“The Philadelphia Enquirer"
Muslim, Arab and then American
Mohammad Ali Salih
is a Washington correspondent for the London-based “Asharq Alawsat,” an international Arabic newspaper.
The Pew Research Center's first-ever, nationwide survey of Muslim Americans, released last week, found them largely assimilated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world. They did say, however, that since 9/11, they found it more difficult to be a Muslim in the United States and that the government has singled out Muslims for increased surveillance.
Interestingly, the survey found that almost half of the respondents considered themselves Muslim first and Americans second.
Last year, in Mecca and Main Street: Muslim Life in America After 9/11, author Geneive Abdo declared, "The real story of American Muslims is one of accelerating alienation from the mainstream of U.S. life, with Muslims in this country choosing their Islamic identity over their American one."
So, is there a contradiction between being an American and a Muslim?
Not for me. I am Muslim first, Arab second and American third.
My relation to God is the core of my identity. It supersedes my relations to countries and peoples and is separate from my citizenship.
Before I became a U.S. Citizen, pledged allegiance to its constitution, and carried its passport, I was a citizen of Sudan, obeyed its rules, and carried its passport. If, in the future, I became a citizen of, say, China, followed its rules, and carried its passport, I still believe my relation to God would be paramount.
I am Arab because Arabic is my native tongue, the core of my culture. I think, talk, write (and dream) mostly in Arabic. I have a foreign accent (and get tired of people asking me where I came from, to repeat what I say, and praising me for speaking "good" English).
I know I am not "mainstream" American. I don't know how many innings are in baseball, never played golf, don't understand most Chris Rock jokes, and can't follow New Yorker-type fast talkers. Perhaps it would be different if I had been born in America, or had come (and spoken English) at a young age. On the other hand, aren't there Chinese and Latinos who came, became citizens of, lived in and died in America while speaking mostly their native languages? Does that make them less American?
My love for America started long before I came here, by reading, writing, thinking and dreaming about America- in Arabic. My religion was never an obstacle and actually was an incentive. I dreamed of worshiping God in America the way I wanted, with no restrictions from oppressive Islamic governments, medieval sharia scholars, and the people around me.
But, like love that develops into marriage, I had to come to America and become a citizen to be a full American. And, like pledging to a marriage, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God." That's when I said to myself: "God is paramount here, too."
Previous Pew polls showed that 42 percent of Christians identify with their religion before their country. Among white evangelicals, 62 percent identified themselves as Christians first. That doesn't make them less American.
I never thought I was so close to the evangelicals. Maybe I could say that I am evangelical first, Arab second and American third.
Contact Mohammad Ali Salih at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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