American Muslims and the Rediscovery of America’s Sacred Ground

Muqtedar Khan
Muqtedar Khan Former Brookings Expert, Professor, Department of Political Science and International Relations - University of Delaware

December 22, 2005


The American Muslim community is at a crucial crossroads. It is experiencing an existential crisis. Students of Islam in the West are beginning to ask questions about the future of Islam, and Muslims in an increasingly Islamophobic West are growing wary of the unrest and growing tide of extremism in the Muslim world.1 At the same time, American Muslims have reached a critical mass. This gives them a presence that promises influence in the mainstream society, and a visibility that also attracts a backlash, as people fear its growth and influence. Some scholars, such as Fawaz Gerges, maintain that the contemporary Arab and Muslim experience is similar to that of communities such as American Jews and Irish Americans, who too were assimilated only after being discriminated against, marginalized, and oppressed.2 The difference is that the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001, and the open-ended “war on terror” has exaggerated and traumatized further the potential for Muslims to become fully participating members in the greater American society.

The determination of the American Muslim community to make an impact on the political, theological, and cultural scene on North America, and the growing fear and prejudice against Islam and Muslims in the United States, has created a unique situation for Muslims. Unlike Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Mormons, and others, American Muslims do not yet have a place in American society.

To understand the relative standing of various religious communities in the United States, consider this: since 2004, the State Department has been mandated by Congress to produce an annual report on global anti-Semitism. The purpose is to protect Jews worldwide from prejudice, hatred, and violence. 3 The United States now also funds many Christian projects through its faith-based-initiative programs.4 But the same government also supports the PATRIOT Act and other initiatives that systematically target Muslims and violate their civil rights on the basis of their religion. This less-than-equal status of the American Muslim community has resulted in American Muslims being the victims of illegitimate laws passed in the Civic Public Forum.5

One only has to visit the Web sites of several evangelical Christian churches and communities to witness the horrific levels of Islamophobia that exist today. The case of General Boykin, while in charge of intelligence at the Department of Defense, is such an example. He visited Churches and indulged in anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric. Numerous Islamophobic comments made by prominent Christian leaders such as Rev. Franklin Graham, Rev. Jerry Falwell, Rev. Jerry Vine, and Rev. Pat Robertson also clearly suggest that there is an atmosphere in the United States that encourages anti- Muslim prejudice to thrive in the Conscientious Public Forum.6 Having said that, it is also important to recognize that many Christian groups have come forward in solidarity with Muslims to protect their civil rights, that gradually an interfaith space has emerged sympathetic to Muslim conditions, and that many are working together to redress the situation.

American Muslim’s internal struggles and outreach have generated a moral dialogue in the Conscientious Public Forum, which is developing a strong civil society movement to raise public awareness to impact the Civic Public Forum institutions that victimize Muslims. Because of these developments, American Muslims are uniquely poised to help all Americans rediscover America’s Sacred Ground.