U.S. Muslims are religiously observant, but open to multiple interpretations of Islam

FT_17.08.23_islam_interpret_ledeFor American Muslims, being highly religious does not necessarily translate into acceptance of traditional notions of Islam. While many U.S. Muslims say they attend mosque and pray regularly, sizable shares also say that there is more than one way to interpret their religion and that traditional understandings of Islam need to be reinterpreted to address the issues of today.

By some conventional measures, U.S. Muslims are as religious as – or more religious than – many Americans who belong to other faith groups. Four-in-ten (43%) Muslim Americans say they attend mosque at least once a week, including 18% who say they attend more than once a week, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey. An additional 32% say they attend once or twice a month, or a few times a year. These attendance levels are comparable to those of U.S. Christians, 47% of whom say they attend services weekly or more, and greater than the 14% of American Jews who say the same.

A majority also say that they pray at least some or all of the salah, or ritual prayers required of Muslims five times per day. Among all U.S. Muslims, fully 42% say they pray all five salah daily, while 17% pray at least some of the salah every day. A quarter say they pray less often, and just 15% say they never pray.

And nearly two-thirds of U.S. Muslims (65%) say that religion is very important in their lives, similar to the share of U.S. Christians who say the same (68%), and higher than the share of U.S. Jews who say this (31%). An additional 22% of Muslims say that religion is somewhat important in their lives, while fewer say that religion is not too or not at all important to them.

FULL ARTICLE FROM PEW RESEARCH 

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American Muslims Are A Diverse Group With Changing Views

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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.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM FIVETHIRTYEIGHT.COM

Reza Aslan Argues: There Is No Divide Between Islam and American Culture

US-POLITICS-TRUMP-PROTESTReligion 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.

FULL ARTICLE FROM FOREIGN POLICY MAGAZINE

In western Minnesota town of Dawson, a Muslim doctor tries to understand his neighbors who backed Trump

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Dr. Ayaz Virji and his daughter Maya Virji, 9, walk back to their car after making a stop to buy popcorn from a stand after his lecture on Islam at the Granite Falls, Minn., City Hall.

DAWSON, MINN. — The doctor was getting ready. Must look respectable, he told himself. Must be calm. He changed into a dark suit, blue shirt and tie and came down the wooden staircase of the stately Victorian house at Seventh and Pine that had always been occupied by the town’s most prominent citizens.

That was him: prominent citizen, town doctor, 42-year-old father of three, and as far as anyone knew, the first Muslim to ever live in Dawson, a farming town of 1,400 people in the rural western part of the state.

 “Does this look OK?” Ayaz Virji asked his wife, Musarrat, 36.

In two hours, he was supposed to give his third lecture on Islam, and he was sure it would be his last. A local Lutheran pastor had talked him into giving the first one in Dawson three months before, when people had asked questions such as whether Muslims who kill in the name of the prophet Mohammed are rewarded in death with virgins, which had bothered him a bit. Two months later, he gave a second talk in a neighboring town, which had ended with several men calling him the Antichrist.

Now a librarian had asked him to speak in Granite Falls, a town half an hour away, and he wasn’t sure at all what might happen. So many of the comforting certainties of his life had fallen away since the presidential election, when the people who had welcomed his family to Dawson had voted for Donald Trump, who had proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States, toyed with the idea of a Muslim registry and said among other things, “Islam hates us.”

Trump had won Lac qui Parle County, where Dawson was the second-largest town, with nearly 60 percent of the vote. He had won neighboring Yellow Medicine County, where Granite Falls was the county seat, with 64 percent. Nearly all of Minnesota outside the Twin Cities had voted for Trump, a surprising turn in a state known for producing some of the Democratic Party’s most progressive leaders, including the nation’s first Muslim congressman.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE 

What was Trump’s speech on Islam missing? American Muslims.

1060x600-93172dac1665d855104936ea9bdb1b0ePresident Trump, like his predecessors before him, has discovered the potent language of religious tolerance and interfaith unity when discussing Islam, as he demonstrated in his speech in Saudi Arabia to leaders of some 50 Muslim nations. But unlike previous presidents, he has not linked that rhetoric with recognition of the large, vibrant Muslim community in the United States.

As a historian who has studied efforts in the past to build acceptance of religious pluralism in the United States, I am concerned by Trump’s departure from historical precedent.

Can a message of tolerance to Islam abroad be persuasive without a corresponding affirmation of American Muslims at home?

In his widely anticipated remarks on Islam and terrorism,  Trump avoided many of the missteps his critics feared. He notably abandoned the harsh rhetoric that characterized descriptions of Islam during his 2016 campaign. Trump has set aside his insistence on the use of the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism.” He has also rejected the broad generalizations of Islam that marked his demand for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslim immigration because their hatred was “beyond comprehension.”

With the exception of one apparent reference to “Islamic terror” — present in his spoken words but not in the written text of the speech — Trump struck a tolerant, inclusive tone. In his declaration that he was “not here to lecture” was the promise that the United States would not tell others “how to worship.”

More notable than the language of tolerance was Trump’s new emphasis on interfaith commonality. He declared the campaign against terrorism not “a battle between different faiths” but rather a fight that encompassed them all. He noted that a terrorist who “falsely invokes the name of God” should be considered “an insult to every person of faith.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE WASHINGTON POST 

The Shoe Is On the Other Foot: Pluralism and the Qur’an

lead_960The raging fires of the immigration debates in the U.S. illuminate what Muslim immigrants have known for a long time — America is not and really never has been a melting pot. The ugly rhetoric surrounding the plan for a mosque and community center near Ground Zero, and recent assaults such as those on the Bridgeport, CT mosque in my neighborhood, illustrate well the difficulties Muslims face on a regular basis. Nonetheless, Muslims have actually managed to survive quite well in the West and have even succeeded in persuading many American citizens of the right of Islam to exist as a legitimate partner in the complex balance of religious life in this country.

For many Muslims the shoe is now slipping onto the other foot. The issue is becoming not only whether they and their religion are accepted by other Americans, but whether Islam itself can find a way to live out the pluralism that many are persuaded is at the heart of the Qur’an’s message. Studies now show that while early generations of Muslims tried to honor that pluralism in relation to other religious groups, more exclusivist views came to prevail and communities such as Christians and Jews found themselves increasingly discriminated against by Islam. Exegetes turned from verses of the Qur’an that insist that God willed different religious communities rather than a single one, and emphasized those verses that affirm that the only true religion in the eyes of God is Islam.

Immanent Frame Forum on Islam and the Founding Fathers

tj-quran-195x300The other day I was Skyping with a colonial America class at another college.  One of the students asked me what the founding fathers would have thought about Islam.  I answered the question, but after I got done with the class I realized I should have also recommended Denise Spellberg’s 2013 book Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders.

Check out the recently announced forum at Immanent Frame on Spellberg’s book.

Here is what you can expect:

Denise Spellberg’s Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an was released in 2013, in the middle of Barack Obama’s second term as president of the United States. As we were reminded during the 2016 election season, both of President Obama’s campaigns for presidency were marked by accusations that he was a practicing Muslim and debates as to the legitimacy of a president with such a religious identity. Spellberg’s book was published as a timely history of the religious freedom debates during the founding of the United States, emphasizing the choice that the Founding Fathers made to create a new nation open to all religions. As Spellberg describes in her historical account, Thomas Jefferson argued for the inclusion of Muslims without knowing a Muslim individual; his theoretical sense of welcome toward them extended hospitality and legal protection to other religious minority groups at the time, including Jews and Catholics.

FULL ARTICLE AND LINKS TO FORUM HERE