By Ghazala Hayat
I have been in America for the last 37
Initially when people learned I'm Muslim it
would trigger curiosity about Islam and eastern cultures. Sometimes I would
encounter misinformation in the mainstream media, but mostly Muslims in America
were under the radar.
Since 9/11, I've found more interest in
learning about Islam and at the same time seen spike in misinformation and hate
groups. Myths are behind the misunderstanding. I'd like to tackle a few of
Myth: Muslims are relatively newcomers in America.
• Historians trace first Muslims in America towards the end of 15th century.
African-American Muslims, who have been here for centuries, make about quarter
of the total U.S. Muslim population. A recent estimate in 2016 placed the
nation's Muslim population at over 3.3 million.
Most of the American Muslims who immigrated
in last century probably came from South Asia, Middle East, and Africa in
1960s, when The Hart-Celler Act of 1965 was enacted. This law changed the
immigration policies from being nation-based formula to one that lifted
restrictions against immigrants from Asia and Africa. It gave priority for
relatives of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.
It also gave preference to professionals
and other skilled workers. Most of Muslims came here for the same reason that
brought the majority of non-Muslim Americans: opportunity
Myth: Muslims are monolithic. • According
to a 2009 Gallup poll, Muslims in America are one of the most racially diverse
religious groups in the United States. Not all Arabs are Muslims and not all
Muslims are Arabs. We don’t have a religious hierarchy to speak for almost 1.6
Myth: Muslims are not part of the society
at large. • Like any other first-generation immigrants, Muslims who come to the
U.S. spend their first years working to succeed, become part of the society at
large, and make sure their children received the best possible education.
Most recent Muslim immigrants are
professionals: physicians, engineers, computer programmers and in other technical
fields. A Pew survey in 2007 showed that foreign-born Muslims were more likely
to have graduate degrees and earn more than $100,000 than the overall U.S.
Myth: Islam and Muslims cannot integrate in
our society. • People who interact with the Muslims have better understanding
of the faith and its practices.
A woman wearing Hijab is not a suppressed
one. She is following her faith to be dressed modestly. Some Muslims asking for
accommodation during the month of fasting are not being unreasonable. They are
willing to do extra duties later on. If we politely decline to drink alcohol
during celebrations, we are not being disrespectful. We share all the joys and
sorrows of our non-Muslim Americans.
Myth: Islam is so different from other
faiths. • When I speak with different groups about Islam, the most common
response I hear is, "I did not know the tenants of Islam were so similar
to my faith."
Myth: Muslims espouse violent ideology. •
According to a recent estimate the radicals in Islam represent less than 1
percent of Muslims. Are there some extremists in Islam? Yes, just like in any
other faith. But it does not mean that these fanatics represent the faith of
Myth: Muslims do not condemn the radical
acts committed in the name of Islam. • The overwhelming majority of Muslims
condemn such acts and more repulsed by efforts to manipulate our faith. More
Muslims have been killed by these fanatics all over the world. Day after day
many Muslim soldiers are giving their lives to fight these extremists. In
America, Muslims have helped law enforcement agencies to thwart many potential
Many American Muslims are apprehensive at
the current spike in Islamophobia. But I also must mention the overwhelming
support from non-Muslims. For every negative comment in the media, I get many
more words of support, and see acts of kindness. Please know, we are touched by
your generosity. These acts strengthen our resolve to work together towards a
I can say without hesitation that most of
the Muslims welcome dialogue about our faith.
Please ask questions if you have Muslim
colleagues, next door neighbours, your classmates. Lack of knowledge about
Islam or Muslims can easily open the doors to misinformation, fear and
Our Constitution and our great people have
always risen above such negative forces.
This is what makes America Great. May peace
be on all fellow Americans.
Hayat serves as chair of the public relations committee of the Islamic
Foundation of Greater St. Louis. She is a regular Faith Perspectives
contributor to STLtoday.com/religion.