An Invisible Minority
Muslim American children are being taunted for their faith, according to numerous reports across the country. The visibility of children with dark skin — many bullied for being Muslim even when they are not — contrasts sharply with the invisibility of the Muslim American community in American society. The lack of recognition of Muslim Americans stems, ironically, from the fact that they are “highly assimilated” into American society, according to a Pew Center study. Here are a few facts to add color to this report:
1. The majority of Muslim Americans report that their “best friend” is non-Muslim.
2. 42% of Muslim Americans support same-sex marriage rights, as do both Muslim elected officials in the Congress, one of whom is vice-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus. By contrast, per 2014 polls 57% of “Republican leaning voters, 67% of “Conservative Republicans,” and 78% of evangelical Christians oppose marriage rights for same-sex couples. (Much progress is needed across the board on this issue; my aim is to gesture at relative levels of assimilation.)
3. Muslim Americans include tens of thousands of doctors, engineers, and academics in the United States, including Nobel Prize winner Ahmed Zewail, the father of femtochemistry and a senior professor at CalTech.
4. While Muslims face significant discrimination (in one study, Christian Americans are 850% more likely to get a job interview than Muslim Americans applying for the same position), poor, resourceful Muslim immigrants have achieved substantial income and wealth through small businesses, in many cases due to funding from Asian-owned banks specializing in loans to south, east, and west Asians.
5. South Asians, including many Muslims, own 40–60% of the hotels and control over 30% of the hotel rooms in this country (more than Marriott will own after buying Starwood Hotels). They also own more than half the convenience stores in the country, generating more than $100 billion in revenue from that industry alone.
6. Muslim Americans are playing a significant role in technology, not only in start-ups but also in venture capital. A number of multi-billion dollar technology IPOs were funded by Muslim American-owned or run venture capital funds in Silicon Valley.
7. Muslim Americans have contributed immensely to the country’s cultural life, from designing the Sears (now Willis) and Hancock towers in Chicago to contributing to the jazz and hip hop revolutions in music — two uniquely American cultural innovations.
It is no understatement to say that the invisibility of this highly productive and diverse community has become a national security issue. ISIS is feeding off a small sliver of alienated and disaffected Americans of Muslim descent. So far, only a few dozen out of 3 million Muslim Americans have successfully left the country to join ISIS. The increasingly hateful rhetoric from politicians, the media, and citizens and the rising violence against Muslim Americans, however, may hamper efforts to fight alienation and just might help radicalize the next terrorist. It’s time actively to correct misperceptions of this invisible minority as part of the response to the ignorance, fear, and ceaseless vitriol of Islamophobia.
Hassanaly Ladha is Assistant Professor in the Department of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages at the University of Connecticut.