Muslims have a long history in the United States

Muslims have a long history in the United States, dating back to the founding of the republic. Some of the first Muslims in America arrived as slaves, while others came from the Ottoman Empire to work as farmhands and peddlers. The oldest existing mosque in America, built in 1934, sits improbably on a quiet residential street in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Today, the United States is home to one of the most diverse Muslim communities in the world, with a total population estimated between three and six million people.

Before September 11th, the American Muslim community showed little appetite for large-scale political participation. A large number of Muslims, relatively recent immigrants to the United States, focused on settling down, raising their children and earning a living. Many came from dictatorships – countries where the democratic process was either completely unknown, or largely irrelevant, so they didn’t trust the system. September 11th accelerated the community’s learning curve dramatically. Now, Muslims are realizing that they must stand up for their rights, as minorities before them have done, and voice their concerns about issues involving civil liberties, immigration law, and the Patriot Act. New American Muslim spiritual leaders are stepping forward to teach an Islam that is tolerant, peaceful and in synch with American values and culture.

9/11 galvanized Muslim Americans and forced them to become active participants through advocacy and by running for office. Attendance at mosques around the county has risen as American Muslims have chosen to practice their faith more openly and challenge the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam that justifies violence in the name of the religion.

Historically a social gathering point for university students, Muslim Student Associations are faced with the dual challenges of integrating the different immigrant and indigenous Muslim cultures while taking on the task of serving as ambassadors of their faith; reaching out to non-Muslims to forge a greater understanding of Islam. Many are more observant than their parents, yet they are searching for a Muslim identity that allows them to integrate American culture while being true to Islam.



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