Boston Muslims Navigate the Religious-Secular Divide

September 10, 2006

Source: The Boston Globe

On September 10, 2006 The Boston Globe reported, "Many of the suspected perpetrators of last year's London transit bombings have a similar profile: they are young, native-born Muslims of Pakistani descent. Some of those accused last month of plotting to blow up transatlantic airliners also share those characteristics. So does Faisal Anwar. The 25-year-old software engineer turned public school teacher from Dorchester prays five times a day, obeys Islamic dietary laws and wears a beard that reflects his devotion to Islam. But Anwar is not only a devout Muslim, he is a proud US citizen, and he will tell you this is one of the important separations between himself and Islamic extremists eager to destroy the fabric of secular society. 'Islam being a way to look at the world, I know the right way to channel my frustrations,' he says. 'You have to be in society, you have to work to make society better. You have to contribute.' Five years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Boston's Muslim community is 40,000 strong, with many young people, says Bilal Kaleem , the 26-year-old associate director of the Boston Chapter of the Muslim American Society, and a graduate of MIT. The local Muslim population is a model of socioeconomic diversity, varying from newly arrived Somalis living in working-class neighborhoods, to well-established Pakistanis living in white-collar suburbs, he says. 'Civic engagement is critical,' Kaleem says. If communities don't feel engaged, 'they become increasingly susceptible to feeling marginalized. Those types of antisocial feelings are unhealthy and dangerous for society.' Some Muslims do not become full-fledged followers of their faith until coming to America. This was the case with Insaf Masood , an Indian-born Muslim who lived in Saudi Arabia until age 17. 'People say, "You grew up in a Muslim country, that's why you're a Muslim,"' says the 25-year-old who works in Cambridge. 'But to me, I know what I went through' to connect with Islam."