Backlash: As American As...

Although scapegoated, Muslims, Sikhs and Arabs are patriotic, integrated--and growing

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All told, the Council on American-Islamic Relations counts more than 600 "incidents" since Sept. 11 victimizing people thought to be Arab or Muslim, including four murders, 45 people assaulted and 60 mosques attacked. Thousands were intimidated into not going to work, their mosques, their schools. Some 200 Muslims are estimated to have died in the Twin Towers. Yet, says C.A.I.R.'s Nihad Awad, "Muslims are being accused of something that the community has not done, and it's really an awkward and unfair position to be in." Thousands of answering machines--and actual people--fielded calls like the one that came into the offices of a Muslim organization in Santa Clara, Calif.: "We should bomb your ass and blow you back home." The caller was apparently unaware that "home" is here.

There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet. Pray five times a day. Give alms. Fast during the month of Ramadan. If you are capable, make a pilgrimage to Mecca. If these "five pillars" seem foreign to you, you may not be talking with your neighbors. Islam is an American religion. There are some 7 million Muslims in the U.S. That's more than the number of Jews and more than twice the number of Episcopalians. Thirty years ago, the Islamic count was a mere 500,000. The number of mosques rose from 598 in 1986 to 1,372 this year. The number of American-born Muslims now far exceeds the count of immigrants.

Islam, the youngest of the major faiths, was influenced by Judaism and Christianity. Muslims are "people of the book," accepting the Jewish Bible and the New Testament as Holy Scripture while maintaining that the Koran's famously elegant and expressive Arabic is God's final and inerrant word. Similarly, followers of Islam believe Moses, John the Baptist and Jesus were prophets but the final messenger was Muhammad, to whom, they say, the angel Gabriel dictated the Koran. Like Christians and Jews, says Jamal Badawi, a religion professor at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, N.S., their core concerns are "moral behavior, love of neighbor, justice and compassion. We believe that we are created for a purpose, and we are going to be held responsible for our life on earth on the day of judgment." Muslims do not worship Muhammad (who, unlike Moses or Jesus, was a lavishly documented historical figure, dying in A.D. 632) but regard him as exemplary. It is upon the Koran and collections of his sayings (Hadiths) that Islamic law, or Sharia, is based.

Most Muslims resemble Protestants in that no priest mediates between the believer and God (although the 10% Shi'ite minority is more enamored of its imams). Like Christians, Muslims evangelize and look forward to the eventual conversion of the human race. The faith's directness, bright-line moral stances and the absence of hierarchy have proved attractive to converts in the U.S., while its role for women, who make up only 15% of average Friday mosque attendance, repels some seekers.

It is a point of Islamic pride that a Muslim can walk into any mosque anywhere in the world and participate in the service. That said, the Islamic population in the U.S. is almost as varied as Mecca's. The first Muslims here were African slaves, who were forcibly Christianized, although some Muslim descendants still live on the Georgia coast. Syrians and Lebanese began arriving in the late 1800s. But the three largest groups in America are made up of more recent additions.

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