Inside a Detroit mosque Friday night, gaggles of teens shuffled into the main hall for soda and cake to celebrate the birthday of the prophet Muhammad. Most were U.S.-raised and of Arab descent; the Islamic headscarves on some women meshed comfortably with baggy football jerseys. They are, in many ways, the future of Arab America. But when asked how they primarily see themselves, most reply: Muslim or Muslim American. “Islam is a priority for me,” said Ali Fawaz, a 23-year-old Dearborn resident of Lebanese descent who helped organize the gathering at the Islamic Center of America. “It comes before my ethnicity. Islam unites me with people of different races, nationalities, different cultures.” The view is shared by a number of young Arab Americans across metro Detroit who are choosing to identify themselves mainly by their religion.
It’s a view that reflects changes in both the United States and the Middle East, where Islam holds greater sway over younger generations. Still, the Arab-American identity remains strong in metro Detroit, and for many, the idea of being Arab, Muslim and American coexist in an image cobbled together by diverse experiences. The opening of the Arab American National Museum today will be a striking symbol of how much the idea of being an Arab American has developed. There are numerous Arab-American business associations, political outfits, and even a nurses group. But the notion of being an Arab American is a relatively new concept. And now, it’s overlapping with the pull of Islam. Part of the museum deals with religion, noting that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam originated in what is today the Arab world. The contributions of Christian priests of Arab descent are also duly noted. But the first floor emphasizes how closely linked Islam and Arabs are.
Today, that relationship still exists, with many Arab Americans now embracing their Islamic beliefs. “They see themselves as American Muslims,” said Imam Hassan Qazwini, head of the Islamic Center, which plans to open a new mosque in Dearborn next week. “I think the new generation doesn’t care as much about ethnicity.” (MORE)