September 20, 2023


Are Muslims at Home in America? (National Review, Sep. 14th, 2023)

Zarzour highlighted ISNA's commitment to interfaith dialogue and also its program to train Muslim chaplains for the U.S. military. Although he stressed the organization's role in "adding to the mosaic of this beautiful country of ours," he acknowledged that, "while we're not going to agree with everyone on everything, we will look for what we have in common." More than 20 years after 9/11, many non-Muslims might be surprised by what they now share with their Muslim neighbors, colleagues, and fellow citizens.

After two sessions on topics dealing with faith and family, Friday ended with a late-night comedy show, "Muslim Comedians Stand Up against Gun Violence," featuring five performers, including one non-Muslim man and two Muslim women, one of whom did not wear a hijab, or headscarf. The best line of the evening belonged to the emcee, Preacher Moss, an African American born and raised in Washington, D.C. "I want Trump to be in prison long enough to come out a Black Muslim!" he quipped.

Saturday's program began early, at 5:30 a.m., with the first of Sunni Islam's five daily prayers, which I did not attend -- though I would have been welcome, even as a non-Muslim. I had a hard enough time making it to the first general session, at 10 a.m. -- "Education in the Digital Age: Empowering Minds, Shaping Careers." Arriving with about 30 minutes to spare, I zeroed in on that Starbucks.

The line was long, so I had time to observe three teenage girls who, like thousands of other young people, were attending the conference with their families. Part of the small but visible contingent of females not wearing any kind of head covering, these teenagers were just as smartly (if more modestly) dressed as the students I am used to seeing on my university campus. They were also equally fixated on their phones, texting one another, giggling, scanning the hall, and scrolling through their messages. When they finally reached the head of the line, they had no idea what to order. After much back-and-forth with the patient but harried young barista, they each managed to come up with precise, detailed specifications for their individually crafted hot beverages and food choices. Their presence illustrated the striking diversity of the thousands of Muslims attending this convention. They were a distinct minority, given their uncovered heads, but they did not seem to be the focus of any discernible disapproval.

The overwhelming majority of women at the convention covered their heads. Some were elegantly outfitted in long, flowing dresses (abayas) and loosely wrapped headscarves. Others were more severely outfitted in drab, shift-like garb with snug hijabs. A few were in black niqabs, covering the entire visage except for the eyes. A very few were completely shrouded in burkas that obscured even -- indeed, especially -- their eyes.

So, too, were the men dressed in a variety of styles defying any simple stereotype. Suits and ties as well as more-casual sports jackets and slacks were much in evidence, especially among leaders of the many organizations and businesses represented at the convention. But there were also plenty of men in slacks and sport shirts, just as I was. There were even a couple of young men sporting shorts, which are rarely worn by Muslims. On the other hand, there were many males, young and old, in traditional long-sleeved, ankle-length thobes and brimless kufi caps.

The latter garb was popular with the many African-American men in attendance. Yet they too evidenced a variety of attire and orientation toward Islam. After listening and talking to many of them, I was reminded that the conversion of African Americans to orthodox Sunni Islam -- as opposed to the ersatz, racist concoction propagated by Elijah Muhammad under the banner of the Nation of Islam, now barely surviving under Louis Farrakhan -- has on balance been one of the most heartening and successful paths to social advancement and self-respect undertaken by the legatees of slavery and Jim Crow.

Posted by at September 20, 2023 12:00 AM