Challenging stereotypes: Nine facts about Muslims in the US

Challenging stereotypes: Nine facts about Muslims in the US
Feature: Nine facts about Muslims in the US that challenge stereotypes and perceptions about Islam and Muslims, and their place in American life and history.
7 min read
19 April, 2015
Muslim-American teenagers in the Brooklyn, New York. [Getty]

Young Iraqi Omar al-Jumaili would never have thought that a stray bullet would end his life in the United States, where he migrated to leave his troubled country behind. In early March this year, while he was using his smartphone to take photos with his brother and his wife in Texas, the three of them got caught in a line of fire in front of their house. Omar immediately fell to the ground and died hours later from his gunshot wounds.

The incident sparked outrage amid Muslim communities, seeing as the American media failed to cover it. However, it came just weeks after the Chapel Hill crime (North Carolina), in which three Muslims from one family were killed at the hands of a fanatic.

In an attempt to find out more on the reality of the Muslim presence in the US, al-Araby al-Jadeed has compiled nine facts about Muslims in America in the following report.

The First Muslim in the US was Moroccan

Migration to America took place in regular waves after the 15th century, namely by those who were religiously persecuted in Europe. This was accompanied by the legalisation of the slave trade and the increased persecution of slaves from the African continent.

After the fall of Andalusia in 1492, Muslims were forced to leave Spain, and among their many destinations, they headed to the US.

At the time, the Portuguese bought a young Moroccan known in American history as Estevanico (whose real name is Mustafa Zemmouri from Azemmour in Morocco), who was the first Arab Muslim to set foot in the "New World".

According to Anwar Majeed, a civilisations professor at the University of New England, "The famine and the revival of the slave market in Morocco at the time pushed the Zemmouri family to sell their son (Mustafa) in 1500 to the Portuguese. A Spanish traveler then bought him from the Portuguese, and explored Florida with him and other southern states, in addition to Mexico, on behalf of the Spanish Empire."

The Handbook of Texas states that Zemmouri was one of four men who survived hunger, thirst, and the arrows of Indians, out of a group of 600 people who began an eight-year expedition to the New World led by the Spanish explorer Panfilo de Narvaez.

The Early Muslims were Moors

After the fall of Andalusia in 1492, Muslims were forced to leave Spain. Among their many destinations, and in addition to North Africa, they headed to North America following the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in 1492 (the year of the fall of Granada). Since the indigenous population rejected them and saw them as the enemy, the explorers were forced to bring foreigners to help them erect constructions on this new land.

Anwar Majeed asserts that "the Moors took advantage of this opportunity, and left home (Andalusia) under the guise of spreading Christianity with Christians, but their main purpose was in fact to escape from the control of the Inquisition."

The Moors settled in the New World and contributed to its construction and prosperity thanks to their expertise in land reform and agriculture. Quite knowledgeable in many trades, these immigrants were farmers, masons, and carpenters. They took with them their art and their work, and left fingerprints on buildings in Florida and California, which were formerly under Spanish sovereignty.

In his periodical bulletin about the influence of the Moors in the United States, American scholar Pierre? Finck said that "Moorish art is the result of the remaining Islamic professions in the villages of central and north-east Spain."

A Muslim Imam Led a Rebellion in Georgia

He is a Muslim Imam called Ibn Ali Mohammad, but he is known as Imam Bilali Muhammad in the US documents we perused at the Library of Congress. According to these documents, the Imam traveled with other slaves from Guinea to Sapelo Island near the Georgia shore in 1803, becoming leader to some 80 Muslim slaves who worked on farms in Georgia. During the War of 1812, Bilali was able to lead his men to repel attacks by British troops on the island.

Bilali was known to observe Ramadan, dressing as a Muslim and praying five times a day. In 1829, he penned a manuscript in Arabic (known as the Bilali Document) about the Islamic faith and the provisions of jurisprudence, which is now archived at the University of Georgia.

A Senegalese Scholar in the Clutches of Slavery

Senegalese scholar Ibn Said was born to a family that was fond of sciences. His name, Omar Ibn Said, is also mentioned in the historical documents at the Library of Congress. Records indicate that he was born in 1770 and spent 25 years studying at the hands of renowned scholars in West Africa.

He was captured in 1807 during a military conflict and was sold in a slave market. He was then taken to the US, where he lived in South Carolina and North Carolina. Although he remained a slave for the rest of his life, he wrote 14 books in Arabic about Islam and history in addition to his autobiography, which he penned in 1831.

25% of American Muslims are Arabs

In 2004, a Zogby International study found that Arabs make up about 25 per cent of Muslims in the US, while Muslims from South Asia (Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh) represent about 30 per cent.

As for black Americans who converted to Islam, they make up about 25 percent of Muslim Americans according to statistics. The remaining 20 percent of Muslims hail from Iran, Afghanistan, Indonesia, and sub-Saharan Africa, in addition to the Muslims of the Balkans, Hispanic Americans, and white Americans.

A new study by the Pew Research Center confirmed that by 2050, Muslims are expected to outnumber Jews in the United States, thus becoming the largest religious community after Christians.

80% of American Muslims have US Citizenship

A study by the Pew Research Center in 2007 showed that 81 percent of Muslims in the US have US citizenship. Also, 65 percent of adult Muslims in the US were born abroad, with 15 percent being second-generation Muslims, which means that one or both of their parents were born outside the United States.

Conversion to Islam: Black Men and White Women

There were 2106 mosques in the US in 2011, an increase of 74 percent from 2000.

A study published in the Intermountain West Journal of Religious Studies found that most Americans who accept to convert to Islam are mostly black men and white women. This fact was further confirmed by another study conducted by the Pew Research Center.

The First and Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution ensure freedom of religion and criminalise any legislation that would restrict this freedom. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act also banned any laws or actions by the federal government that would burden a person's exercise of religion.

2,000 Mosques in the US

There were 2106 mosques in the US in 2011, according to a study by Ihsan Bagby, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky. It is an increase of 74 percent from 2000, when there were only 1209 mosques in the country. Bagby attributed this to the surge of Muslim refugees from Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, and some African countries.

New York is the state with the highest number of mosques (257 mosques), followed by California (246 mosques), Texas (166 mosques), Florida (218 mosques), Illinois and New Jersey (109 mosques each).

The Largest Mosque in the US Brings Together Sunnis and Shiites

The Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan, is leading an initiative to bring together Sunni and Shia Arabs. Founded in 1964, this mosque was rebuilt in 2005 to accommodate 3,000 worshipers. Scores of Shias frequent this mosque in Dearborn, which is home to the largest community of Shias in the US, most of whom are of Lebanese and Iraqi descent.

In 2011, a US citizen from California, Roger Stockham, was charged with terrorism after trying to blow up the mosque. At the time, there were conflicting reports between those accusing him of targeting the cohesion between Sunnis and Shias in the mosque, and other security accounts that Roger suffered from a mental disorder.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.