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June 24, 1999
The 'Invisible Muslims' Of America
Arthur J Pais in New York
Recent Muslim immigrants in America have behaved the same way as the English when they first landed in America and pretended the indigenous Indians did not exist, a black Muslim complained at a panel discussion on Islamic Diaspora held at Asia Society on June 22. "The British acted as if they discovered America," he said with a sigh.
African American Muslims have practiced their faith in America for several centuries, he said but many recent immigrants thought and behaved as if they had brought Islam into America.
To them African American Muslims were "invisible," he said, suggesting that many new Muslim immigrants did not want to do anything with the former. Instead of going to the existing mosques, the newer immigrants built their own Bangladeshi, Pakistani or Turkish mosques, he complained.
Munir Jiwa, one of the panelists and a research associate at Columbia University, acknowledged that many immigrants shunned their African American brethren. Jiwa, an Isma'ili Muslim who grew up in East Africa, said that many in his community were seeking to "correct" their racial attitude.
Naeem Mohaiemen, another panelist who is a correspondent for The Daily Star in Bangladesh, said immigrants often pick up "signals" from the mainstream media and begin stereotyping African Americans.
However, many Muslim immigrants from the subcontinent resent the charge of racism by African American Muslims.
"For many of us, who feel insecure in America, having our own mosque where we can talk to people from our part of the world in our own languages means a lot," says Aziz Mohammad, a grocery store owner in New York. "To us a mosque is much more than a place of worship. It is also a cultural center, a place to meet our friends and relatives," he adds.
Other Muslim immigrants feel the Nation of Islam and other African American Islamic groups are not following the orthodox tenets.
"Some of the African American leaders say bad things about Arab Muslims and about Muslims in Pakistan and India," said one Muslim immigrant from Hyderabad. "They accuse us, using terrible words, Arabs of carrying on the slave trade many centuries ago."
"How can we feel comfortable with such people?" he asks.
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