In America, Islam came by way of slavery and immigration. With immigrants come the cultural practices of Islam as defined by their ‘home’ country. Well, now that America is our home, I am making the case for an American Islam—an Islam that fits in neatly into an American glove, to go hand in hand with our American traditions.
There is evidence to show that Islamic Americans need an Islam they can call their own. Back in 2001 CAIR published data indicating that only 28-32% of Muslims belong to or attend mosque. In August 2011, Gallup released its latest comprehensive study titled, “Muslim American: Faith, Freedom, and the Future. Examining U.S. Muslims’ Political, Social, and Spiritual Engagement 10 Years After September 11,” in which a graph on page 25 jolts you into realizing the fact that the majority of Muslims in America are unrepresented. If anything, it must be pointed out ‘mainstream’ Muslim organizations are ‘out of touch’ with the majority of Muslims, and well, not really “mainstream” after all!
Muslims in America were asked:
Which national Muslim American organization, if any, do you feel most represents your interests? (Open ended)
Organization Cited % Males % Females
Council on American-Islamic Relations 12 11
Islamic Society of North America 4 7
Muslim Public Affairs Council 6 1
Muslim American Society 0 2
Imam Warith Deen Mohammed Group 3 1
Islamic Circle of North America 2 0
Other 6 20
None 55 42
Surveys conducted via Gallup Nightly Poll from January 1, 2008-April 9, 2011.
So where are the majority and what’s their beef?
Cultural practices, judgmental and rigid, in the mosques are unwelcoming to many American Muslims. In addition, many who converted to Islam as a result of the values of mercy and kindness they learned in the Quran are shocked to find the mosque in their community doesn’t actually reflect those values. Then there’s the expectation to conform to an Arabic culture, to change your name, to change your dress, and the list goes on. How do I know? As a community organizer, I get plenty of disenchanted emails.
This is where I wish African American Muslims created an Islam that reflected their cultural and artistic heritage. Imagine an American Islam with all the musical influences that African Americans have given the world—the Blues, and the gospel choirs. Couple that with soaring sermons and humor. This American Islam would have easily won over the hearts and minds of the masses.
In the Muslim world, religious expression through music has been a tradition for centuries. Similarly we need to develop an American Islam identity, practices, culture and traditions. That means, we need to be able to pray in English, loose all the foreign garb, hire American Imams, develop musical expressions like choirs that are not Eastern in scale or in language.
In the spirit of doing my part in contributing to a new American Islam tradition, I’ve just completed a collection of songs that borrow from classical choral tradition but with Islamic lyrical content. The music is in a Western musical scale and the singing is more like church choirs than it is Qawwalis or Nasyeeds. The lyrics are a translation of al-Fatiha, Prophet Muhammad’s favorite prayer, the “Prayer of Light,” from famous poets such as Rumi and Rabi’a al Bashir. The project is called Islamic Hymns – Celebration of Life.
In its current form, Islam in America is and feels ‘foreign’ and therefore not welcoming to many. For future generations of American Muslims, it is imperative that Islam retains not just its values but its relevance and relatability in the 21st century.
There is obviously a major disconnect between the needs of American Muslims and the mainstream organizations who claim to represent them. If the Islamic practices at the mosques don’t resonate with the majority of Muslims, then, it is long overdue for us to create an American Islam community rooted in American values and culture. There’s a Malaysian Islam, a Pakistani Islam and a Chinese Islam. Why not an American Islam?By Ani Zonneveld, Aslan Media Columnist