitution of the land". Luckily Colin Powel almost said it.
McCain, the other day told a woman in Minnesota somberly, that Obama is not an Arab but a decent man. All the Limbaugh’s, Hanity's and likes applauded McCain for his answer. To me it was the most bigoted response. He, in fact, said that being an Arab American is not decent. Somehow these minor idiotic comments are not registered by common Americans.
It is a fact, Muslims are getting a bum rap, but time is on their side.

ronjaboy Author Profile Page:

If you think being a Muslim in America is tough, try being a Christian or a Westerner in Saudi.

reddy531 Author Profile Page:

"JACKKESSLER01 :
I am tired, very tired, of hearing Muslims complaining of intolerance when they extend tolerance to nobody? We hear from them the happy talk of how we're all equal and 'can't we all just get along?' But we hear it only where Muslims do not have political power. Where they do have power they sing a very different song.

Why should we listen to their pleas for tolerance when the media of every Muslim country is full of bigoted condemnation of Jews and Christians? Substantially every madrassa is an education in hatred and condemnation of non-Muslims. Why should we believe a word of American Muslims' claims to moderation and patriotism when CAIR, their main political organization, is virulently anti-American, spews hatred of Jews and Christians, and speaks openly of replacing our government with a world caliphate as soon as they have the power to do it?"

Very well put, you can only pity the fools who claim they closely observed or had friends with muslims and wonder why they are projected differently in the media. They should buy a ticket and spend sometime in a muslim country or where there are substantial muslim presence.

Muslims never mix with any one else, even if they did its a coverup act for some sinister plan they plan to execute in the future. That future could be as far as few hundred years away for them.

Trust a muslim at your own peril. There are definetly exceptions for this generalization but trying to exclude them is too much risk compared to the consequences of not acting at all.

asizk Author Profile Page:

American Muslims:Get out and vote En Masse-you have nothing to lose except your fears.

thelaw1 Author Profile Page:

The only people that can 'outcast' Muslim Americans are Muslim Americans.
Please point to the government policies that forbid Muslim Americans from participating, or being a second class citizen. I can not find one.

The media is the only organized anything trying to gin this up. It is to get Obama elected. Division works better in campaigns. anger serves campaigns as well. Democrats and the liberal media have been working on this for 7 years. Now the result is out of their control. We know this country is the most tolerant in the world. Citizens have the best conditions under which to live and thrive. Why was anyone trying to get you to believe that you live in the worst country, with the great depression looming. This type of reporting has been going on for 4 years. Electing Obama will not just magically reverse the induced economic decline. It will not reduce the divisions Democrats and the media have fostered over the last 4 years.

The sad part is that the goal was simply to get more voters by pissing them off about conditions. The trouble was, conditions did not match the reporting and rhetoric in 2004. They match now. Why did they do this to our country. Why would you ever let someone who could not pay get a loan. Then how can you bail them out and blame the administration. This is about getting votes.

faithemanus Author Profile Page:

Many citizens believe that the U.S. is Christian nation, Jews are tolerated, and Muslims are foreigners. McCain says America is Christian country and no one challenges him. Obama runs away from the Muslim label so that he is looked at as American! Whoever wins, it is looking negative to Muslims.
Until this "America is Christian" is challenged and corrected, America will become for one religion in reverse direction of its founding.

I would recommend that all Muslims vote, but not for McCain or Obama. Voting for elections for local officials and congress would show the Muslim voting strength, voting for a third choice for president may show the close loser some possibilities.

LZ85 Author Profile Page:

I agree. Great article. But in order to repair the image of Muslim Americans, we must understand the frustration with the image right now.

It was Muslims who perpetrated 9/11, the US is fighting two wars in the Middle East (counting Afghanistan), and our "energy crisis" can be partially blamed on OPEC (though we truly share most of the blame), and several Arab nations are apart of OPEC.

Though that image obviously does not represent the majority of Muslim Americans, or even Muslims worldwide, the aforementioned issues are the major issues in contemporary American history. Therefore, to simply reject the "image" as unfair is to ignore the root causes of the image without any real attempt at repairing it.

The real change will happen with an Obama victory - which will serve as a repudiation to Conservative Christian ignorance and/or hatred of the Muslim community worldwide - but also most important in policy that may soften the damaged image of Muslim Americans over time.

Zeba1 Author Profile Page:

Thank you Wajahat for this article - beautifully written! We can and should be upset about the current state of Muslims in this country - but our sadness and discontent must result in productivity.

We must take a long term view and we must persevere. Our community is strong - and our allies/strengths will become apparent - but we should pro-actively seek them out too.

Colin Powell's words were very powerful - and the actions/alliances of the VA Asian-Americans mentioned in WP article today have been too.

Despite the distance that both candidates have chosen to keep from Muslims - this has been an amazing election season. American Muslims have made great efforts and great strides. As we increase our level of civic engagement and political participation - things will change. We just need to believe firmly and work together tirelessly!

riobrazill Author Profile Page:

Wow, an intellectual discussion about Muslims written by a Muslim. Definitely a cutting edge concept.

I commend the author and the Washington Post, this was a refreshing view and understanding of the Muslim-American dilemma in the voting arena. I hope to see more intelligent, articulate, and informative articles like this one. Thank you.

jackkessler01 Author Profile Page:

I am tired, very tired, of hearing Muslims complaining of intolerance when they extend tolerance to nobody? We hear from them the happy talk of how we're all equal and 'can't we all just get along?' But we hear it only where Muslims do not have political power. Where they do have power they sing a very different song.

Why should we listen to their pleas for tolerance when the media of every Muslim country is full of bigoted condemnation of Jews and Christians? Substantially every madrassa is an education in hatred and condemnation of non-Muslims. Why should we believe a word of American Muslims' claims to moderation and patriotism when CAIR, their main political organization, is virulently anti-American, spews hatred of Jews and Christians, and speaks openly of replacing our government with a world caliphate as soon as they have the power to do it?

The Muslim claim that jihad refers to spiritual warfare rather than actual violence against non-Muslims is explicitly contradicted a thousand times by the Koran itself. One has only to consider the fight against British rule in India. The Hindu response was Mahatma Gandhi's campaign of non-violence and satyagraha (self-sufficiency). The Muslim response was Ali Jinnah's campaign of bombing passenger trains crowded with Hindus. Israeli offers to negotiate are met with terrorist attacks. Russian attempts to govern Chechnya were met with the bombing massacre of hundreds of Russian schoolchildren. Madrid subway riders were massacred in their hundreds by Muslim bombers. London underground tube riders were massacred as well.

The London attacks were particularly interesting. The claim was that Muslims were radicalized because they were poor. Then it was learned that the London bombers were middle class. The claim was then that they were alienated from British society because they were immigrants from backward countries. It turned out most of them had spent their whole lives in Britain, many were born there. Then it was claimed that they bombed because they felt they were outsiders. Then it turned out that several of the bombers were doctors and one was a medical student, so they weren't outsiders. They were accepted, valued members of British society.

One by one all the lying alibis were stripped away. The only thing that put them in the London Underground with bombs in their hands to kill as many people as they could was that they were Muslims.

When Muslims are already in the country they are entitled to the protections of our constitution and laws. But why should we admit any more of them as immigrants?

elevy Author Profile Page:

Islam is a precious jewel. It has been hidden from today's society. In America, no one knows what the Koran sounds like, or what its precepts are. Christian sayings are woven through American culture. So are Islamic teachings but those are rarely pointed out as originating from a scholarly Islamic Golden Age which helped spark the European Renaissance. And yet Islamic fundamentals like Al Jebra and Arabic Numerals are part of the foundation of our science and technology even today.

As an American it was never my job to politicize or be political in my religion. Religion is my relationship with God. If you're not God, it's not your business. And if you take my religion as your business - it is Shirk - making a partner with God - yourself - and the only unpardonable sin. But after 9/11 people demanded that Muslims apologize and explain - lots of us. But I can't explain Pakistani culture or Saudi culture to you. And Islamic culture is much more diverse than those.

America has moved away from class bigotry, is overcoming it's color bias bigotry, and eventually might overcome its bigotry over names. Interestingly it was a feature of the war of Yugoslavian recession, fracturing into bitter and vicious genocidal war, that everyone could recognize their religious background by their names. Serbs, Croats and Bosnians could be identified and mixed families torn asunder by name even though few identified themselves as particularly religious in the formerly communist satellite of the old USSR. In America someone's religion can no longer be taken for granted just because of their name.

Most Americans who call themselves Christians are fairly relaxed in their religious practice. As true as it is that we are khalifa - representatives of our prophet in religion, he never did anything more than warn, and neither should we. A Muslim only needs to acknowledge a few simple things. He or she remains just as much a Muslim even if they aren't perfect in practice. Who are we to judge? It's through these dialogs that we all can explore our politics and faith; another way of consulting. Thanks for stimulating the dialog with articles like these.

american12 Author Profile Page:

Nice article - interesting that no one commented on the place where you mentioned that many naturalized Muslim Americans believe/believed that voting is haram. I would like to see more on that.

Why is it that people obviously find their place of birth so horrible that they immigrate to the U.S., but once here, find it so unholy they won't even vote. If the U.S. is so bad, why did you ever leave home? Most likely a country where voting is in even worse shape than here? Is it any reason such a population would be ostracized?

If folks want to be included, all they have to do is join in, rather than staying home saying they live in the epicenter of sin.

I admit that Muslims, native or naturalized, have been vilified of late, but so has any other American sub-group that holds itself out of society - see Mormons, for example. There is blame on both sides to be taken.

For the record, I have nothing against Muslims, and I am outraged by the insanity that is being spewed by the GOP these days. I just think there ought to be more progressive Muslims speaking out and claiming America as their own, much like this article. We want your participation, not your disdain.

medogsbstfrnd Author Profile Page:

The specter of Muslims killing Christians in Iraq; the unfettered combustion of Muslims rioting in reaction to free expression in Denmark; the oppression of indigenous populations by Islam; the consistent abuse of and degradation of women by the likes of the Taliban; the lack of a reformation that would critique the holy book of Muslims;the silence of Islamic spokespersons with regard to Muslim violence and terror (particularly in the wake of 9/11); the utter lack of a concept of separation of church and state; and the tyranny of Islamic states that suppresses democratic impulses: is it any wonder at all that some in the West have reservations and doubts? Of course not. You will not move the dialogue forward by demanding victim status. That works with the PC liberal crowd but no one else. Besides, the hallway where victim status badges are handed out is quite crowded at the moment.

jabreal00 Author Profile Page:

The reasons a majority of Muslims backed Bush in 2000 is beyond comprehension. Unfortunately some politicians feel that defending Muslims against innuendo is not worth the political capital that would be lost. They are not reliably Democratic and are not overtly political. If one sits on the sidelines then their interests will not be represented or defended. Blacks are a minority group but they are disproportionately over represented in politics due to their high activisim relative to other minority groups.

bmorebent Author Profile Page:

I feel sad that we have to always have outcasts in America. We have the Muslims and the gays right now. And, creaping up on them in half of the country is the liberal non- or anti-Americans. Why does a segment of this country feel that they must put others down or think of themselves as superior to justify themselves? Mind your own business and live your own lives and stop finding the boogie man to blame at every corner. Do something productive and be the change you want to see in the country and world. Find something other than hate and dismissiveness. Those crappy rednecks need to get their own life and self-esteem and not find it on the backs of others who are just trying to live their lives.

smokberry2002@yahoo.com Author Profile Page:

Considering that the West was civilized by Moslems it seems rather stupid to demonize 1/5 of the world's population.
As is Moslems play a prominent role in America in that they hold medical, engineering, and many of the higher level positions in America. And they are by far the most educated minority groups. Look at the Persians and Indians.

curmudgeon100 Author Profile Page:

Thank you, WP for one the first articles about Muslims BY A MUSLIM. What a concept!!!

The one idea that stands out for me(among several) is the diversity within the community itsself. It reminds me of a conversation that I overheard at a Muslim sponsored discussion, post 9/11. After a particularly hot exchange between 2 Muslim panelists, one guest commented to another: "Why they're just like us - they argue about nothing!"

An old American tradition - go figure.

dawanm Author Profile Page:

I think your article is interesting, timely and based on the comments posted, it obviously touches upon points that concern many Americans (not just Muslims). However, I'm not sure that Muslims in America understand the psychology of political language well enough to be viewed as progressive voters. The mere fact that Muslims (more so than people of other religious faiths) feel a need to include geographical location as part of their identity, diminishes the universal concepts of Al-Islam outlined in Al-Qur'an. We don't hear the words Christian American or Jewish American as much because these faiths have adopted and endorse practices that are synonomous with the idea of being American. When words like Muslim and American are put together,a red flag goes up because everyone knows that practicing Islam (even in the most relaxed manner) requires dicipline that is not popular in America.

Rightly guided Muslims are the Khalifah in America and we are encouraged to get out and vote, but to the best of our ability we should try and avoid political rhetoric. Now is the time to drop the nouns and adjectives and focus on verbs. If we face the truth and stick to real issues, the numbers will work out. I would like to think that we have learned lessons from previous elections where we were busy trying to be Americans and fell for the old "bait and switch" because we thought we understood what was happening.

wpfree Author Profile Page:

In light of Colin Powell's recent comments pointing out the GOP's view that being Muslim makes one unfit for Presidency, this piece could not have been timed any better. More discussion highlighting the bigotry inherent in this viewpoint is necessary if we want to call ourselves true Americans.

pxa13 Author Profile Page:

Excellent article. Voting is not just a right but an obligation for Muslims. It is in some sense a sacred duty.

Abu Bakr, the first head of state after the death of Prophet Muhammad was elected. The spirit of democracy is clearly articulated in the Quran when it asserts that those who consult others in their affairs are blessed by God.

The first constitution in human history was not the Magna Carta but the Consitituion or Charter of Medina (established around 610 CE by Prophet Muhammad). For a detailed exposition on the similarities between the Charter of Medina and the Bill of Rights see Azizah Y. al-Hibri, Islamic and American Constitutional Law: Borrowing Possibilities or a History of Borrowing? 1 U. Pa. J. Const. L. 492, 497 (1999).

overflowinggrace Author Profile Page:

A long overdue article richly illustrating the complexity and dynamism of the American Muslim community - why is it so hard to find pieces like these in mainstream newspapers these days?

MumboJumboo Author Profile Page:

The core supporters of the republican party dont understand Powell defending the human rights of american muslims and arab americans. This core group sheds crocodile tears about freedom for tibet and human rights in darfur, they are staunch supporters of the apartheid israeli zionist regime ongoing ethnic cleansing of palestinians and most of all they are WHITE SUPRIMACISTS.

EZ_Tiger Author Profile Page:

Finally, a piece that openly discusses the 'psychological internment' of the muslim-american population over the past seven years. Since 9/11, after which we found out that "Brown is the new Black," there has been precious little open discussion about the collective after-effects on this segment of Americans, villified and looked upon with fear and skepticism in their own home.

Three cheers for Colin Powell for calling America on it's bigotry, and three cheers for the Author, Mr. Ali. He deserves a weekly column.

HumanofEarth Author Profile Page:

to l0gikal :

How about just "American". Why do we have this need to separate ourselve from ourselves? I was born in America. The fact that I'm Catholic, Black, White, Liberal, Conservative, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Gay, Straight, Irish, Arab, .... need I go on? These are dividing words, not uniting. Drop the divisiveness and just go with the proper term: AMERICAN! It's what you are, it's what WE are, enjoy it before we destroy it!

concernedcitizen007 Author Profile Page:

Finally an intelligent, informed article about Muslims as opposed to the hate mongering I normally see. Since 911, I have crossed paths with several Muslims. I started taking notice and paid attention to them. I have found they are some of the most decent and concerned human beings in our society. None I met were the extremists the mass media portrays them to be. I commend the Washington Post for carrying this article. This is exactly what America needs. The truth. Let's keep it up.

irydhan Author Profile Page:

Excellent article. American Muslims are an important and integral part of U.S. society and we can no longer ignore them. Its a shame the extreme Right are not only smearing Obama, but also attacking their fellow Americans who are also Muslims. I applaud Colin Powell for speaking up against his own party. It shows that he is a man of integrity and justice. Old fashioned American ideals, which the Republican party has lost it seems.

vubang Author Profile Page:

I've tried to argue with people that believe that Obama is Muslim. But since the very basis of their belief is so ignorant, I find it completely impossible to get to the point where we ask, why does it matter?! What do you do when someone is so misguided?! Great article Waj, that 13% statistic is so high, makes you wonder if there was a conscious effort by unnamed candidates to get untruths out there to such a high degree...

biobot Author Profile Page:

What an excellent article. I empathize with Retinalsurgeon's comment that Powell should have added a rejoinder that there is nothing wrong with being Muslim. Unfortunately, in this polluted climate, such a comment would have just reinforced the view of Obama as a secret Muslim.

This was such a refreshing article and viewpoint. I hope to see more like it.

talib1 Author Profile Page:

nice article and interesting perspective. keep'em coming! we need more articles by American Muslims about American Muslims. Colin Powell's endorsement of Obama left the nation with a crucial question: who are these American Muslims the world of American politics has vilified? it's now a pertinent a question as ever.

os21 Author Profile Page:

What about Black American Muslims? Many of them voted for Gore in 2000 and watched their immigrant brethren impale themselves at the voting booths that year.

retinalsurgeon Author Profile Page:

Interesting article - it certainly draws attention to being Muslim in America, who like the Japanese & Germans before them, but in a more latent (and to be honest not as severe) manner, are the proverbial usual suspects.
Though I make it a point to avoid discussing politics with patients, there are those that find it an obligation to voice their unsolicited opinions. Although one hears the full range of Republican and Democratic opinion, I have had more than the occasional few announce that they won't vote for Obama - not because of his politics, but because they believe he's Muslim. At that point, and after sight saving surgery, I feel obliged to tell them that their surgeon happens to be Muslim and not all Muslims are terrorists. As one can imagine, that creates a somewhat awkward end to that day’s visit, and I have had some request the services of another specialist afterwards. And it’s not just patients but referring physicians who have, in no uncertain words, stated they feel uncomfortable receiving a letterhead or employing someone with an Arabic or Muslim name. Imagine being discriminated against for being Christian by generalizing from the hateful and extremist acts of the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
These sentiments stem from ignorance and fear, but it is sometimes too easy, and all too often human nature, to discriminate against those who are different. Muslims themselves are to blame for not engaging the American public and educating others about what Islam really is and who Muslims are until after 9/11 when they were forced to do so for their own survival. So, it was encouraging to see no less than General Colin Powell tackle the issue directly with his endorsement of Barack Obama this past weekend when he addressed the larger issue of Obama not being Muslim:
“I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.”
Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim; he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian.
But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America.
Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?
Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.
I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards — Purple Heart, Bronze Star — showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old.
And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross; it didn’t have the Star of David; it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life.”
Our founding fathers recognized our nation was great because of the freedoms it promised. To quote Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, “…if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.” America changes and evolves for the better, and it’s because of all of us as Americans. Less than fifty years ago, America was embroiled in the Civil Rights era, and now, only in the spirit of this great nation’s freedom and meritocracy, can the son of an African Muslim consider becoming President. Congratulations to Mr. Ali for identifying the American Muslim politic, “one that is energized in helping themselves, and America, by engaging the democratic system and fulfilling their civic responsibilities.”


mypostid11 Author Profile Page:

I pray for the day when there will be no articles about Christian voters, Jewish voters, Catholic voters and Muslim voters. It would be nice to keep faith in the churches, mosques, temples and hearts where it belongs, and out of science and politics where its potential for bigotry and mischief caused our founding fathers to try to keep it out of politics.

l0gikal Author Profile Page:

Great article. I'm interested in knowing what's the more appropriate term:
"American Muslim" vs "Muslim American"?
I'd like to hear everyone's thoughts and comments. I hear both terms being used but I think they carry slightly different connotations.

saladin786 Author Profile Page:

I'm happy to see the Washington Post providing balanced views on this topic and enlisting authors who are capable of articulately communicating their group's point of view. As an American and Muslim born and raised in the U.S., I must say this article does a great job summarizing a lot of issues faced by Muslim Americans today.

Thank you for publishing this article, and I hope there are many more like it!

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