Ten years after the Sept. 11 attacks, discussions about the place of Islam in America have never been more heated. As part of a Washington Post series this year exploring the subject, we asked Muslim readers a few questions and have received dozens of replies already for this ongoing feature.
Here are a few of the early responses, and we will keep sharing more as they come in.
Alicia Alexander, 28, who works with AmeriCorps and lives in El Sobrante, Calif., said the most interesting conversations about radicalization “are usually around how current domestic and foreign policies with regard to the Muslim community are creating radicalization not preventing it …. I don't worry about radicalization - I worry about Islamophobia, othering and the reality that more and more Muslims are being treated as Jews in Nazi Germany were as well as Japanese American's were during WWII."
When Americans – Muslim and otherwise – talk about the challenges of being Muslims in 2011 America, they often focus on issues related to prejudice. Thasin Sardar, 41, an architect from E. Lansing, Mich., raised a totally different topic, one that in my experience as a religion reporter is likely under-discussed:
“Modesty, respecting the members of the opposite sex and being chaste until one marries formally are vital aspects of the Islamic belief. Unfortunately, dating, physical contact between opposite sexes, peer pressure to imitate certain stars who are not necessarily good role models, etc. are the norm in the society here. Things such as this are not compatible with Islam and thus worrisome to Muslim parents.”
Edeanna M. Chebbi, 29, a researcher and writer who lives in Fairfax, talked about how things have changed for her in recent years.
“The first time ever I rode the Orange line home in rush hour on a packed train it took at least five stops before someone sat next to me (I'm hijabi). That was the first time I ever recall wondering about my outward representation of my faith and the perceptions of others.”
Asked what non-Muslims don’t understand about the experience of American Muslims, Chebbi said “my greatest pet peeve (among Muslims and non-Muslims alike) is that Muslim and American are not incompatible terms. I am American (as far back as the Mayflower), and I am a Muslim hijabi. My culture, my identity, is American. My faith, and my religious identity is Islam.”
Kari Ansari, 50, is a marketing consultant who lives in Herndon. She wrote frankly about a hot-button topic Muslim-Americans sometimes don’t like to discuss – their own strategies for talking with their children about radicalization:
"We have one child in college, high school, middle school and elementary school; and for each child the conversations are different. Our nine-year old is just now learning that every Muslim she meets will not necessarily be a good friend with good behavior like she would expect.
All of our children have learned that simply being identified as a Muslim doesn't mean that child or adult is living according to the faith teachings of Islam.
The older kids have had to reconcile what has been perpetrated in the name of Islam by people calling themselves Muslims with what Islam really is—a faith of reconciliation, peace and the acceptance of all of God's people.
They have been taught our faith condemns violence of all forms; we have taught them how to recognize the talk of a peer who might be falling into a dark place, and they know it's their responsibility to tell an adult or responsible leader in the community if they were to ever see a friend losing touch with the true faith teachings …
Before 9/11, most Americans had limited knowledge of Islam and Muslims, and for the most part we were largely ignored as a faith community. After 9/11, we had to collectively get out and begin to "tell our story." The telling has been a healing of sorts for some Muslims in that they have had to reach out as new immigrants, and move beyond the shyness to talk to their American neighbors … I feel God has given us all a task in learning from each other in this country.
However, the negative politics surrounding some communities who wish to build a mosque, or a school; the number of children who are being bullied at school for being Muslim, the number of hate crimes occurring against Muslims in the last two years has increased exponentially and it's very disheartening. I'm not sure where it's coming from exactly, but I am beginning to lose some of my optimism for the immediate future of my faith community's participation in the greater society—at least in some parts of the country.
I was born and raised in America. As a 10-year-old in 1971, with my hand on my heart saying the Pledge of Allegiance full of pride and love for being American, I never imagined I'd be feeling shame for my country from some of the things I've experienced as a Muslim in America forty years later.”
On Faith invites Muslim readers to answer the questions about Islam and America below: