The negative perception of Muslim-Americans in the media is completely inaccurate.
As an American, most of what I knew about Muslim-Americans before I met my husband was through the negative influence of the media, and its widespread belief that this demographic was dangerous and anti-American. I knew not all Muslims-Americans were bad, but it was only since I had a personal connection with one that I began to understand how wrong the media really was.
In a Gallup Poll, it shows that Muslim Americans are less likely to agree with killing civilians than any other religious group within the country. In a survey conducted on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Muslim Americans stated that their religious leaders were not doing enough to stop violence by Islamic extremists.
Muslims were some of the earliest immigrants.
Currently, 63 percent of Muslim Americans are immigrants. This statistic was not surprising to me, due to the recent increase in immigration coming from Muslim countries in conflict like Iraq and Syria. What was surprising though was that Muslims immigrated long before this century, when between a quarter and a third of African slaves that were brought to the U.S. were believed to be Muslim, but were forced to convert to Christianity.
A little over a third of Muslim Americans adults were born in the U.S., while 15 percent are second-generation and have one or both of their parents born outside of the country. U.S. cities with the largest populations of Muslim Americans include Detroit, Washington D.C. and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Muslim Americans have a high level of education.
Due to language barriers and economic hardships (especially those who had to flee their country) I assumed that Muslim Americans had a lower level of education than other religious groups in the U.S. It turns out that I was completely wrong, and Muslim Americans boost the second-highest level of education of any major religious group in the U.S. after Jews. Not only are they well-educated, but they also have a higher percentage of college-educated individuals than the general U.S. population.
Unfortunately, there has been an increase in hate crimes recently against Muslim Americans at places like universities and colleges around the country.
Gender inequality is not rampant in Muslim American culture.
Before I met my husband, I knew only of Muslim women being required to cover their head in some countries like Saudi Arabia, and not being allowed to go out in public unless they were with a male family member or their husband. For me, this translated to Muslim American women in the U.S. being treated the same way, but once again I was wrong. Muslim women are not the submissive housewives that they are often perceived to be. In the U.S. they have the same rights and freedoms as all other citizens and they take full advantage of that.
Ibtihaj Muhammad, an Olympic fencer who competed in Rio made history as the first U.S. athlete to wear a hijab during competition. She also became the first Muslim-American female to win an Olympic medal, when she won the bronze as part of Team USA. Other notable Muslim American women include Farah Pandith, who was appointed as the Special Representative to Muslim Communities and who reported directly to the Secretary of State, and Ilyasha Shabazz, an activist and motivational speaker who is the daughter of Malcolm X.
Not all Muslim-Americans are alike when it comes to culture, religion, and ethnic backgrounds.
Before I met my husband, I did not really understand how culturally, religiously, and ethnically diverse Muslim-Americans could be. I thought most of them had heritage from the Middle Eastern region of the world, but I soon learned that they also come from Asian countries like Indonesia (the largest Muslim country), and West African countries like Nigeria. All Muslim-Americans have unique religious and cultural traditions that define their specific ethnic identities.
Like any religion in the U.S., there is also a wide spectrum of religious beliefs within the American Muslim community. Some attend religious services at a mosque every week, and some do not but still identify with Muslim religious beliefs.
Not all Muslim women cover their heads.
I have come to realize that for Muslim American women, the subject of wearing a headscarf in the U.S. is a complex topic. On the one hand, this may be their religious preference, and in a democratic country, they have every right to wear it. On the other hand, there is an increasing fear of Islamophobia, and these women realize that they risk drawing unwanted attention in public or being stereotyped in a certain way.
There are also American women who are practicing Muslims, who prefer not to cover their head. It is completely up to the personal preference of the individual woman.
I’ve realized that Islam is not a political movement.
To be honest, before I met my husband, I didn’t know exactly what Islam was in the context of the U.S., and whether or not it was a political platform. In Muslim countries around the world, politics and religion are often intertwined, but in the U.S. this isn’t the case. Muslim Americans are proud to participate in U.S. politics, where around 70 percent identify as Democrat and 11 percent as Republican.
I also learned that like most major religions in the U.S., politics can often find their way into influencing these groups. An example of this is Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish preacher and political figure, who resides in Pennsylvania in self-imposed exile. The current president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has accused Gulen of being involved in a failed coup in Turkey, but the U.S. government does not agree.