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MUSLIM AND ARAB
AMERICANS:
DIVERSE
MINORITIES
CHAPTER 11
Muslim and Arab People

Muslim and Arab Americans are different
groups in America
• Though they overlap with some Muslim Americans
of Arab ancestry, they are distinct from each other

Two objectives for considering Arab and
Muslim Americans together
• 1st - clarify the distinction between two groups
incorrectly referred as the same population
• 2nd - Overcome prism of Orientalism through
which many Americans view the Arab and Muslim
world

Simplistic view of people and history of the orient with
not recognition of change over time or the diversity in the
many cultures
Arabs are an ethnic group
 Muslims are a religious group
 Islam is the faith (like Christianity)
 Muslim is a believer of that religion
(like a Christian)
 One cannot accurately identify the
Muslim faithful by nationality alone
 Clearly being Arab does not define
one as being a follower of Islam

Arab Americans

Arab Americans
• Refers to immigrants and their descendants
from the countries that now comprise the
Arab world

“Middle Eastern”
• Middle East is an ambiguous geographic
designation the includes many that are
neither Muslim nor Arab but is frequently
used

The Arabic language is the most single
unifying force among Arabs

There are up to 3 million people with
Arab ancestry in the U.S.
• Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Palestine
account fro 2/3rd of Arab Americans in
2000

Diversity of Arabs
• Variation in time of arrival
• Variation in the point of origin
• Variation of religious tradition

Deficit Model of Ethnic Identity
• One’s ethnicity is viewed by others as a
factor of subtracting away the
characteristics corresponding to some ideal
ethnic type
Muslim Americans
1.3 billion followers worldwide and
second to Christianity
 Islam is guided by the teaching of the
Koran (Qur’an)
 Use religious rituals
 Divided into a variety of faiths and
sects
 Jihad

• A struggle against enemies of Allah, usually
taken to mean one’s own internal struggle
but recently reinterpreted to mean political
enemies

Number of Muslim Americans is difficult
to estimate
• 20-42 percent African American
• 24-33 percent South Asian (Afghan,
Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani)
• 12-32 percent Arab
• 10-22 percent “other” (Bosnian, Iranian,
Turk, and White and Hispanic converts)

Total agreement that the population is
growing rapidly
• Immigration and conversion

Blended Identity
• Is the self-image and worldview that is a
combination of religious faith, cultural
background based in nationality, and the
status of being a resident of the U.S.
Muslims often find their daily activities
defined by their faith, their nationality,
and their status as American, however
defined in terms of citizenship
 In the US, many Muslims experience
both the freedom to be Muslim and the
pressure to be Muslim

Black Muslims
Estimated to account for 90 percent of
all converts to Islam in the U.S.
 Not tightly organized into a single
religious fellowship
 Against adultery and drinking alcohol
 The Nation of Islam became a wellknown and controversial
organization

• Trace roots to W. Fard Muhammad in
(1930)
• Became well-known and controversial
under Elijah Muhammad
Malcolm X
Originally a member of the Nation of
Islam
 Was the most powerful and brilliant
voice of Black self-determination in the
1960s
 Was highly critical of the civil rights
movement in general and of Martin
Luther King, Jr.


Remembered for:
• His sharp attacks on Black leaders
• His break with the Nation of Islam
• His apparent shift to support the formation
of coalitions with progressive whites
• Teaching that Black must resist violence
“by any means necessary.”

Created the Organization of AfroAmerican Unity
• Meant to internationalize the Civil Rights
Movement

Assassinated in 1964
Louis Farrakhan
Has been the most visible
spokesperson among various
Muslim groups in the African American
community
 Anti-Israel foreign policy
 Pro: Self-help, bootstrap capitalism,
and strict punishment
 Against: Abortion, drugs and
homosexuality
 Leader of the 1995 Million Man March

Immigration to the United States
Some slaves were followers of Islam
 The National Origins System slowed
immigration to the United States
 In 1919, the first mosque was
established and a variety of service
agencies to help the immigrant
community
 Professional-Preference Clauses
within 1965 Immigration and
Naturalization Act

• Increased immigration among Muslims and
Arabs
Contemporary Life in the United
States
Arab Americans tend to immigrate to
urban areas
 Fill skilled and professional roles in US
and become self-employed merchants
or entrepreneurs
 Operate stores in low-income areas of
central cities major retailers ignore

• Opportunities for success are great, but
face challenges of serving low-income
population with few consumer choices and
history of being exploited by outsiders
Family Life and Gender
Traditionally, Islam has permitted men
to have multiple wives—a maximum of
four.
 Role of women receive much attention
because outer clothing is a conspicuous
symbol that to some seem to represent
repression of women in society
 Perception of gender practices in
Muslim societies receive special
attention by Western media

• Particularly dress codes

Hijab
• Refers to a variety of garments that allow
women to follow the guidelines of modest dress

Three perspectives among Muslim women in
US and settlements outside Islamic
countries





Younger, better educated, support hijab but draw upon
Western ideas of individual rights
Older, less-educated support hijab and make
arguments without reference to Western ideology
Third group of all ages and education, oppose the hijab
There are differences in the role of
women within the faith and the mosque
Segregations of the sexes in mosques
Education
Recognize the importance of education
and value formal instruction in their
faith
 Schools are specific to particular
expressions of Islam and specific
nationalities
 Children attending public schools
encounter the type of adjustment
experienced by those of a religious
faith different from the dominant one
of society

Politics
Muslim and Arab Americans are
politically aware and often active
 Most visible Arab American in politics

• Ralph Nader tried to open presidential
politics to a true alternative to the twoparty system
Muslims in the U.S. often express the
view that their faith encourages political
participation
 There is a clear distancing that one can
observe between the major parties and
Muslims and Arab Americans

There is clear distancing between the
major parties and Muslim and Arab
Americans
 Contrast to the catering of African
Americans and Latinos for votes
 In the last decade, escalation of
charges that some organizations and
charities assist groups unfriendly to
Israel and support terrorism

• Some U.S. politicians have begun to take
the safe position of refusing campaign
money from virtually any group linked to
the Muslim or Arab community
Being Arab or Muslim in the United
States
 News events have fueled anti-Arab and
anti-Muslim feeling
1972 terrorist raid at the Munich
Olympics
 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies,
Kenya and Tanzania
 September 11, 2001 engineered by Arab
Muslim extremists


The USA PATRIOT ACT, passed in
October 2001, has specific provisions
in it condemning discrimination
against Arab and Muslim Americans

Racial Profiling
• Any arbitrary police-initiated action
based on race, ethnicity, or national
origin rather than a person’s behavior
• Became intense after 9/11
The U.S. Department of Justice
required that all foreign-born Muslim
men be photographed, fingerprinted,
and interviewed
 The registration process deepened
fear and disillusionment among the
many law-abiding Muslims in the
U.S.

Issues of Prejudice and
Discrimination
Motion pictures uniformly show Arabs
and Muslims as savages,
untrustworthy, and barbaric.
 On television, there is an overemphasis
on the extreme representations
 Surveys conducted after 9/11 found a
growing willingness to view Arabs and
Muslims generally as a dangerous
people and to require the carrying
of special identification cards





Hate crimes and harassment rose sharply
after 9/11
One in four people believe a number of antiMuslim stereotypes
Arab and Muslim Americans have not been
passive to their treatment
Organizations have been created:
• To counter negative stereotypes and to offer
schools material responding to the labeling that
has occurred
• To represent their interests and to promote
understanding as well as to bring attention to
discrimination and expressions of prejudice
in public life and the mass media
QUESTIONS

What are the dimensions of diversity
among Arab Americans and among
Muslims?

What distinguishes African American
Muslims from other practicing
Muslims in the United States?

How has the immigration of Muslims
and Arabs been influenced by the
governmental policies of the United
States?

What would you identify as the four
most important differences between
being a Christian in the United States
and being a Muslim in this country?

Besides Arab Americans and Muslim
Americans, what other groups can
you identify that have recently been
subjected to prejudice and
discrimination in the United States?

9/11 was a major tragic even in
recent U.S. history. However, based
on the functionalist perspective, it
led to interesting changes. Identify
three negative and three positive
functions of the events of 9/11.

Identify the characteristics of the
deficit model of ethnic identity
related to Arab Americans and one
other group in America.

What are some of the characteristics
associated with Muslim and Arab
Americans that come to be viewed as
negatives, but when practiced by
Christian Whites are seen as positive.
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