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  1. 1. The struggle to retain Islamic Heritage 1 The Struggle to Retain Islamic Heritage When Surrounded by Discrimination Spencer Peak California State University Monterey Bay
  2. 2. The struggle to retain Islamic Heritage 2 Adolescence, to paraphrase Charles Dickens, may be the best of times and worst of times. It is during adolescence that both body and mind are drastically changing. During these years, children become adults as they make choices and experiment with morality while dealing with a variety of external pressures. The difficulty of making appropriate decisions coupled with the desire to “fit in” leads many teenagers down a path laden with grief and often discomfort. With the proliferation of Islamophobia perpetuated by the media, there is a greater divide between americans and Middle Easterners. In this paper, I will examine how Muslims keep their next generation loyal. Through the school system that introduces the struggle for most Muslim Americans, to the language that is spoken at home, we look at the struggle and irony of living in such a diverse, hate-filled society. Taking one step further and looking at post 9/11 treatment and xenophobia, we will look at how the community is held together through adaptation, ethnic self- identification and the will to be heard as a unified culture in America. Children often deal with crushing realities. Because they’re so young and unexposed to problems, dealing with a serious problem can be detrimental to a child's health. Childhood bullying is a problems that forces children to face problems and circumstances that their minds are simply not ready for. Without having the time or experience to build coping skills, insults hurt so much more. According to Marvasti (2004), “Educational discrimination is one of the key elements in structural or cyclical discrimination.” (pg. 131) This discrimination is so difficult for children just looking to “fit in”. When someone emphasizes the differences in children who already feel ostracized because of physical disparities, it only further fuels the alienation they feel toward their peers. This has the potential to affect the rest of their lives and makes learning
  3. 3. The struggle to retain Islamic Heritage 3 even harder. Marvasti’s interview of an Iranian American woman showed “that children, who usually don’t an interest in politics, become so enraged as to call a classmate a terrorist based on her appearance alone shows how pervasive stereotypes of Middle Eastern Americans have become.” (pg 133) The reality for Middle Eastern American children, is that they are simply not seen as equals by their peers. Whether its their names, clothes, or color of skin, these children are constantly criticized for what is out of their control. Furthermore, this discrimination shows blatant disregard and ignorance for Middle Eastern culture and religion. Some critics say teachers should teach more of distant cultures to encompass more than just the US. As Arabs in America (1999) state, “Teachers can act as filters for ethnicity. Given that they are usually the primary adult contact outside the home and that they are sanctioned by the larger community to instruct youth, their power is considerable.” (pg. 118-119) Teachers are one of the few people who shape the decision making paradigm of future generations. If they were able to add respect for different cultures into their academic curriculum, children would have more of a respectful base from which to formulate their opinions. Lacking teaching of Muslim ideology Kayyali (2006) notes, “teaching of religion is barred in the US public school educational system , prompting the establishment of islamic schools”. (pg. 96) These private institutions, for preschool through 8th grade, were established for those who wished to reinforce the teachings from home in their school life. Through reinforced teaching of muslim culture, these children are taken out a of a harmful environment and taken away from many forms of abuse. This strengthens their familiarity with their culture and provides a safe, supportive ambiance. Muslim tradition is often far more conservative than that of american counterparts. When regarding the hierarchical nature of a Muslim family, Kayyali (2006) writes “ the expectation of obedience by parents have proved to be issues of contention for their children.” (pg. 69) These
  4. 4. The struggle to retain Islamic Heritage 4 parents are having issues with disciplining their children. Children are surrounded by American- style teaching which promotes more liberal and loose rules from within the household. Often the Muslim family must negotiate with their children and often succumb to American culture, showing a slow alteration in ideology congruent with most immigrant cultures. This is also seen in the way language is treated. In many schools, Limited English Proficiency (LEP) classes are established for students without english fluency. Muslim American parents recognize that schools and teachers have a strong influence on their children and think that “the public school system tries to eradicate immigrant culture through homogenization.” (pg. 70) Most parents who feel this way choose to homeschool their children or enroll them in private muslim schools. However, if one can afford neither of these options, children are often enrolled in public school where these LEP classes turn these immigrant children to more western-minded thinkers. One way this is most prevalent is in the language of these Muslim Americans. Often, they are criticized by older generations for only speaking “kitchen arabic”. This halfway point where they are no longer accepted by americans or their ancestors causes issues. A type of hate from older generations and by a lot of misunderstanding from american leaves this individual in a type of limbo area where they belong to neither cultures and instead start to form their own. Being Muslim in the United States is becoming more and more of a race as Americans categorize Arab and South asian as ethnic affiliations. The rise of Islam in the recent decade has taken on a more nationalistic meaning. Kayyali (2006) sees this as “more people claim that there is a clash of civilizations between the West/Christianity and East/Islam.” (pg. 94) This growing divide was only so much more accentuated by the events of 9/11. “The events of 9/11 and the backlash against Muslim Americans and the rise in Islamic consciousness have accentuated the growing rift between moderates and revivalists and between the generations.” (pg 94) Kayyali
  5. 5. The struggle to retain Islamic Heritage 5 points out how the 9/11’s events had such a strong, adverse effect on muslims in America. Not only was more hate thrust on them, but they also feel the need to prove their innocence. After 9/11, muslim americans experienced so much more violence from Americans. In one instance Marvasti (2004) writes about a man with a beard who was jumped by a bunch of guys and broke the windshield of his car with a beer bottle. “This kind of behavior seemed to be a way for some people to relieve their frustration, anger, and sense of helplessness after the attacks, at expense of their fellow citizens.” (pg. 140) This jingoistic discrimination is something felt at one time or another by all Muslims living in America. Even two years after the twin towers came down, Muslim Americans are constantly on guard or suspicious of what could potentially happen to them. America’s diversity is also not much of a consolation as Mary Cooper (1993) states, “Diversity does not always translate into racial harmony, despite Islam's call for tolerance and non-discrimination.” (“Muslims in America”) Even though so many people could understand what these Muslim Americans are going through, people do little to stand up for them. Soon, the racial profiling was systematically perpetrated in an effort to protect America. Seen through the Patriot Act, TSA laws and the manifestation of government agencies to look for terrorists within our own borders, Muslim Americans often feel threatened. Constantly living in this fear with a threat always above you, is a type of atmosphere that many people don't have to live through. Most Muslims saw 9/11 as a chance to educate others about the truth in their religion. However, they weren’t ready for media’s portrayal of the events. Kayyali (2006) shared the inaccuracy and struggle of Muslim Americans to listen to Media’s portrayal of their religion. “Moderate American Muslims heard the real meaning of Islam being defined by non- Muslims who did not understand or agree with their religious tenets… The videotapes from Al-Qaeda used the Quran to justify mass murder were played over and over U.S.
  6. 6. The struggle to retain Islamic Heritage 6 news channels; then scholars and politicians quoted back Al-Qaeda statements as ‘true’ reflections of the Muslim viewpoint.” (pg. 144) Muslims were forced to suffer in silence as the greater majority of americans minimized their religion as a summary of violence. The media reinforced an epistemological view of violent extremist muslims. Bad translations and inaccurate quotes from the Quran left the American public with no understanding of Islam as a religion dedicated to peace. After the attacks, many muslims responded by emphasizing and outwardly displaying their patriotism for the US. Kayyali wrote “More than 80 percent of Arab Americans showed solidarity with the victims of 9/11 by flying a U.S. flag, giving money or donating blood.” (pg. 145) Looking at all of the violence perpetrated toward Muslim americans with little to no responding violence shows how viable the preaching of islam as a religion of peace really is. Kayyali notes how muslims are constantly surrounded by hate and misunderstanding; how this forms a one way, temporal bond that sees “muslim inherently backward and inferior to mainstream to white culture.” (pg 139) If this culture is always being tested with hate and misunderstood with ignorance, how is that Islam is still on the rise? What holds people to their Islamic Heritage? When Muslims can simply change location and be treated differently, what holds them and allows them to persevere here in America? Muslims in america have learned to persevere through difficulty and hardships like most cultures in america. They hold a record amount of people to their religion and now are on the rise. Through ethnogenesis, panethnic groups, integration, ethnic self identification and interconnectedness Muslims feel an important balance to the culture in which they reside. This is so important because the re identification of these key ideas can help other cultures enter into a society and transpond from a place of self actualization to a place where the surrounding
  7. 7. The struggle to retain Islamic Heritage 7 community also recognizes and respects their policies. The ability to adapt is something most all immigrants must learn to do. Transforming one’s own beliefs and identities to ideas is a necessary skill to fit into a desired culture. As Cooper (1993) Quotes Haddad, “To work around life in the United States, many American Muslims now go to mosques for services on Sunday, rather than at noon on Friday, the traditional Islamic holy day. It's not the preferred time to go and pray, but they have made it into a very interesting institution.” (“Muslims in America”) The americanization of this religion has legitimized the sacrifice of key religious elements. The religion may suffer, but entrance into an accepted society is also important. Most Muslim Americans find a nice balance between their religion and what the American culture desires from them. Haddad (2014) writes about the ability to “integrate Islam into the mainstream of American psyches and culture have been activist youth programs” (“Post 9/11”) These youth groups offered to Muslim youth are essential for spreading the ideas and peace of islam at a faster rate and ensuring little is taken out of context. In such a digital world, it is easy to research in an instant but it is also easy to see things on a scrren and instantly assume they are true. These youth groups conquer stereotypes and show how Muslims are so peaceful and similar to other religions. As a country, America is composed of an assortment of ethnic minorities. If one look at the history of these minorities, it can be seen that they all form coalitions where they can band together as a unit to combat discrimination, share stories or just share a heritage and speak a common tongue. Marvasti (2006) quoted a term “ethnogenesis” as “a process by which ethnic practices or groups are formed by combining ‘old’ and ‘new’ cultural elements, sometimes in response to nativistic attacks.” (pg. 148) One can see why ethnogenesis can be of such importance to an ethnic minority. The values of a culture are being weighed, valued and
  8. 8. The struggle to retain Islamic Heritage 8 combined or dropped. In fact, in american history, ethnic groups are often formed in response to economic and political oppression. As Gowricharn (2013) believes, ethnogenesis “describe the ‘emergence’ of ethnic groups as a response to external circumstances.” (“Ethnogenesis”) He believes it is a combination of external pressures and “that the initiatives of ethnic leaders are crucial in this regard.” (“Ethnogenesis”) These external pressures are a combination of bullying, discrimination and ignorance from the people surrounding the ethnic majority. These attitudes toward Muslim Americans are seen as pressures from outside that establish a unity within their own culture. This unity can be establish and linked together by someone who takes charge and steps up as a leader. When change occurs, often people need someone to look to in times of hardship. This individuals often shape the peacefulness of the ethnogenesis and how people portray their feelings of discontent. Often people turn inward but sometimes individuals do the exact opposite. These feelings of infidelity and always feeling less-than manifest in a way that portrays muslims as hate-filled radicalists. Islamic extremism is seen in few Muslims but the US has normalized a view of terrorists as anyone who wears a type of headdress or has a large beard. Another response mechanism is the forming of Panethnic groups of support. Defined by Marvasti (2004), these groups are”the coming together of people from different linguistic, cultural, religious or national backgrounds.” (pg. 149) Often these groups are misrepresented or misrecognized by others and lumped into one single unifying group that may not do each group justice. Being pointed out as foreigners and potential enemies does give a certain unifying factor to most all panethnic groups who undergo the same discrimination. For Muslim Americans, a sense of shared text and culture, no matter religion or ethnicity, has a unifying effect. For Many Muslim Americans, the problem is to overcome “their status as second-class citizens.” (pg. 155) The idea of interconnectedness that is shared among most Muslim Americans combats the
  9. 9. The struggle to retain Islamic Heritage 9 second class citizen status. As Kayyali states, “New immigrants tend to move to certain neighborhoods or suburbs to be close to people from their families, villages or cities of origin.” (pg. 66) This grouping of similar ethnicities helps with the transition of becoming american. Surrounding oneself with similar attributes that one would be familiar with combat the tension of living in such a diverse, misunderstood community. This Ethnic self identification helps immigrants retain their religion and perpetuate a community of shared ideals. The youth of America have proliferated with the use of technology to portray their religion and seek support. As Haddad (2014) states “Muslim American youth have set out to integrate Islam into the American popular conception of religious pluralism and diversity through the modern avenues of networking, blogging, events on college campuses, and conferences and seminars open to the public that cater to non-Muslims around the country” (“Post 9/11”) The attempt of Muslim youth to integrate Muslim ideology into everyday online life shows a desire to be understood the proper way. I recently interviewed Dunia, a Muslim American student at UC Davi. I learned a lot about the struggle of a second generation Syrian coming to terms with her Islamic roots. Coming from a liberal background, her parents didn’t offer as much support for her muslim heritage but when she went to college, she was embraced by a large community of Muslims. This large Ethnogenesis became apparent even as Dunia started her own Muslim American Sorority (Epsilon Alpha Sigma) where arabs, muslims and all panethnic groups could show their solidarity. Often tabling for her sorority and ensuring that her and her sister’s voices are heard as a common unit. Interviewing Dunia, I learned the strength that she felt for her religion and passion she directed toward every aspect of her life.
  10. 10. The struggle to retain Islamic Heritage 10 All through America, Muslim American are constantly treated as second-class citizens. From Islamophobia, discrimination and a failure to find solidarity within their own culture, children are ostracized from their community and the larger country from which they come. America, a country that boasts of diversity, acceptance, and an american dream is often one of the most hate filled nations. Muslim Americans do a great job at combating all of the negativity thrown in their direction. Through Ethnogenesis, support from panethnic groups and a solidarity seen in communities, Muslim Americans hold close to their cultural heritage and promote acceptance of different viewpoints. Understanding that peers are united in the fight against discrimination gives new meaning to the fight against ignorance. This unification and support from so many different aspects has a negligible effect defeating the negativity that the American public thrust at Muslims. Perhaps Americans should take a critical look at themselves as they try to understand the reasons many other parts of the world don’t like them. The ways in which Americans treat different points of view is combated by religious diversity. The Addition and proliferation of Muslims in America can go a long way to changing America’s view of different cultures and can negligibly affect how America responds to immigrants in the future.
  11. 11. The struggle to retain Islamic Heritage 11 References Arabs in America : Building a New Future. (1999). Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Bayoumi, M. , & Bayoumi, M. (2009). How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? : Being Young and Arab in America. New York: Penguin Books. Cooper, M. H. (1993, April 30). Muslims in America. CQ Researcher, 3, 361-384. Glazer, S. (2007, November). Radical Islam in Europe. In CQ Researcher. Haddad, Y. , & Harb, N. (2014). Post-9/11: Making islam an american religion. Religions, 5(2), 477-501. Hartmann, L. (2012, August 7). Islamic sectarianism. CQ Global Researcher, 6, 353-376.
  12. 12. The struggle to retain Islamic Heritage 12 Jost, L. (n.d.). Religion in Schools. In CQ Resercher. Kayyali, R. (2006). The Arab Americans. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. Maira, S. (2004). Youth Culture, Citizenship and Globalization: South Asian Muslim Youth in the United States after September 11th. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 24(1), 219-231. Marvasti, A. , & McKinney, K. (2004). Middle Eastern Lives in America. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Prothero, S. (2010). God is Not One : The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter. New York: HarperOne