Assimilation is Not a Disappearing Act

Opening Statement from Hadia Mubarak: “So, where are you from?” sounds as familiar to my ears as the crashing of … Continued

Opening Statement from Hadia Mubarak:

“So, where are you from?” sounds as familiar to my ears as the crashing of waves on Panama City Beach and the echoing of the adhan (call to prayer) from the minarets of Jordan’s mosques.

My mother’s heritage resonates in Jordan’s sky-piercing mountains and the Syrian wind carries my father’s roots. But I am neither Jordanian nor Syrian, for tradition rules that you belong to the soil that testifies to your birth and childhood.

This country has witnessed my birth, shaped my perceptions and informed my upbringing. She knows me as well as I know myself, for my memories evoke her history and my dreams live in her future. I capture her history by writing my own. She is the needle that holds my thread, interweaving my story in her all-encompassing quilt. I have fallen in love with her way of life, her personal freedom, her respect for individuality, her cultivation of diversity and tolerance. My appreciation for these ideals is reinforced by my religion, Islam. A belief in one God and in humanity’s ultimate accountability before the Creator, Islam has been central in shaping my identity as an American.

What does it mean to be an American Muslim? The concept of an American Muslim has not yet crystallized in the American public consciousness. In the post 9/11 climate, American Muslims were confronted with a sense of perpetual displacement in the American public psyche. Although we were born and raised in this country and knew no other place to call home, we American Muslims came to realize for the first time that we were not in fact perceived as American in the eyes of a large swath of the general public…

As our religious beliefs became a reason for our incrimination after 9/11, as our organizations and places of worship became the target of vandalism and hate crimes, and as we were perceived as potential threats to the security of our own nation, we felt that our very identity as Americans was subjected to scrutiny and challenge.

The struggle to legitimize our identity as American Muslims had existed for decades prior to 9/11. I recall an awkward experience applying for a job at my university as an undergraduate student. I handed the receptionist my Social Security card, a blue rectangle with nine ink-smudged digits, as a required form of identification. The receptionist tells me that she needs my passport as well. In a state of surprise, I question the necessity of a passport. She then calls over her superior, who had requested my passport in the first place. “Aren’t you an international student?” she asks. “No, I’m not,” I clarify. “I’m an American citizen. I was born in New Jersey.” Her mouth drops. She stammers, “Oh, you’re not?”

I do not have to wonder what it would feel like to be treated as a foreigner in my own county, to never really belong, to be a ragtag, hanging on the periphery of American culture. I live that reality on a regular basis. The cloth I wear on my head is mistakenly perceived as an attempt to hold on to a foreign cultural tradition and a reluctance to assimilate. Ironically, hijab, the covering of a woman’s hair and body, is still not fully accepted in my parents’ culture. A statement of my belief in God, the hijab I wear has nothing to do with culture.

A guest on Oprah’s Islam 101 talk show (Oct. 5, 2001) reinforced this pervasive misconception when she stood up and asked, “Why have you failed to assimilate?” addressing the Muslim women sitting in the audience, their hair covered with colorful scarves and their bodies concealed beneath long-sleeved shirts, dresses, skirts or pants. “Everyone in this country has assimilated,” she continued, “except for the Muslims.”

There is an inherent difference between religion and culture, the lines of which are often blurred. Muslim women wear hijab for God, not for a culture that dictates the way they live from miles abroad. Culture does not define God, for God is omnipresent. How does one assimilate a faith, an act of worship to God, which transcends all geographic boundaries? Faith is not derived from culture or the city in which one was born. Faith is a product of one’s life experiences, fears, hopes and inability to predict or control the future. Faith breaks down barriers; it does not create them.

As my hijab is misleadingly viewed as a failure to assimilate, I am reminded of the obstacles that lie ahead as I struggle to validate my roots as a Muslim Arab American and mold the missing piece of a puzzle that can bridge those worlds. The bubble in which I lived my childhood years suddenly burst when I reached adolescence, awakening to the encroaching reality of a biased world.

I began to realize that people didn’t even see me when they looked at me, but rather saw an image they had formulated in their minds from glimpses of Hollywood movies showing Arab fanatics hijacking a plane; or from a Dateline documentary about female honor killings; or some book they read about a Saudi Arabian princess escaping the oppression of a male dominated society. Before they’ve even learned my name, seen me kick a soccer ball or debate an argument, they have judged me and think they know who I am.

The inability of some Americans to distinguish between Islam and culture, such as the Middle East, or between Muslims and political regimes like the Taliban, or between a faith of 1.5 billion worshipers around the world and terrorists who act out of personal conviction is not a small-scale occurrence that can be disregarded. It is a large-scale phenomenon that plagues our society and must be severed at its root causes.

It surfaces itself each time someone like my friend Kathy Smith, a head-veiled American Muslim convert, is told to “go back home” when eating at Subway with her daughter, or when 41-year-old Charles Franklin drives his truck into the Tallahassee mosque to tell Muslims they’re not safe in this country, or when 39-year old Robert J. Goldstein, a podiatrist from Tampa, is found with an arsenal of explosives that could destroy an entire neighborhood and a blueprint plan to blow up all “rags” at the Universal Academy of Florida, where three of my younger cousins attended school every weekday.

The underlying problem, I believe, is with subconsciously defining Muslims as something other than American, because it forces Muslims to choose between their religion and nationality, which is antithetical to the American spirit of religious pluralism and tolerance.

The characterization of Muslim religiosity as somehow un-American is deeply racist and bigoted at its root, because it operates on the premise that American society is exclusively Judeo-Christian and thus, the outward manifestation of any other religion is un-American.

Why is it that when young Muslim girls decide to wear the hijab? asks a Washington Post editorial, then answers that they are choosing their “Islamic identity over their American one.” Yet when a young Baptist girl decides to attend Bible study classes and youth group, it is regarded as inherent part of American culture.

As long as Islam is equated with a foreign culture rather than understood as an indigenous American religion, then the outward manifestation of Islam in America – the building of mosques and Islamic schools, the growth of Muslim Student Association chapters on college campuses, the increase of women donning headscarves – will continue to be perceived as a departure from or rejection of “American culture.”

As long as Islam is perceived through the lens of international events that do not reflect nor speak to the reality of Muslims here at home, then Muslims will continue to struggle to legitimize their identity as practicing Muslims and patriotic Americans, demonstrating that the two are by no means mutually exclusive.

By David Waters | 
April 16, 2007; 3:55 PM ET


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  • Non Muslim

    I think too much time is being given to Islam and Muslims.Frankly, us non-Muslims are bored with Islam and Muslims especially when they put a veil over their head and flaunt it at us. I don’t give a hoot whether the Muslim woman covers half her face or all of her face.All I ask is that Muslims do their best to prevent another 9/11. They know these terrorists reside amongst them and there is little attempt by Muslims to expose them. Another 9/11 and Muslims will be even more despised.Muslims offer little, actually nothing to American society. they demand their rights but are not willing to discharge their responsibilities. Example: Recently a group of imams disrupted an airline flight. The Muslim reaction: They are suing the passengers who reported the imams to the authorities.

  • bnichols

    A person can no more be a good moslem and a good American today than they could have been a good Nazi and a good American during WW II.Islam is inherently undemocratic and violent.

  • Deep Thought

    This article should make us think about our actions as a society and how we treat Muslims. They are for the most part, not violent, nor do they harm anyone. I rarely see a Muslim getting evicted for not paying rent, trying to live on foodstamps, abusing the system like others do, rob, steal, etc. You rarely ever see them in jail. Before 9/11, they didn’t have a tainted reputation like they do now. So if the 9/11 events have changed our perception that much, this means that we have stereotyped our view of them based on one single event. I know we are not that ignorant as a nation and hope that such stereotypical thought is an inadvertent result of the circumstances, not a habit.

  • Willy Nilly

    Deep Thought: You are a naieve idiot.

  • pax

    “All I ask is that Muslims do their best to prevent another 9/11. They know these terrorists reside amongst them and there is little attempt by Muslims to expose them. Another 9/11 and Muslims will be even more despised.”Wow, some hateful rhetoric there. How about this:All I ask is that white Christian men do their best to prevent another Oklahoma bombing. They know these terrorist reside amongst them and there is little attempt by white Christian men to expose them. Another Oklahoma bombing and white Christian men will be even more despised.

  • Anonymous

    My Muslem sister:I think a lot of us American muslems have had problems getting people to realize that we are as American as they are. But I have realized throughout my life in America, if you talk to them, they learn who you are and what you are. All of my Caucasian friends now know my religion and two of them even converted and are more devout muslems then I am. Most of my friends even know not to bring food around me when I am fasting. I realize that you may get angry when people tell you why dont you assimilate better but it is not their fault. Most Americans havent a clue about others religions or history or even Geography of the world. Lol the other day i told someone i was from Palestine and he asked me,” why do some of you call it Pakistan and some call it Palestine”

  • Ahmed

    For Anonymous who wrote “And please do not teach your children to hate.”I am an apostate from Islam and the overriding reason for my apostasy is that Islam teaches hate. The god I was brought up to worship, Allah, is full of hate , hate for those who will not worship him and of course for the Jews.If Muslims wish to reduce the level of hate in this world then should start at home: by not bringing their children up as Muslims.

  • victoria

    i was born in america, as were my parents and 2 of my grandparents- i became muslim 8 years ago- not through marrying a muslim from another country,but through prayer and learning. i am an american muslim- one identification is by birth- the other by choice. sadly i find most of the dialogue in my life and on these boards to be distracted by answering the same dangerous and slanderous misconceptions that most hold about islam. a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. i would much rather be discussing the things about my religion that complete and edify me. but i try to be a good ambassador for my faith. i really hope that good people take the time to pay attention to these debates and learn a little but happily, as paul barrett points out in his book- the tide is changing in perception of islam in america. so i make it a point to define myself in a vocal and positive way. peace all

  • Andrew

    I think this country has drifted far from what it is supposed to be if being perceived as a good Muslim and as a good American are qualities which some believe are mutually exclusive. It’s really unfortunate that a considerable number of us thinks otherwise – that Islam is a religion of hate, that Muslims are a people deserving of suspicion and intolerance.If we really cared about our future, we would see terrorists as they really are: not as Muslims, but as criminals, plain and simple. I see no difference in the acts of white, Christian Americans such as Timothy McVeigh and Eric Rudolph and those of the various Muslim extremists who hold a monopoly on public fear today.

  • Rory Calhoun

    “The characterization of Muslim religiosity as somehow un-American is deeply racist and bigoted at its root, because it operates on the premise that American society is exclusively Judeo-Christian and thus, the outward manifestation of any other religion is un-American.”Talk about using a broad brush – the refrain that any questioning or critiquing of Islam is a form of “bigotry” is a common tactic in today’s debate and one that is completely unfounded. People aren’t worried about Islam because it’s not “Judeo-Christian”, they are worried about it because it is violent and totally unwilling to accomodate any different beliefs or opinions – a direct threat to the root of a free and open society. In actuality, it is Islam and its practitioners that have driven this wedge between themselves and other peoples by failing to live peacefully in any single nation in which they exist. Many religions have had many problems with other religions, but there is only one that has uniformly resorted to violence against all others: Islam. Somehow Muslims have even found a way to develop grievances with Buddhist Thai populations, among the most peaceful and forgiving people on earth! Recently the Dali Lama had to increase his security detail because of death threats by Muslim groups tied to Osama Bin Laden. The Dali Lama! Everywhere, including America, Muslims seem intent on assimilating only so long as they get everything they want, have to give up nothing for it, and convert the place into a repressive sultanate under Sharia law. And if you don’t like it, they’ll just start bombing you until you do. So far only America has been relatively free of home-grown dissidents, since American Muslims prefer instead to just sue anyone who disagrees with them as the “flying imams” have so readily demonstrated.In America’s nascent years, we fell into conflict with the “Barbary coast” states – really, Muslim sultanates on the Mediterranean engaged in piracy and slavery. Literally within a year of the United States becoming a soverign nation, its ships were being taken and its citizens enslaved by Muslim raiders. In 1786, Thomas Jefferson, then the ambassador to France, and John Adams, then the ambassador to Britain, met in London with Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, the ambassador to Britain from Tripoli. The Americans asked Adja why his government was hostile to American ships, even though there had been no provocation. The ambassador’s response was reported to the Continental Congress:”That it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman [Muslim] who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise.”In other words, there was no possible way that Muslims could have a valid grievance against a brand new nation that literally did not exist a year earlier, but nonetheless the Koran and Islam itself dictated that violence be done against America as part of religion itself. That is why Americans now distrust Muslims – because Islam itself when taken at its own word condemns all non-Muslims simply for not being Muslim. Interestingly, rather than pay tribute demanded by the Barbary Muslim raiders (the classic dhimmi request we unbelievers aren’t supposed to know about) Monroe issued the legendary proclamation: “One million for defence, not one penny for tribute.” In went the fleet and the Marines, and “the shores of Tripoli” were added to their glorious battle song. Americans are wary of Muslims in their midst not out of unfounded inherent “bigotry” but because of centuries of Muslim predation on the Western world with no basis beyond the text of the Koran itself. Even Americans are not so foolhardy to blindly trust “freedom of religion” when the religion in question expressly advocates the abuse and mistreatment of women and the loss of almost all human rights combined with a crashing silence replacing modern science and thought.

  • your mom

    Islam is not a violent religion – it’s a religion whose public image has been hijacked by violent men. Groups of barbarians and murderers have been justifying their actions through the religious teachings ever since there was religion. The assault on Troy was spurred on by Athena, Joshua and the Israelites slaughtered everything in Jericho, and the Pope sent children to fight in Crusades. Hatred and condemnation should be directed at the individuals who commit such evil acts, not at the teachings whose meanings they twist for their own gain.

  • CUNYROCKS

    Knowledge is Bliss. It is just fear and misunderstanding and that’s all I see on most of these comments. Instead of sterotyping just make some effort and get to know a muslim. I can challange you, it’ll change your perception. There is no other way arround it, you can’t just hate muslims for being muslims.

  • Miriam

    THIS is exactly why Muslim Americans need to keep speaking out, because of prejudiced comments such as those right here on this forum. We have to prove to others that we are, in fact, much like them.We Muslims have been speaking out against terrorist acts time and time again. Here I would like to reiterate once more that we are very much against any terror that is carried out against innocent civilians in the name of Islam. This has nothing to do with our religion at all, in fact our religion is vehemently against such acts.If anyone slays a personGoodness and evil are not equal.Please understand that we are a worldwide community of over a billion, and the overwhelming majority of Muslims are peaceful followers of Islam who think of terrorist acts as horrifying as any other human being. It is also important to note that most victims of the majority of terrorist acts carried out by Muslims are innocent Muslims that are killed; so it is not just the non-Muslim community that is being hurt by such acts but the Muslim community as well.

  • msnshar

    The fact is: Islam is a religion of peace, tranquility and justice.

  • Daren

    Good to see some americans talking like informed people. we in europe have lost hope in the nation you call the great nation. George Bush….. Inteligent?? Fox news…. informative?? Hollywood…. educative? Freedom ….Iraqi style.

  • An American Muslim

    Islam teaches that anyone who kills an innocent person will go to hell as a punishment by God. So any Muslim who invokes his religion to justify killing is doing it for his own purpose and not for his religion, as religion does not sanction his act.Now consider this scenario. A suicide bomber, supposedly a muslim, proclaims that he is simply killing himself and all the innocent people around him killed by his act, is collateral damage. Islam does not say its ok to kill as collateral damage. It simply says killing is wrong.A stray bomb kills a lot more innocent people than a suicide bomber. But we conveniently call it colletral damage. I, as a muslim, condemn all acts of killing by any other muslim. I know its wrong and its absolutely against the teachings of my religion.Does anyone among the Islam and Muslim bashers here have the courage to codemn the killings of innocent people coveniently dismissed as collteral damage. If you can not condemn and start to justify, then remember that a Muslim has just scored a moral victory over you only because of the teachings of Islam. There is no justification for killing innocent people. Period. No ifs and buts.

  • John Smith

    To the imbecile who said that muslims demand a lot yet have very litle to offer to America, this extremely intelligent lady has truly offered a lot in a few paragraphs to enrich ourselves as individuals and try to be better human beings.America’s secret strength has always been its diversity when it is performing at its best, and the world’s most lowly moments when it re-inforced homogeneity

  • Arshad A Khan/Rolla/MO(Heartland of USA)

    We Americans cannot allow our Great Constitution to be Violated & slowly Destroyed; by the Hatred against MUSLIMS that 99 % of our Media is publishing OR broadcasting, under Dangerously Cunning Methods; because our media is 99% of the times publishing OR broadcasting Hatefull statements against MUSLIMS & ISLAM.We the American people demand from FCC(federal communications commissions), that FCC must not allow these VIOLATIONS of our Constitutions.

  • halozcel

    Dear Miriam,Dear msnshar,Dear American Muslim,Dear Arshad A Khan,

  • An American Muslim

    Dear HALOZCEL,Here are three translations of 5.58 and 5.59. 005.058005.059To understand 5.59, you must read 5.58 and to understand 5.58, you must read 5.57 and so on. These verses apply to those at the time of the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) who used to make fun of Muslims for offering prayers to Allah. You will not understand the entire message of Quran until you read it all to develop context. This is exactly what certain self serving muslim clerics do. They pick portions of Quran out of context and use it to misguide the poor illterates. It is not sufficient to pass an exam by reading just a single passage or out of context passages. You need to understand the subject matter entirely. I hope it helps.

  • Herb Stahlke

    It’s a mistake of broad brushing when we ascribe the actions of a few to the religion, nation, race, or region they come from. There are traditions in Islam that lead people to fly planes into buildings, just as there are traditions in Islam that deter people from doing that. There are traditions in Judaism that lead a man to take an automatic rifle into a mosque and gun down devout people at prayer, just as there are traditions in Judaism that deter people from doing that. There are traditions within Christianity that lead a man to blow up a truck bomb in front of a federal building, just as there are traditions within Christianity that deter people from doing just that. Violence and evil don’t characterize one religion as opposed to another; they characterize people and groups who may belong to any religion. Let’s not stigmatize any of these religions, but let’s also not forget that there is a lot of hate and violence out there for all of us to deter.

  • The father of David

    America, and the Western world generally, adheres to a Greco-Roman tradition publically; its Judeo-Christian one is private. The reconciliation of the two has yet to be resolved and the dialectic between them continues. The secular/sacred dichotomy does not exist in Islam and is a source of dilemma for Americans.Since 9/11 the historical animosity of the secular and the religious in America have given rise to an new rapprochement in their relationship to Muslims. They have joined forces to attack adherents of the Muslim faith politically, journalistically, and militarily and also from the pulpit, the cloisters, and the Vatican.

  • Monty Keeling

    As an ordained minister in a peace church I’d have to say it seems one-sided to single out the violence in Islam without admitting that Christianity also has become a very violent religion. Any church which places our nation’s flag in it’s worship hall is saying America is favored by God. And any faith that believes God gives it the right to go the war is going to preach violence. Yes Islam advocates violence as a right of defence. Certainly there are those in that faith that have misused that licence. But consider that Jesus was completely against war and violence and we Christians commit war in His name. And talk about the ability to hate? Read some of the comments in these postings. Some people could use the peace of a lot of prayer.

  • Peter

    You know it’s funny, she claims that her hijab is, “A statement of her belief in God”, yet, I can’t listen to Christmas Music, have a Christmas Tree, or a Cross at the work place or any other public place for fear of offending someone. Muslims living in America want free speech, but don’t want American’s to practice free speech by saying what they like about the Prophet Mahamed, or drawing caricatures. I saw a video depicting Muslims chanting “behead those who insult Islam”, “Kill those who insult Islam” or “destroy those who insult Islam”. How can the two cultures exist with this type of extremism? Islam and Democracy are not a system that can coexist, unfortunately, due to the Islamic fanatics, that want nothing to do with other religions. Ask a Muslim living in America what happens if a Muslim converts to another religion…if they really follow their religion, they have to ask the person converting to be put to death. It’s Islam that is at the crossroads of hypocracy. Dictating peace, yet sending suicide bombers or ordering the death of those that convert from Islam.

  • Anonymous

    Miriam…if you say “If anyone slays a personThen HOW on God’s Green Earth, can 6 people be freed by the Supreme Court In Iran for Killing those that are “morally corrupt”. This is simply taking the law into your own hands. This is not hatred nor ignorance of Islam…it’s a fact. When Muslims living in America refuse to “scan bacon at the checkout” or “provide a taxi ride from the airport”, then it’s a problem.

  • Peter

    Darren…it’s good to see that Europe has already caved into the will of Muslims. I guess that it’s better to live a slave, than to die like a dog…at least that’s what Muslims would want you to do. If you’re not a Muslim…than according to the Koran, you are an infidel and should die.Personally, I’d rather be dead!

  • Eric

    Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world…pretty funny when you consider that religious freedom doesn’t exist in Islamic Cultures.

  • Arshad Malik

    Sister Haidia is too sensitive to issues and confused regarding faith and culture. veil has nothing to do with religion, it is culture and depends on the climate and the way of living in different part of word. Since Islam was born in Arab, this does not mean we have to dress like Arab,we have follow the message rather than copy the way of living of Arab. sister haidia perhaps is not aware that she is living in a great country as compared to any muslim country, there are 57 muslim countries all are corrupt and do not have human value and free speach. Arshad Malik

  • The Father of Kendall

    The VEIL in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions is attached to a religious imperative and is not culturally inspired. A DIVIDER (mechitza) is used to separate men and women in Orthodox synagogues. Women in Hispanic communities still wear the VEIL (mantilla) when going to church.In ISLAM the whole earth is considered a PLACE OF WORSHIP. Muslim women who understand the Islamic prerogative regarding their appearance in places of worship piously adopt the HIJAB in the same manner that their Jewish and Christian counterparts have virtuously adhered to the mechitza and the mantilla.