The Montana World Affairs Council is excited to present a 9-16 grade discussion with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Named one of Time Magazine’s most influential people in the world in 2011, the Imam has devoted his career to healing relations between Muslim-Americans and their neighbors, while bringing the message of peace to the wider Muslim world.
In conjunction with World History, Geography, and Social Studies curriculum, the discussion with Imam Feisal will supplement and enhance students’ understanding of Islam. Imam will address topics such as cultural issues, getting to know American Muslims and their faith, and common myths and misperceptions about Muslims.
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The Montana World Affairs Council Presents
Council in the Classroom
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
“A History of Muslims in America”
The following passages are taken from an article titled American Muslims that was collaboratively published by the Bureau of International Information Programs and the United States Department of State. The full article can be accessed on their website at http://photos.state.gov/libraries/amgov/30145/publications-english/American_Muslims.pdf
From American Muslims, by Samier Mansur
The story of the United States began with the story of religious freedom. From the halls of government to the archives of history, it is a story that has reaffirmed itself time and again. It is a story that continues to shape the nation today. In a world where many countries must come to terms with increasing diversity brought about by the triple forces of globalization, technology and travel, there is a lesson in the experience of the United States and the forging of American identity. It is a lesson that is embodied in the Latin words inscribed on the seal of the United States, and sums up the central theme of the American identity— “E Pluribus Unum”: out of many, one.
A few years ago I was doing research in the main reading room of the Library of Congress in Washington, when I took a short break to stretch my neck. As I stared up at the ornately painted dome 160 feet above me, the muscles in my neck loosened—and my eyes widened in surprise at what they saw. Painted on the library’s central dome were 12 winged men and women representing the epochs and influences that contributed to the advancement of civilization. Seated among these luminaries of history was a bronze-toned figure, depicted with a scientific instrument in a pose of deep thought. Next to him a plaque heralded the influence he represented: Islam. The fact that the world’s largest library, just steps from the U.S. Capitol, pays homage to the intellectual achievements of Muslims—alongside those of other groups—affirms a central tenet of American identity: The United States is not only a nation born of diversity, but one that thrives because of diversity. And this is not by accident, but by design.
The country’s founders recognized that the fragile alliance of states that made up the early United States would survive only if it could unify its diverse, competing—and at times, conflicting—religious and ethnic groups into the fold of a new, collective national identity. Without creative and inclusive solutions, the fragile nation could easily crumble in the face of sectarian divisions. The creative solution the founders devised was a Constitution that placed above all else the individual’s right to freedom of religious worship and thought. It was only fitting that a land founded upon the promise of freedom would begin first with freedom inside the heart and mind of the individual.
Muslim immigration to the United States began in the late 19th century, from regions under Ottoman Empire rule including today’s Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Syria and Turkey. Most immigrants settled in large urban centers like New York City, Chicago and Detroit. According to scholar Alixa Naff, they often became peddlers, an occupation that took them to North Dakota, South Dakota and rural parts of Iowa, Michigan and Illinois.
In her book Becoming American: The Early Arab Immigrant Experience, Naff cites a 1967 newspaper account of Muslims from Damascus who settled near Crookston, Minnesota, around 1902: “At first these pioneer Moslems peddled their wares on foot throughout North Dakota, but used horse and buggy when they could afford it. Some of the more successful bargainers were even able to purchase automobiles.”
They liked North Dakota and, Naff writes, “clustered in three localities—the Stanley-Ross area, Rolla-Dunseith, and Glenfield-Binford…And when they had saved and borrowed enough money and had learned the rudiments of the language, they became homesteaders or operated small stores.” Ross, North Dakota, was the site of the earliest known U.S. mosque, built in 1929.
Naff quotes an early Muslim immigrant to the Chicago area: “I came to Chicago in 1912 with my brother. At that time we already had an uncle and a cousin here. They got us a furnished room on 18th Street and the very next day after our arrival, we started to work. In those days the Arabs had a couple of wholesale dry goods stores on 18th Street where us peddlers used to get our stock. We carried a suitcase in which there was linen tablecloths, napkins, small rugs, handkerchiefs and stuff like that.”
Meanwhile, on North America’s Pacific Coast, South Asian immigrants began coming to the United States via Canada or the Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco. Called “Hindus,” they were, in fact, mostly Punjabi Sikhs and Muslims from India. The latter made up about 10 to 12 percent of the early immigrants, according to scholar Karen Isaksen Leonard, who has written extensively about South Asian Americans. Young men seeking their fortunes worked on farms, in railway construction or in lumber mills throughout the West until they could buy or lease land. Those few who could afford it attended universities, favoring the University of California at Berkeley.
Once laws restricting immigration from Asia to the United States were repealed in 1965, opening the door again to migrants from predominantly Muslim countries, many more Muslims immigrated. Immigration laws were further relaxed to allow family members to join relatives already in the United States. Other laws encouraged skilled individuals to migrate. Enough took the opportunity to become Americans that today American Muslims are found all over the United States, in every kind of occupation.