Islam in America

December 4, 1999

Source: The Times-Picayune

On December 4, 1999, The Times-Picayune published an article on the public acceptance of Islam in America. Some, like Sulayman Nyang, a professor of African studies at Howard University, are highly optimistic about the place of Islam in America: "Islam in America now is safer than in its lands of origin...In America the cultural and economic systems are not threatened by religious expression the way they are in many Muslim nations where the impulse of the power structure is to control Islam and manipulate it for political use...Here, Islam is free to be Islam." Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles, finds resonance with Nyang's assessment, even though he was in the middle of a widely publicized controversy generated by stereotype and prejudice earlier this year: "The American Muslim community is more affluent and educated than anywhere else...That will lead to greater development of Islamic thought here to a degree that I think in the future the Muslims of America will be influencing the leaders of Muslim nations more than the other way around." Others, like Riffat Hassan, a professor of religion at the University of Louisville, are not so optimistic: "Based on my experience in the classroom and at many universities where I speak, I do not share the optimism...There is still a tremendous amount of stereotyping going on. A lot of it has to do with talk about a clash of cultures between Islam and the Christian world and misunderstanding about women in Islam." Azizah al-Hibri, who teaches at the University of Richmond Law School, warns that gains made by Muslims stem from a broad acceptance of multiculturalism and not Islam itself: "People are listening to Muslims and they want us to be represented and to hear our voice, but that is a far, far cry from saying we have no problems left." The Pew Charitable Trusts have begun to finance a three-year. $1.25 million study to investigate the role and acceptance of the Muslim community in American public life.