Who is the American Muslim?

Question: Who is the American Muslim?

Barrett: The critical first step is that there is no . . . there is no single Muslim identity. There is no more a unified Muslim identity or experience than there is a unified Christian American experience. You and I and all of your viewers would of course say, “Christians in America . . .” Well no. There’s a huge spectrum of Christian practice experiences going back centuries that people, you know, brought to this country beginning hundreds of years ago. Well same thing for the Muslims, except much more recently, but from even more, you know, points of entry, and with even more variety. So you have Muslims in this country from the Arab world, of course. That’s people’s first reaction. That’s who Muslims are. Well in fact most Muslims in this country are not Arab. Most Arabs in this country are not Muslim. They’re Christian. The biggest subgroup of Muslims in this country are from the Indian subcontinent – India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh. There’s a substantial fraction of Muslims in this country who are African-American, American-born and their children. Some 20 percent of Muslims in this country are actually native born African-Americans. There’s a small slice of White converts to Islam, most of whom come through the Sufi branch of Islam – the more mystical branch that’s normally associated very heavily with Turkey and countries in that part of the world. So just from that quick, you know, reference you see there is no one experience. A computer scientist that comes to this country to get a PhD from Pakistan or India has almost nothing to do with the African-American convert who grew up poor in the inner city; who has almost nothing to do with the White ex-hippie who has tried out a whole bunch of religions before learning about the poet Rumi and Sufism and discovered, “Oh Sufism is actually Islam. I’m gonna convert to Islam.” Those people are as diverse as any group of Americans you can find. They all may view Muhammad as the final prophet, but you know the commonality gets a lot thinner very, very quickly.

 

Paul Barrett emphasizes that "Muslim identity" represents something as varied as any other identity group in America.

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