Being an American Muslim means facing mountains of bad publicity. It also means discovering growing numbers of companions for the journey.
The American Muslim population continues to grow, even as polls show that Muslims in the United States today are facing a rising tide of negative public opinion. A Washington Post-ABC News poll, taken during the controversy over the Dubai ports deal, found that 46 percent of respondents reported negative views of Islam, seven points higher than polls taken in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A recent survey by the Council on American-Islamic Relations found that about a quarter of all Americans think “the Muslim religion teaches violence and hatred.” A CBS poll taken in April reports that fewer than one in five Americans have a favorable impression of Islam.
But if American Muslims live under a cloud of suspicion today, many say the new attention to Islam has also triggered a surge of American converts to Islam and greater knowledge of Islam among the population at large.
“There’s a lot of anti-propaganda. Before Sept. 11, it was difficult to find any book on Islam in any mainstream bookstore. But now if you go to Borders or Barnes & Noble, you will find several books,” said Dr. Zahid H. Bukhari, a fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
R. Kevin Jaques, an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Indiana, notes that more Latinos and Native Americans are now embracing Islam.
What’s leading Americans to Islam?
Jaques said that as the United States is changing, churches are failing in their traditional role. Converts are looking for something the church isn’t giving them, he remarked.
“Especially for second- and third-generation Latinos, they’re looking for a religious tradition that gives them a bigger sense of community. One of the things you hear in mosques is community, community, community. That’s a major attraction for a lot of people.”