Being Muslim In America

by Katie Zavadski

Indian-Muslim community

Laila Alawa is tired of talking about it:

Ultimately, the issue at hand is not the discussion of being Muslim in America. The problem is the thought surrounding the discussion, an idea that it is not possible to consolidate the two identities – Muslim and American – in our community today. Although it might have been integral to confront in the community initially, it has reached a point where we are continuing still to overemphasize the topic, a decision that overshadows the real issues our community faces, point blank. The overshadowing serves, then, to validate the premise of mutual exclusivity between the two identities, throwing the Muslim American identity of many today into paralysis and confusion, as they suddenly are faced with the need for reconciliation between the two. We push ourselves two steps back by throwing identity into the way of oncoming traffic, and it only serves to harm rather than help us as a community.

Iram Ali disagrees, arguing that the issue is more complicated:

The notion of being Muslim in America is … inherently different from being a Muslim American, not because they identify two different groups of Muslims but because they are simply two different linguistic formations of a similar idea.

Sidelining “Muslim in America” as being problematic only decreases the lexicon for developing our Muslim American narrative. I am a Muslim American, but I can also face issues of being a Muslim in America, which is distinct from a Muslim anywhere else in the world. Acknowledging that Muslims in America have different circumstances from Muslims in other regions will also pave the necessary groundwork for us in other important matters that Alawa mentions, such as mental health or arts development. Muslims in America do not need one cultural identity or a single-mindedness about where to settle down in this globalized world in order for us to be a collective community. Our identity issues, accumulating in this melting pot of different cultures and ideas, are an integral dimension of our Americanness.

(Photo: Muslim-American men greet each other at the annual Eid al-Adha prayer held at the Teaneck Armory in Teaneck, New Jersey. Eid al-Adha, also known as the Feast of the Sacrifice, commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God, who in accordance with tradition then provided a lamb in the boy’s place. By Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)