Presented in partnership with UPF.
There are people out there who think that Islam is a religion that’s imported from some faraway desert area – which couldn’t be further from the truth.
When I googled the phrase “what you need to know about American Muslims” earlier today, I expected a wealth of reliable, accurate resources to come up. Instead, the top results included websites, blog posts, and books all written by people claiming to be “experts” on Islam. As I glanced through some of them, I knew ignorance was at the core of everything they wrote.
Frustrated with the lack of authentic sources, I dug a little deeper and came across this video. Unity Productions Foundation aims to debunk the myth that Islam is “utterly incompatible” with the West by providing the audience with raw facts. And trust me, some of them will shock you.
As an American Muslim myself, it’s painful for me to witness the vehemence with which people try to slander my religion. Their unwillingness to accept Muslims as legitimate Americans is to deny our integral role in American history. American Muslims are a part of the very fabric that holds our country together.
1. There are about 7 million Muslims currently living in the U.S.
Nationally, Muslims make up about 2% of our population. While that number may seem small to you, the impact American Muslims have had on the course of history, culture, art, science, and government make up for that by tenfold.
While you can surely find them in all 50 states, California, New York, New Jersey, and Michigan are known for having roughly 2-3 times the number of Muslim adults per capita than the national average.
Currently, there’s an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims around the world – that’s over a fifth of the global population (23%, to be exact). By the year 2030, this figure is projected to increase by another 600 million.
2. Quite literally, Islam is a religion of peace.
Islam is a religion that teaches its followers to love all of humanity. As stated in the Holy Quran (16:91): “Indeed, [God] enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others; and giving like kindred…and forbids wrongful transgression.”
And let’s not forget – Islam comes from the Arabic word salaam, which means “peace.”
3. Islam came to America long before Christopher Columbus did.
When you think of the first “world explorers,” Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus undoubtedly come to mind. They’re the ones credited with discovering what was then dubbed “The New World.” But history says otherwise: contrary to popular belief, Europeans weren’t the first ones to reach North America.
Yes, it’s true: Muslims reached the shores of America long before Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492.
Muslims also served in the American Revolution: Bampett Muhamed, Yusuf Ben Ali, Salem Poor, and Peter Salem are a few of those on record. Peter Salem, a former slave, may have even killed British major John Pitcairn in the Battle of Bunker Hill, one of the most significant fights of the Revolution.
Not to mention Thomas Jefferson himself hosted Iftar dinner at the White House in 1805, and kept a copy of the Holy Quran in his personal library.
Bet you never learned that in history class.
4. The diversity within the American Muslim population far exceeds the eye.
Today’s American Muslim population is comprised of an extremely colorful mix of ethnic, social, and economic backgrounds. Read: not all Muslims are Arabs, and not all Arabs are Muslims.
Immigrant Muslims come from at least 77 different countries, with no single country accounting for more than one-in-six Muslim immigrants. The majority of Muslim immigrants to the U.S. come from Pakistan.
Just take it from me – even in a small town in the Midwest, the diversity within the Muslim community is astounding. They come from every corner of the earth: from Malaysia to Egypt, Mexico, and beyond.
5. American Muslims are politically active and hold government office positions.
Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota made history as the first Muslim sworn into office using a Quran in 2006. Two years later, André Carson of Indiana became the second Muslim to assume office as a U.S. Representative. Both are members of the Democratic party.
American Muslim youth are particularly active in the political landscape of the U.S. With their characteristically pro-minority and pro-immigration stances, they typically vote Democratic.
American Muslim women are also breaking barriers in politics; Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American, is currently running for Minnesota State Representative. Her campaign is centered on community outreach, social justice, and environmental consciousness. Nadia Syahmalina, an Indonesian-American, ran in the Maryland primary to become Hillary Clinton’s delegate at the Democratic National Convention earlier this year.
6. Black Muslims have greatly influenced American history.
It would be ridiculous not to mention the impact Black Muslims have had on the course of American history. From Yarrow Mamout, the slave turned Georgetown financier, to Wallace Fard, Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad, and Muhammad Ali — there’s no mistaking some of America’s greatest historical figures were black, Muslim, and proud.
Wallace Fard founded the Nation of Islam in 1930. By infusing black pride and black nationalism with Islamic teachings, the Nation of Islam quickly amassed a large following of Black Muslims. However, it’s to be noted that not all Black Muslims are followers of the NOI.
Today, not only does the Nation of Islam provide faith-based solace for its followers, but also calls for an end to police brutality, equality under the law, and equal employment opportunities. There are an estimated 50,000 followers of the Nation of Islam, with a large following in the American prison system.
Today, about 40% of native-born American Muslims identify as black, and 14% of immigrant Muslims identify as black.
7. Some of the world’s most groundbreaking scientists and Nobel Laureates are Muslim.
Ahmed Zewail, the renowned Egyptian American scientist, won a Nobel prize for his groundbreaking research in Femtochemistry. He studied chemical reactions using femtosecond spectroscopy – which is a measly 0.000000000000001 seconds. This timeframe is to a second as a second is to 32 million years. Let that sink in for a second (or rather, a femtosecond).
Special shout-out to the Muslim women in science, too: dubbed the “Cardiac Magician,” Dr. Hina Chauhdry is a cardiologist, scientist, and entrepreneur whose research explores cardiac regeneration – the process of new heart muscle growth after a patient suffers a heart attack. She’s been named one of the top fellows by the NIH for the National Research Service Award and is an Irving Scholar.
8. You’re more likely to be saved by a Muslim doctor after a terrorist attack than to be hurt or killed by a Muslim terrorist.
There are over 20,000 Muslim physicians in America, operating over 100 free health clinics. However, the increased stigmatization of Muslim-sounding names, beards, and headscarves in the workplace has often made the hospital a source of discomfort. In a study conducted between 2013-2014, nearly half of American Muslim doctors experienced increased scrutiny at work, and about a quarter experienced some kind of religious discrimination. Nearly 10% of their patients refused care because of their faith.
Many of the physicians cited anti-Muslim rhetoric in the media as a likely factor.
9. There are over 2,000 mosques in the U.S.
Religious services are held in mosques, of which there are over 2,000 in America. New York and California combined contain nearly 1/4 of the nation’s mosques.
Contrary to what the media wants you to think, mosques aren’t breeding grounds for radicalization. Mosques double as a place of worship and civic engagement. American Muslims who are active members of their local mosques are found to be 53 percent more involved in community outreach activities than those who are not.
10. Many Muslims fight for and defend our country overseas.
According to figures from the Pentagon, over 5,800 members of our military self-identify as Muslims. That’s over 5,000 of your army men and women, marines, and air force officers. Your Muslim brothers and sisters don the uniform and are doing the hardest and bravest job this country has to offer.
However, the military is yet another field where Muslims face scrutiny and discrimination. Oftentimes, members find themselves as “spokespeople” for Islam, fielding questions and defending its teachings.
11. American Muslims are found in every sector of our country.
This one doesn’t take too much to explain. Just look around you – I guarantee you know quite a few accomplished Muslims. We’re your physicians, politicians, activists, athletes, and teachers. We’re also your business owners, photographers, wedding planners, and fashion designers.
Not to mention your construction workers, pilots, engineers, and lawyers…I could keep going, but I’ll spare you.
12. You can say American Muslims have taken over the music industry – to put that mildly.
Whether you know it or not, some of your favorite music artists are also Muslim: the list includes Lupe Fiasco, Mos Def, T-Pain, Busta Rhymes, Akon, and of course – our honorary American, Zayn Malik.
While some artists are more open about their identities as Muslims than others, many have dropped hints about it through song lyrics. Lupe Fiasco’s “Muhammad Walks” is perhaps the boldest and outright declaration of his faith:
I hope Allah (God) forgive my sins and faults
And to the sisters and the mothers of ours
Who cover theyselves cause they’re lovers of God
The Creator of the worlds, Sculptor of the stars,
During Hajj we walk, through Ramadan we starve
Though you not eatin’, there’s a feedin’ of the mind
A defeatin’ of the demons, a seein’ of the signs
Some of your favorite rappers are also affiliated with The Nation of Islam, most notably Nas, Gang Starr, Rakim, and several members of the Wu-Tang Clan. Nas’s album “I Am…” features Surah al-Nas from the Quran on the inside booklet, a play on both his name and the meaning of the passage, which means “Mankind.”
Islam’s influence on the genre has been so great, The Nation of Islam was once called “hip-hop’s unofficial religion.” Now you know.
13. And let’s not forget about incredible athletes like Hakeem Olajuwon.
There are some people out there who, shockingly, can’t name you a single Muslim American athlete. And to that, I scoff. I’m talking about Kareem Abdul Jabbar, NBA’s all-time leading scorer and a six-time NBA champion. I’m taking about Hakeem Olajuwon, another basketball legend, along with Shaquille O’Neal, Rasheed Wallace, and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. And there’s no way you can forget about Muhammad Ali, the most iconic boxer of all time.
But wait – there’s even more where that came from.
14. No, American Muslim women are not “oppressed.”
This has probably become the singular line used to defend the appearance of Muslim women who choose to don the headscarf, also called a hijab. Now, listen here: Muslim women aren’t forced to dress in a particular way. We are free to make our own empowered choices, and that’s our right, both as Muslims and as women.
15. No matter what people think, the biggest victims of terrorism are actually Muslims.
Globally, there are more Muslims who suffer at the hands of terrorism than any other faith population. While you continue to label “radical Islamic extremism” as the biggest threat to American national security, between 82-97% of terrorism victims are actually Muslims.
16. Almost half of all American Muslims experience racial or religious discrimination.
Let’s be real: that’s an incredibly high statistic. Racial or religious discrimination against Muslims has manifested itself everywhere, be it at work, the classroom, and even on the road.
The divisive anti-Muslim rhetoric we see in today’s media is at an all-time high, exacerbated by the onset of the 2016 elections. In turn, we’re seeing an increase in discrimination some are arguing is even worse than the ensuing months post-9/11.
17. But only 27% of Americans polled think well of their Muslim neighbors.
See a pattern?
Besides facing discrimination, Muslims are also the frequent victims of public harassment and assault. Not to mention the fact that mosques around the country have been defaced, vandalized, and specifically targeted by KKK supporters.
18. Despite the backlash we face in the media, we’re honestly pretty funny.
“Comedy missionaries” Aasif Mandvi, Aziz Ansari, David Chapelle, Dean Obeidallah, and Maysoon Zayid are some of the funniest Muslim Americans who are combatting ignorance with laughter. Mandvi’s work with The Daily Show has given him a space to explore his identity as an Indian-American Muslim, and Ansari’s iconic performance as Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation has quite aptly solidified him as a household name.
Obeidallah and Zayid teamed up this year to found Muslim Funny Fest, the first comedy festival of its kind. “Most people don’t know how funny Muslims can be and the goal of this festival is to make it clear that Muslim comedians are hilarious,” as declared on the site.
As a self-proclaimed pun enthusiast, I’m inclined to agree with them on this one.
19. American Muslims make sure to give back to their communities and participate in social justice initiatives.
Many Muslims have responded to the increase in Islamophobia with social justice activism, involvement in the political process, and public education. 75% of American Muslims report to have donated or assisted local charities, and over 30% report working to solve a problem or improving their local communities.
Not to mention, one of the five pillars of Islam requires us to give charity (zakat). 2.5% of one’s wealth is to be set aside annually to benefit those who are less fortunate; its distribution is up to the discretion of the individual. Charity is also typically given at the end of Ramadan, called zakat-al-fitr.
20. They’re so far-reaching, they’ve even made it to space.
Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian-American Muslim woman, broke several records when she became the first female private space explorer in 2006. Her solo expedition consisted of 8 days aboard the International Space Station. While she was in space, she maintained a blog about her experiences that garnered over 50 million hits from all around the world.
On top of all that, Ansari’s also an entrepreneur – she’s acting CEO and co-founder of her company, Prodea Systems.
As someone who was (and still is) obsessed with space at a young age, this is just too cool to me.