The sun has set, the hiking, swimming and prayers are over and a group of kids are goofing off, taking turns telling corny jokes in the woods.
“Why did the cow cross the road?” a kindergartner yells into a megaphone in front of his fellow campers. “Because the chicken was on vacation!”
It’s a typical summer camp in Northern California, except at this camp all the kids are Muslim.
Every summer for 55 years, Muslim kids, teens, young adults and parents gather in these woods to learn about faith and have fun. It is the oldest camp of its kind for young Muslims in America. But today the camp has a different meaning for this new generation. It’s a momentary respite for the campers in a country where anti-Muslim sentiment is rising sharply.
The late Marghoob Quraishi and his wife, Renae “Iffat” Quraishi, founded it, to help new American Muslims find a sense of community.
Originally Indo-Pakistani, Marghoob ended up at Stanford University in California. His daughters say he looked around and realized that new American Muslims, like himself, needed a place to teach their kids about being American Muslims. His wife is an American Caucasian woman who converted to Islam from Methodism and grew up going to Methodist summer camp. So the couple modeled it on that.
Most Americans are worried about Islamic extremism, and most Muslim Americans share these concerns.
About eight-in-ten U.S. Muslims (82%) say they are either very (66%) or somewhat concerned (16%) about extremism committed in the name of Islam around the world, about the same as the share of the general public that feels this way (83%), according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Only about one-in-six U.S. Muslims (17%) and Americans overall (15%) say they are “not too” or “not at all” concerned about extremism carried out in the name of Islam worldwide. Among both groups, concern about extremism is up 10 percentage points since the Center’s last survey of U.S. Muslims in 2011.
Muslim American women are particularly worried about global extremism in the name of Islam. Nearly nine-in-ten U.S. Muslim women (89%) say they are at least somewhat concerned about it, up 16 points since 2011. A smaller share of U.S. Muslim men (75%) say they feel this way.
While many Muslims express wariness and anxiety about aspects of their lives in the United States, Muslim women tend to be more pessimistic about their place in U.S. society than Muslim men.
According to a new Pew Research Center survey, more Muslim women than men say it has become more difficult to be Muslim in the U.S. in recent years (57% vs. 43%).
And Muslim women are more divided on their acceptance by society at large than are men. Half (52%) of Muslim women say they have a lot in common with most Americans and 44% view the American people as friendly toward Muslim Americans, compared with two-thirds of Muslim men who say each of these things.
Hate crimes against Muslims have been on the rise. The murder of two samaritans for aiding two young women who were facing a barrage of anti-Muslim slurs on a Portland train is among the latest examples of brazen acts of anti-Islamic hatred.
Earlier in 2017, a mosque in Victoria, Texas was burned to the ground by an alleged anti-Muslim bigot. And just last year, members of a small extremist group called “The Crusaders” plotted a bombing “bloodbath” at a residential housing complex for Somali-Muslim immigrants in Garden City, Kansas.
I have analyzed hate crime for two decades at California State University-San Bernardino’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. And I have found that the rhetoric politicians use after terrorist attacks is correlated closely to sharp increases and decreases in hate crimes.
Hate crimes post 9/11
Since 1992 (following the promulgation of the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990), the FBI has annually tabulated hate crime data voluntarily submitted from state and territorial reporting agencies. A “hate crime” is defined as a criminal offense motivated by either race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity.
According to the FBI’s data, hate crimes against Muslims reported to police surged immediately following the terror attacks of 9/11. There were 481 crimes reported against Muslims in 2001, up from 28 the year before. However, from 2002 until 2014, the number of anti-Muslim crimes receded to a numerical range between 105 to 160 annually. This number was still several times higher than their pre-9/11 levels.
Only days after the end of Ramadan and just before the July Fourth holiday, thousands of people gathered at a Chicago convention center for the 54th annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America. Activists, scholars, religious leaders, booksellers, food vendors, and families of many backgrounds speaking many languages attended panels about topics as varied as religion, relationships, politics, cybersecurity and climate change. Despite their diverse backgrounds, many in attendance had two things in common: They were American, and they were Muslim.
Speaking at a panel on political views after the 2016 election, Besheer Mohamed, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center, suggested that an upcoming report would put numbers to the diversity that could be observed at the conference. That survey, released Wednesday morning, is the third in a series of Pew surveys of Muslims in the U.S. taken over the past 10 years.1 It is also a window into the changing attitudes of American Muslims — who make up about 1 percent of the U.S. population2 — on issues such as politics and homosexuality.3
“The key theme that we see regarding U.S. Muslims is diversity,” Mohamed told reporters on Tuesday, ahead of the report’s release. “Among immigrants, no single ethnic group has a majority. … Among U.S.-born Muslims, no racial group has a majority.”
As much of American society undergoes a secular shift, most Muslims and Christians continue to attend worship, adhere to tenets of their traditions, and proudly identify with their faiths.
But despite this shared sense of religious devotion, as detailed in a new Pew Research Center report on what US Muslims believe and practice, survey data also show a huge gap in their perceptions of each other.
While Americans overall have warmed up to Muslims in recent years, white evangelicals express more concerns about US Muslims than any other religious group. Two-thirds of white evangelicals believe Islam is not part of mainstream American society and contend that it encourages violence more than other faiths, according to Pew.
Meanwhile, 72 percent of white evangelicals—compared to 44 percent of Americans overall—see a natural conflict between Islam and democracy. And 30 percent of Muslims themselves agree that the two are in conflict.
A small minority of Americans (6%) and Muslims (5%) attribute the tension to the belief that America is a Christian nation.
As CT reported in March, missions experts worry that evangelicals’ views of Muslims are sabotaging a long-dreamed-of moment. Previous research by Pew found that only 35 percent of white evangelicals say they have a personal connection to a Muslim, compared to about 40 percent of mainline Protestants and Catholics, 50 percent of unaffiliated Americans, and 73 percent of Jews.
Religion comes in countless forms, depending either on the soil from which that religion arose or the soil in which it was planted. What we call Christianity in America is not what Guatemalans call Christianity. It’s not what Iraqis call Christianity. What we call Islam in the United States is vastly different from Islam in Iran or Saudi Arabia or Nigeria or Indonesia.
The notion that religion clashes with a culture is a misunderstanding of what religion is, but, more specifically, the idea that Islam clashes with American culture is just foolishness, naiveté, and lies. There is no clash between Islam and American culture. In fact, there is no clash between any religion and any culture because religions are inextricably linked to culture.
Think of it this way: Culture is like a vessel, and religion is like water — it simply takes the shape of whatever vessel you pour it into. And this is why the prosperity gospel — the notion that what Jesus really wants for you is to drive a Bentley — can exist in the United States, and why the liberation gospel — the notion that Jesus was a warrior who fought oppression and poverty — exists in El Salvador. Both versions of Christianity are equally valid. They’re just dependent on the culture of the community to which they belong.
When you look at Islam in the United States what you see is an overwhelmingly moderate version of Islam, but more interestingly what you see is a highly individualistic form of the religion. Islam is a religion that often advantages the community over the individual, but in the United States, where the culture is rooted in radical individualism, you see a radically individualistic Islam forming. An Islam that, in America, is not beholden to traditions or to the consensus of Muslim scholars and Islamic trains of thought that came before — it is an Islam that is innovative. You have a version of Islam that is vibrantly feminist. You have a version of Islam that promotes gay and lesbian spirituality. You have versions of Islam that are quite pluralistic and democratic. And in every one of these cases, what you see is a religion that has married itself fully into culture.