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Five myths about Muslims in America

4 April 2011 General 16 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

Henny Ray Abrams/ AP - Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf addresses a rally to protest congressional hearings on the role of Muslims in homegrown terrorism on March 6 in New York.

By Feisal Abdul Rauf

I founded the multi-faith Cordoba Initiative to fight the misunderstandings that broaden the divide between Islam and the West — each perceived as harmful by the other. Millions of American Muslims, who see no contradiction between being American and being Muslim, are working hard to bridge this gap. It is therefore not surprising that they have become the target of attacks by those who would rather burn bridges than build them, and the subject of recent congressional hearings exploring their “radicalization.” What myths are behind the entrenched beliefs that Muslims simply do not belong in the United States and that they threaten its security?

1. American Muslims are foreigners.

Islam was in America even before there was a United States. But Muslims didn’t peaceably emigrate — slave-traders brought them here.

Historians estimate that up to 30 percent of enslaved blacks were Muslims. West African prince Abdul Rahman, freed by President John Quincy Adams in 1828 after 40 years in captivity, was only one of many African Muslims kidnapped and sold into servitude in the New World. In early America, Muslim names could be found in reports of runaway slaves as well as among rosters of soldiers in the Revolutionary War. Muslims fought to preserve American independence in the War of 1812 and for the Union in the Civil War. And more than a century later, thousands of African Americans, including Cassius Clay and Malcolm Little, converted to Islam.

Currently, there are two Muslim members of Congress and thousands of Muslims on active duty in the armed forces. Sure, some Muslim soldiers may have been born elsewhere, but if you wear the uniform of the United States and are willing to die for this country, can you be really be considered a foreigner?

2. American Muslims are ethnically, culturally and politically monolithic.

In fact, the American Muslim community is the most diverse Muslim community in the world.

U.S. Muslims believe different things and honor their faith in different ways. When it comes to politics, a 2007 Pew study found that 63 percent of Muslim Americans “lean Democratic,” 11 percent “lean Republican” and 26 percent “lean independent.” Ethnically, despite the popular misperception, the majority of Muslims in the United States (and in the world, for that matter) are not Arabs — about 88 percent check a different box on their U.S. census form. At least one-quarter, for example, are African American. Anyone who thinks otherwise need look no further than the July 30, 2007, cover of Newsweek magazine, which featured a multicultural portrait of Islam in America.

Muslim Americans are also diverse in their sectarian affiliation. And whether they are Sunni or Shiite, their attendance at religious services varies. According to the State Department publication “Muslims in America — A Statistical Portrait,” Muslim Americans range from highly conservative to moderate to secular in their religious devotion, just like members of other faith communities.

With above-average median household incomes, they are also an indispensable part of the U.S. economy. Sixty-six percent of American Muslim households earn more than $50,000 per year — more than the average U.S. household.

3. American Muslims oppress women.

According to a 2009 study by Gallup, Muslim American women are not only more educated than Muslim women in Western Europe, but are also more educated than the average American. U.S. Muslim women report incomes closer to their male counterparts than American women of any other religion. They are at the helm of many key religious and civic organizations, such as the Arab-American Family Support Center, Azizah magazine, Karamah, Turning Point, the Islamic Networks Group and the American Society for Muslim Advancement.

Of course, challenges to gender justice remain worldwide. In the World Economic Forum’s 2009 Gender Gap Index, which ranks women’s participation in society, 18 of the 25 lowest-ranking countries have Muslim majorities. However, as documented by the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality , Muslim women are leading the struggle for change through their scholarship, civic engagement, education, advocacy and activism in the United States and across the world.

4. American Muslims often become “homegrown” terrorists.

According to the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, more non-Muslims than Muslims were involved in terrorist plots on U.S. soil in 2010. In a country in the grip of Islamophobia — where Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) can convene hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims — this has been overlooked. In 2010, the Triangle Center also found, the largest single source of initial information on planned terrorist attacks by Muslims in the United States was the Muslim American community.

As an American Muslim leader who worked with FBI agents on countering extremism right after Sept. 11, 2001, I fear that identifying Islam with terrorism threatens to erode American Muslims’ civil liberties and fuels the dangerous perception that the United States is at war with Islam. Policymakers must recognize that, more often than not, the terrorists the world should fear are motived by political and socioeconomic — not religious — concerns.

5. American Muslims want to bring sharia law to the United States.

In Islam, sharia is the divine ideal of justice and compassion, similar to the concept of natural law in the Western tradition. Though radicals exist on the fringes of Islam, as in every religion, most Muslim jurists agree on the principal objectives of sharia: the protection and promotion of life, religion, intellect, property, family and dignity. None of this includes turning the United States into a caliphate.

For centuries, most Islamic scholars around the world have agreed that Muslims must follow the laws of the land in which they live. This principle was established by the prophet Muhammad in A.D. 614-615, when he sent some of his followers to be protected by the Christian king of Abyssinia, where they co-existed peacefully. Not only do American Muslims have no scriptural, historical or political grounds to oppose the U.S. Constitution, but the U.S. Constitution is in line with the objectives and ideals of sharia. Muslims already practice sharia in the United States when they worship freely and follow U.S. laws.

In his 1776 publication “Thoughts on Government,” John Adams praised Muhammad as a “sober inquirer after truth.” And the Supreme Court building contains a likeness of the prophet, whose vision of justice is cited as an important precedent to the U.S. Constitution.

Feisal Abdul Rauf is the founder of the Cordoba Initiative.

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Original post: Five myths about Muslims in America


  1. Imam Rauf has nailed it. To get the Islamophobes to read the list maybe we should call it:
    “Don’t bother shouting these things at American Muslims cause they aren’t true”
    1. “Go Home!” (cause American Muslims are generally not foreigners
    2. “Go live with (Al Quaeda, Hammas, Ahmedinajad, etc.)” Cause American Muslims generally don’t agree with other Muslims
    3. “Go beat your wife!” Cause American Muslim men are generally more henpecked and their wives are generally more accomplished than them.
    4. “Go join the Taliban!” Cause American Muslims are generally more secular than religious.
    5. “No creeping Shariah!” Cause most American Muslims will agree with you anyways.

    Instead, we suggest the anti-Islam protestors try out a new exclamation, “Go back to being a silent, invisible, high-achieving minority so we can get on with our lives and stop being scared of you!”

  2. […] Five myths about Muslims in America | Islamophobia Today eNewspaper. […]


    [4.11] Allah enjoins you concerning your children: The male shall have the equal of the portion of two females; then if they are more than two females, they shall have two-thirds of what the deceased has left, and if there is one, she shall have the half; and as for his parents, each of them shall have the sixth of what he has left if he has a child, but if he has no child and (only) his two parents inherit him, then his mother shall have the third; but if he has brothers, then his mother shall have the sixth after (the payment of) a bequest he may have bequeathed or a debt; your parents and your children, you know not which of them is the nearer to you in usefulness; this is an ordinance from Allah: Surely Allah is Knowing, Wise.

  4. Alhumdillah!!

    (All praise is due to Allah!!)

    This is an excellent & timely article!

  5. As usual, Mike, your comments do not address the article.

    However I can see where you’re trying to go.

    Do you know WHY the male children are willed more than females?

    I’ll await to see if you’ll produce a truthful answer (which would make your comment moot) or fabricate a lie.

  6. Asalaamu aleikum-

    Ok, there are some reasonable points here overall. The only quibble I have is with the way in which the first point is made. Yes, of course, the idea that “Muslims are foreigners” in America is a gross misconception. But the reason why is more precisely that there are considerable numbers of American- born reverts who are not only the descendants of black slaves, but people whose ancestors came to this country from Europe and even Central America. Even if some slaves historically were Muslims, they weren’t American citizens, and so could be classed as foreigners. Also there are now a considerable number of second-generation Muslim Arabs, Pakistanis, etc who were born and raised here who are no more foreigners than the American descendants of Irish or Italian immigrants.
    Yes, the story of how Islam was historically present in America through the presence of black slaves, for example, is interesting and valuable information. But that only makes the point that ISLAM is not foreign, not MUSLIMS themselves.The black slave were Muslims but not Americans.
    I was born in Alabama of Northern -European immigrant stock, and I can trace my ancestors back to the sixteenth-century in this country- and I am a revert to Islam. It riles me when people tell me and others like me “go back to your own country”- this IS my country as much as any other American. And Islam belongs here because I and others like me are here. Islam and Muslims are no more “foreign” and “Un-American” than Buddhists or Jews or Catholics.

  7. What is your point Mike! Do you REALLY understand this verse? Most likely NOT, Non Muslims don’t and won’t even attempt to !!! A share a women gets is hers and hers alone, she can utilize it the way she desires . The share a male recieves, IS greater, but he is financially reponsible for his wife, elderly parents and children. So CLEARLY a woman is not oppressed…. A Muslim woman is supposed to keep her own name not her husbands, when she marries. Women in Islam are not oppressed and have NOT been. When TV reports and AntiMuslim organizations, talk of Muslim women being oppressed and they don’t want Sharia laws. They obviously have a political agenda. They need to be reminded of the 60’s when American women had to burn their BRAS in order to get equal rights. In 1918 women organized marches in order to get equal rights just to VOTE… The American women were denied voting and equal rights NOT because the constitution didn’t allow it, but because men in the American culture didn’t ALLOW it. The same people that didn’t allow the blacks and other minorities their rights… So please don’t show us your ignorence, unless you have a explanation of a verse from the Quran (that has its explanation in an authentic Hadith) then you should post it… Your obvious thinking in posting this verse is, ATTACK on ISLAM and that is more fuel you are adding to the fire of HATE!!! Peace be with you bro !

  8. Much of the backlash against the Muslim community after 9/11 could have been avoided if a LARGE group of your leaders LOUDLY & CLEARLY condemned the attacks and again LOUDLY & CLEARLY disavowed any sections of the Koran calling for violence or subjugation of others, as they have NO PLACE in a peaceful, civil society. Also, if local Mosques publicly stated the same as above on TV and to local Churches it would have
    calmed many of the fears.

    Of the several interviews I saw shortly after 9/11, not one of the religious leaders hit the right tone.

    Here are my 5 or 6:

    1. Condemn all violence in the name of religion.

    2. Condemn the preaching of hate against America.

    3. Preach tolerance towards other religions.

    4. Encourage new immigrants to show tolerance and to assimilate.

    5. Do your best to keep the America hating Imams from coming to the US.

    6. Don’t cower because of Muslim internal threats against you. Stand up
    for your principles! That’s what America is all about!

    7. Perhaps look at having a reform movement that distances it’s self from
    the violent teachings in the Koran that the terrorists use as excuses
    for the violence. Then add full tolerance into it.

  9. In response to J. Patrick’s admonitions above:

    As an American and a Muslim I don’t need to distance myself from people and ideas/actions which I have nothing to do with. Terrorists don’t speak or act for me personally or all Muslims generally, even if they may claim to do so. I am no more responsible for them than all white people are responsible for the KKK or Neo-Fascist groups. To apologize, or formally condemn or go on the defensive means that you are somehow associated with it or tainted by it. I utterly reject that.
    People of all religions use their religion as an excuse for some agendas of their own- whether it be sexism, racism, politics, etc.
    Do Christians feel they have to condemn the Islamophobic rhetoric of preachers like Franklin Graham? Do Jews need to stand up and renounce the hate speech of Pamela Geller or Islamophobic Jewish groups?
    Besides, many individual Muslims and Muslim organizations have done all that you have requested until they are blue in the face, but it’s never sufficient, is it?

  10. Halima,

    I thought part of the efforts layed out in the article were in an effort to dispell the myths & fears of the “average American”. My point was simply to clarify to the “average American” where American Muslims are on the the areas I stated above, which are actually the most important to them. If those words were spoken by a large group of your religious leaders LOUDLY & CLEARLY, there would have been a great sigh of relief by the “average American” who would say, “Gee, those Muslims believe in a safe, tolerant, free civil society, just like me!”

    Your response actually proves my point. You come up with a response that totally sidesteps the issues and shuns any attempts at quelling the fears that the article is attempting to address. Shortly after 9/11 I saw one of your religious leaders sidestep a question, leading the viewer to believe he thought there was some culpability on the part of the US in the attacks, as if we (the US) deserved it.

    The responses of the religious leaders, as well as your own, lead the “average American” to doubt your truthfullness and intentions toward our society. Most Americans like to take things head on, directly if you will. They don’t like people who sidestep and skirt the issues.

    Is it too much to do ANY of the following? Especilly the first 4 :

    Here are my 5 or 6:

    1. Condemn all violence in the name of religion.

    2. Condemn the preaching of hate against America.

    3. Preach tolerance towards other religions.

    4. Do your best to keep the America hating Imams from coming to the US.

    5. Encourage new immigrants to show tolerance and to assimilate.

    6. Don’t cower because of Muslim internal threats against you. Stand up
    for your principles! That’s what America is all about!

    7. Perhaps look at having a reform movement that distances it’s self from
    the violent teachings in the Koran that the terrorists use as excuses
    for the violence. Then add full tolerance into it.

  11. “One of my religious leaders?”- I don’t know what that means. Islam isn’t like Roman Catholicism where there is a recognized head of the church who speaks for all believers. Even the Imam of a mosque is notlike that. An Imam leads the prayers, performs weddings and funerals, gives religious talks, teaches classes and advises/counsels people in everyday matters, for example. But no one considers him their “leader”.There is no one who speaks for all Muslims, and most of us don’t have a “leader”- apart from the Prophet (SWS).
    I don’t think the “average Muslim” is responsible for the fear, paranoia and dis-ease that the “average American” associates with Islam- which is a bit like saying All dogs are responsible for the ONE dog that bit you. And anyway,I’m not even sure that the “average American” (whoever that is)IS filled with fear about Muslims and Islam, anyway.
    That’s all I’m going to add to my previous comments,which as far as I’m concerned still stand.

  12. my understanding is that in islam the male is the “maintainer” of the female. a woman has no finacial responsiblility to the family. the male is solely responsibly. in pre-islamic arabia women had no property rights and the prophet changed that, allowing them to keep their dowries and giving them some inheritance rights. a woman can demand to be “maintained” by her father, than her husband, or a brother in the event of their father’s death. also, if been told female infanticide was rampant in pre-islamic arabia. thusly muslims look at muhammad, god’s messinger as being very pro woman. maybe so for his time. my point is that the koran/sharia much like most ancient texts are outdated and no longer applicable, at least in western societies.

  13. i don’t say the koran calls for women to be oppressed. but it doesn’t call for them to be equal either, which is what i hope we as a society are moving towards. yes we are not there, and certainly weren’t there in the 50s or at the founding of america. yes my ignorance runs deep. what did socrates say, “i am a wise man for i know i know nothing”, not that i’m claiming to be wise, just ignorant. it’s funny that in the article mr rauf refernces john adams. have you have you ever heard of the letter written by abigal to him, while he was at a continental congress, asking for the men not to forget about women’s rights while they where forming this new nation based on liberty? his response was, and i paraphrasing, what are you kidding me.” i also don’t think flogging peole will float in america. or

    Book 017, Number 4175:
    ‘A’isha reported that Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) cut off the hand of a thief for a quarter of a dinar rid upwards.

    we don’t need a law outlawing sharia the modern interpretation of the constitution already does that. but i keep seeing that in family court is where sharia comes up most. i also don’t thing women should be treated like children and “maintained”. they should have EQUAL rights and EQUAL responsibilities.

  14. here’s the first response i got to by quetions as to why god wants women to inherit half as much

    Apart from recognition of woman as an independent human being acknowledged as equally essential for the survival of humanity, Islam has given her a share of inheritance. Before Islam, she was not only deprived of that share but was herself considered as property to be inherited by man. Out of that transferable property Islam made an heir, acknowledging the inherent human qualifies in woman. Whether she is a wife or mother, a sister or daughter, she receives a certain share of the deceased kin’s property, a share which depends on her degree of relationship to the deceased and the number of heirs. This share is hers, and no one can take it away or disinherit her. Even if the deceased wishes to deprive her by making a will to other relations or in favor of any other cause, the Law will not allow him to do so. Any proprietor is permitted to make his will within the limit of one-third of his property, so he may not affect the rights of his heirs, men and women. In the case of inheritance, the question of quality and sameness is fully applicable. In principle, both man and woman are equally entitled to inherit the property of the deceased relations but the portions they get may vary. In some instances man receives two shares whereas woman gets one only. This no sign of giving preference or supremacy to man over woman.The reasons why man gets more in these particular instances may be classified as follows:

    First man, is the person solely responsible for the complete maintenance of his wife, his family and any other needy relations. It is his duty by Law to assume all financial responsibilities and maintain his dependents adequately. It is also his duty to contribute financially to all good causes in his society. All financial burdens are borne by him alone.

    Secondly, in contrast, woman has no financial responsibilities whatsoever except very little of her personal expenses, the high luxurious things that she likes to have. She is financially secure and provided for. If she is a wife, her husband is the provider; if she is a mother, it is the son; if she is a daughter, it is the father; if she is a sister; it is the brother, and so on. If she has no relations on whom she can depend, then there is no question of inheritance because there is nothing to inherit and there is no one to bequeath anything to her. However, she will not be left to starve, maintenance of such a woman is the responsibility of the society as a whole, the state. She may be given aid or a job to earn her living, and whatever money she makes will be hers. She is not responsible for the maintenance of anybody else besides herself. If there is a man in her position, he would still be responsible for his family and possibly any of his relations who need his help. So, in the hardest situation her financial responsibility is limited, while his is unlimited.

    Thirdly, when a woman gets less than a man does, she is not actually deprived of anything that she has worked for. The property inherited is not the result of her earning or her endeavors. It is something coming to them from a neutral source, something additional or extra. It is something that neither man or woman struggled for. It is a sort of aid, and any aid has to be distributed according to the urgent needs and responsibilities especially when the distribution is regulated by the Law of God.

    Now, we have a male heir, on one side, burdened with all kinds of financial responsibilities and liabilities. We have, on the other side, a female heir with no financial responsibilities at all or at most with very little of it. In between we have some property and aid to redistribute by way of inheritance. If we deprive the female completely, it would be unjust to her because she is related to the deceased. Likewise, if we always give her a share equal to the man’s, it would be unjust to him. So, instead of doing injustice to either side, Islam gives the man a larger portion of the inherited property to help him to meet his family needs and social responsibilities. At the same time, Islam has not forgotten her altogether, but has given her a portion to satisfy her very personal needs. In fact, Islam in this respect is being more kind to her than to him. Here we can say that when taken as a whole the rights of woman are equal to those of man although not necessarily identical (see Qur’an, 4:11-14, 176).

  15. Hi my name is (i erased her name) and I was forwarded your email pertaining to the question of inheritance in the Qur’an. I have received my Master’s in Religion from Temple University with a specialization in Islamand just got done teaching my first University Level course in Islam. I believe your question pertained to inheritance in the Qur’an and why women inherit less than men.

    Okay, so here it goes. In order to understand the Qur’an, we must first understand the historical circumstances in which it was revealed. Now, before Islam came, the historical circumstances were extremely hostile towards women. In fact, women could be inherited, young female infants were buried, and women were sexual objects. With the coming of Islam, one of the first things Islam banished was this unfair treatment of women. It also made sure women received an inheritance and were not inherited. That is why there are some verses in the Qur’an that state explicitly that women can not be inherited; I’m not sure whether you’ve read that yet.

    Now to explain this “lesser inheritance”. The historical circumstances and environment were not fair to women (as mentioend before), and at times they could not leave their homes, and this therefore caused the men of those times to be the sole providers of the family. This meant that all women’s needs were to be provided by the man or her husband or father, since she could not do that for herself in those times. So inheritance in this case went largely to the man. When a man inherits wealth, he has to use that welath to maintain her and the family and etc. But when a woman inherits wealth, she does not have to share any portion of this with her husband, if she doesn’t want to. Now, this does not mean that she can not. She can share it if she wants to, but she doesn’t have to and no one can force her to. If the family situation is a bit rough, or the environment is different, than she can. What I mean by this is that in our times, women also work, and sometimes, the economy is terrible (like our times here today) so in this case women are also expected to provide at times, since times are rough. But this statement about inheritance in the Quran insured that she would get something, that she could not be given away, and it made sure she was provided for by what the man received in inheritance. The male, in those times, had the responsibility to maintain the family, so that needs to be rememebred. Those recommendations are not exactly applied in our times, in fact a lot of people do not follow those recommendations. Those were mere recommendations for those times and it was to ensure that the woman was always provided for, protected, and etc. That is why the man had that added responsibilty of maintaining her and she was ensured that she would received something in her inheritance. Again, she did not have to share her inheritance nor did she need to provide or contribute to the family, but the male did need to provide at all times.

  16. dueceprez, roy, here in florida our inheritance laws have a spouse (man or female) inheriting the full estate of a desceased spouse. if no spouse the children get equal portions. no children the desceased parents, no parents the cousins, etc. etc. there is no mention of one sex getting more than another. don’t you think that is as it should be? i’m sure it was probably not the case at the time of john adams. but that is what makes america and our contitution semi-great. it grows with the times and is amendable. i am not calling for anyone to attack anything. i just think that all law should be open to debate. mr rauf says “U.S. Constitution is in line with the objectives and ideals of sharia”, maybe so, most of the time, but the devil is in the details. thusly i respectfully disagree with this part of sharia as being in line with modern american ideals. that was my main point, sorry for the brevity of that post.

    As-Salāmu `Alaykum

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