By Dr. Aneesah Nadir –
Muslim American families strive for a healthy, balanced family life just as their counterparts of other faiths. Unfortunately little is known about Muslim American families by our American neighbors of other faiths and traditions. The lack of understanding often rests on our reluctance to get involved in society and share our traditions with our neighbors. Additionally our beliefs are misrepresented by the larger societal media and various political groups. Unfortunately this misrepresentation has led to stereotypes and Islamophobia. This past June the Arizona Muslim Police Advisory Board invited me to introduce Muslim Americans and our families to our guests who were politicians, public servants and law enforcement officers attending their annual Pre Ramadan Dinner. It was an opportunity to share a meal and get to know one another. Following is the first part of the speech I shared, entitled “Muslim Families: Strained and Strengthened in a Climate of Islamophobia.”
Even though we are often viewed as a monolithic group there is no one Muslim American Family. We are as diverse as families from other faith communities. We are families that began immigrating here before the early 1900s seeking a better life just as many Christian Europeans did. Among the legacy of early immigrant Muslims includes a mosque in tiny Ross, North Dakota, in 1929, and the oldest mosque that still stands in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, built in 1934.
Our families are also made up of Muslims who came to the U.S. as foreign students in medicine and technology. Their opportunity to immigrate was facilitated by the Civil Rights Movement and the Immigration Act of 1965, which opened the doors to immigrants from Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Many immigrant families started their families in the midst of their graduate school education, planning to return back home, but most stayed and raised families here. Muslim American families also include refugee families who left their homelands fleeing persecution, drought and political unrest.
American Muslim families are also descendants of Africans who survived enslavement during the North Atlantic Slave Trade and helped build this country with their blood, sweat and tears. According to various sources is estimated that 10-30 percent of the total African slave population in the Americas were Muslim. It is further estimated that 7-8 percent of the West Africans enslaved in America from the 17th to 19th centuries were Muslims. Many were unable to retain their faith because of the intense oppressive practices of American slavery, however history shows significant remnants of Islamic life remained among numbers of former slaves and their descendants. Over time descendants of Islamic scholars, statesmen, merchants and more who were brought to the Americas as slaves reverted or converted to Islam. The largest mass conversion to Islam in America took place in the mid-1970s under the leadership of Imam Warith Deen Muhammad.
Muslim American families are also descendants of white European Americans, Latin Americans and Native Americans. We are families made of students who continued to seek answers to our spiritual concerns as we learned about Islam on our college campuses and world religion classes. We converted before and in the aftermath of 9/11.
We are also families who make up the children of all of these groups. And we are raising the next generations of our children and our grandchildren as Muslim Americans.
Just as our American neighbors of other faiths and traditions we want a good life, a solid education and economic opportunities. We want our children and grandchildren to grow up self-assured, with a strong sense of being, pride in being Americans, Muslims and descendants of our ancestral cultures. We want them to know that we are part of this American Mosaic.
This is an excerpt of a speech delivered by Dr. Aneesah Nadir for the Pre Ramadan Dinner hosted by the Arizona Muslim Police Advisory Board in June 2015. Dr. Nadir is a social worker, published author, speaker, retired social work professor and entrepreneur. She serves as the president of the Islamic Social Services Association-USA headquartered in Arizona.