The Muslim American reality in the United States as it stands today is a relatively new phenomenon. The jury is still out regarding what our domestic identity as a religious minority will eventually be in the United States, and it depends on a variety of circumstances and how we as individuals, as disparate groups, and as a religious minority collective, decide to move forward. Identities take place through the natural process of social evolution, and ultimately, it is a behavioral issue, and a historical narrative, not a public relations issue. When Muslims attempt to create a sanitized apple pie version of an American Muslim identity, then the audacity of such an attempt becomes itself, part of our identity.
Muslims have been a part of America’s social fabric since the 1600’s when the first Muslims were brought here as slaves. A domestic identity is not something that you create in a laboratory, or stage for public consumption as if you are on a Hollywood soundstage; people’s identities are real, and personal. That’s the American way. It is a culmination of who, and what you are as a people. With that respect, there are many types of Muslims with different histories, different agenda’s and social realities, and different ways of looking at themselves. All of that combined; make up a people’s identity. There are indigenous African American Muslims who are Sunni orthodox and have been practicing a purely American brand of Islam for decades; that’s an identity, and there are other converts who need a sanction from a sheikh, 10.000 miles away in order to make daily life decisions; that’s another identity.
There are Muslim immigrants who are insecure about who they are, and have yet to find their place in American society; that’s an identity, and there are other immigrants Sunni, and Shiite, who have found their place as Americans and have never looked back; that’s an identity. There are new arrivals of Afghani, and Iraqi refugees from the war who are just trying to find some peace and a simple new life without killing, and they have their own identity. There are conservatives, there are liberals, there are democrats, republicans and independents; these are identities. There is working class, middle class and well to do American Muslims that all have their own identity. Some Muslims are devoutly religious and some not so much, and each has their own distinct identity.
American Muslims have come from many diverse paths that led them to where we are today. The notion that a singular, made for the media consumption, Muslim identity can be crafted by a few American Muslim intellectuals (mostly of foreign descent), is absurd, problematic, and misleading. We are who we are; with our differences, our problems, our successes, and our failures. We are all American Muslims with our different politics, backgrounds, proclivities, pastimes, lifestyles and ways of being American. That’s the real identity of American Muslims. In the year 2012, the fact that Muslims are still talking about crafting an American identity, underscores just how much many Muslims misunderstand American society, and the reality of American independence and individualism.
Imam Luqman Ahmad
Imam Luqman Ahmad is the Imam of Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center in Sacramento Ca. He can be reached @ firstname.lastname@example.org