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|U.S. Muslim community is 'diverse' (interesting)|
|09/28/01 at 00:08:08|
U.S. Muslim community is 'diverse'
By Larry Witham
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Muslims in the United States are among the world's most educated and diverse, and as a political community in the West, they are also one of the best organized.
That is the assessment of scholars and surveys attempting to describe a largely immigrant community from many countries, which has multiplied dramatically in number since 1970.
"Within the Muslim community, there is tremendous diversity," said Sayyid M. Syeed, secretary-general of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which recently drew 40,000 participants to its 38th annual convention in Chicago.
Yet certain features of this group, whose U.S. population estimates range from fewer than 3 million to more than 7 million, stand out.
Black Americans who joined the Black Muslim movement in the 1950s gave Islam its first U.S. prominence, though immigrant Muslims have always formed the largest number of adherents here.
After the 1965 immigration act reopened U.S. doors to the Middle East, Africa and Asia, immigrant Muslims began to make a mark. Over the next two decades, Islam's best educated came here, many tied to a new religious resurgence of Islam abroad.
They often fled governments such as Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan that had cracked down on radical Muslims who wanted to make the Quran, their holy book, the final word on law.
"The number of radicals who migrated to the United States is substantially larger than the moderates," said Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum and critic of what he calls the "Islamist" movement.
"England has a yet more radicalized population than we do," he said.
He said that while working-class Muslims migrated to Europe, doctors, lawyers and students came to the United States.
Nearly eight in 10 U.S. Muslims were born abroad, and no imams, or prayer leaders at mosques, are American-born, according to an American Muslim Council (AMC) survey in 2000. A recent finding that just 2 million Muslims affiliate with a mosque suggests high rates of secularization.
While there is a majority Sunni branch of Islam and a minority Shi'ite branch, all the world's 1 billion believers basically hold the life of the Prophet Muhammad and the Quran as their guides. Differences among the various factions often have cultural and political origins, scholars say.
The leadership of U.S. Islam is tied to both religious and political causes abroad. The AMC, a political lobby in Washington, and the ISNA take strong stances on Islamic religious causes overseas.
They defend with lawsuits, for example, the use of conservative head scarves by Muslim women, which in Turkey and France has been outlawed because it is seen as advocating an Islamic political agenda.
Imam Muzammil H. Siddiqi, who as ISNA president prayed at the Washington National Cathedral with President Bush recently, last year protested outside the White House over the renewed conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank.
Imam Siddiqi, who heads the nation's wealthiest and largest mosque, the Islamic Society of Orange County, Calif., in the current edition of the ISNA magazine urged religious tolerance in America but said Muslims are routinely discriminated against abroad.
"What causes genocide in Chechnya, daily violence in Occupied Palestine, constant clashes in India-occupied Kashmir, and troubles in Indonesia?" he asked, suggesting the persecution of Muslims.
Scholars of Islam such as Khalid Duran, who has been criticized by U.S. Muslim leaders, said Imam Siddiqi's political emphasis is not surprising because he was reared in Pakistan's religious party.
"Some leaders represent the whole [anti-Western] ideology behind these [terrorist] attacks," Mr. Duran said. "Only in America can they believe this and then be on television leading a prayer."
Mosques in the United States "regularly feature" pamphlets of the more radical Pakistani cleric Abul Ala al-Mawdudi, said Jane I. Smith, author of "Islam in America."
She said Mr. al-Mawdudi is the "father of Islamic revivalism" and an advocate of holy war to establish "Islamic rule."
The Congressional Research Service reported in 1994 that a third of the funding for more radical Muslim religious groups abroad, such as Hamas in the West Bank, came from the United States.
Amid such reports, however, U.S. Muslim leaders warn against generalizations or stereotypes.
"The U.S. has a bad image in some parts of the world, and some of our foreign policies should be revisited," said Aly Abuzaakouk, executive director of the AMC, which was founded in 1989.
"Also, Islam oftentimes has a bad image in the West, and as such we need to focus more on educating people," he said in a Sept. 20 lecture at the Middle East Institute in the District.
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