Initially when people learned I’m Muslim it would trigger curiosity about Islam and eastern cultures. Sometimes I would encounter misinformation in the mainstream media, but mostly Muslims in America were under the radar.
Since 9/11, I’ve found more interest in learning about Islam and at the same time seen spike in misinformation and hate groups. Myths are behind the misunderstanding. I’d like to tackle a few of those here:
Myth: Muslims are relatively newcomers in America. • Historians trace first Muslims in America towards the end of 15th century. African-American Muslims, who have been here for centuries, make about quarter of the total U.S. Muslim population. A recent estimate in 2016 placed the nation’s Muslim population at over 3.3 million.
Most of the American Muslims who immigrated in last century probably came from
South Asia, Middle East, and Africa in 1960s, when The Hart-Celler Act of 1965 was enacted. This law changed the immigration policies from being nation-based formula to one that lifted restrictions against immigrants from Asia and Africa. It gave priority for relatives of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.
It also gave preference to professionals and other skilled workers. Most of Muslims came here for the same reason that brought the majority of non-Muslim Americans: opportunity.
Viewed in the least charitable terms, academia is a small fraternity of ambitious backbiters engaged in the production of work so dense that only other members of the order can hope to understand it. But some scholars arrive on the scene bearing such a combination of intellect, urgency and charisma that their achievements resonate long after the Festschrift is printed and the memorial lecture empties out.
One of these was Marshall Hodgson, a great American scholar of Islam who died in 1968 while jogging on the University of Chicago campus. He was 46, and he left behind a manuscript that would become a magisterial three-volume book, “The Venture of Islam,” published posthumously through the efforts of his widow and colleagues. Before “The Venture,” there was no English-language textbook, no unified history, about the many linked empires that emerged out of the revelation received by the Prophet Muhammad in 610 A.D.
Before 1957, when Hodgson founded his yearlong course on Islamic civilizations at Chicago, there was no course like it. Islamic studies in America was an outgrowth of European Orientalist thought, which focused on Arabic language and literature and the core Arab lands of Islam. Persianate and Turkic dynasties were considered backwaters: Persians were important for their pre-Islamic achievements, Ottomans for their role in European diplomatic history. Sufism — the vast mystical current of Islam — was a blip in European and American historiography. A roughly 500-year period was glossed as a time of “Oriental decline,” wherein Muslim empires were said to languish under ineffectual despots.
FROM THE ESSAY INTRODUCING THE TED STUDIES SERIES ON UNDERSTANDING ISLAM FROM WILEY
“TED offers a space in which voices similar to these religious and political leaders of the Muslim World can take center stage in order to better understand internal Muslim debate with the realization that there is no such thing as a monolithic Muslim culture or “psyche.” To see 1.5 billion Muslims as constituting a single, undifferentiated, monolithic community is highly problematic, as they come from a diverse range of geographical, social, economic and political settings, each informing their worldview.
This project breaks the myth of “the Muslim” by presenting a nuanced understanding of Islam and its place in the contemporary world.
The TED talks provide a unique opportunity for an educated layman to learn about the core beliefs and practices of Islam beyond the TV sound bites. These lectures are delivered in a straightforward, lucid and accessible manner, yet are profound and thought provoking arousing in the audience an interest to pursue further inquires.”