Muslims in America
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Before 9/11, when Americans thought of terrorism within their own borders, they thought of men like Ted Kaczynski the Unabomber, or Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols of the Oklahoma City bombing. After 9/11 Muslim Americans came under intense scrutiny and even suspicion by some.
The attacks brought American Muslims of different ethnic backgrounds closer together. Previously, Muslims of South Asian, Arab, or African American backgrounds did not often mix. After the tragedy, cultural differences began to seem less important. September 11 had begun to reshape the Muslim experience in America.
What I found on my journey was mostly a wide embrace of the American dream. Each Muslim American community has its own special character. Dearborn, Michigan, an old manufacturing town, is home to many Arab residents, both Muslim and Christian. About 30,000 Arabs, most of them Muslim, live in the city of almost 100,000 people.
At first glance, Dearborn looks like Anytown, USA, especially if you expect to see quick, obvious signs of Arab traditions. Instead, Middle Eastern and Middle American characteristics blend together, both in glimpses on the street or in depth behind closed doors.
Smoke from a Ford Motor Company factory billows full and grey-white in the sharp winter sun. An Iraqi American boy arriving at the mosque sports a leather jacket decorated with an American flag. Teenage girls run around in jeans and tank tops in the summer. Endless strip malls line the main thoroughfare.
On a private school’s basketball court, young Shiite grade-school children wear white robes and circle a black, cardboard replica of the Ka’aba at Mecca. They throw cotton balls instead of stones at the devil as they learn to make the pilgrimage—one of the five pillars of Islam.
I attended a fashion show just for Muslim women; watched volleyball practice where religious Muslim girls in hijab played alongside unobservant girls in shorts; and visited a therapy center for victims of torture, most of them from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Young Lebanese American men smoked argila (water pipes) on the sidewalk and watched women go by at a classic American street carnival with cotton candy, rides, games, and face-painting.