” Islam hates us.” That was a recurring theme of your campaign, Mr. President-elect.
And who can blame you? After all, your top advisors on Muslim affairs — Ann Coulter, Frank Gaffney, and Walid Phares — are card-carrying Islamophobes. Your incoming national security advisor, retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, wants Muslim leaders to “declare their Islamic ideology sick,” and your special advisor, Steve Bannon, has been accused of using his Breitbart News Daily radio show to instigate “fear and loathing of Muslims in America.”
But now that you’ve announced it’s time for America to “bind the wounds of division,” it might be useful for you to learn a little bit more about one of the most alienated segments of the nation you now lead: American citizens who also happen to be Muslims.
I get that you’re worried about what you call “radical Islamic terrorism.” I’ve been reporting on extremists who claim to represent Islam since I covered the first anti-American suicide bombings in Beirut in the early 1980s, so I share your concern. I’ve seen friends die and others waste away in captivity at their hands. And I’ve come awfully close to being a victim myself a few times. But I’ve also learned that Muslims come in many colors — literally and figuratively — and my doctorate in Islamic studies helped me understand that the religion itself is interpreted in many different ways. In fact, America’s 3.3 million Muslims, the other 1 percent, are developing their own take on what it means to follow Islam.
The jihadis are already rejoicing at your election because — their words here, not mine — it “reveals the true mentality of the Americans and their racism toward Muslims and Arabs and everything.” But what do they know?
When Bill O’Reilly asked you whether you thought American Muslims fear you, you replied, “I hope not. I want to straighten things out.”
So, in a similar spirit of good tidings, this memo about how good ol’ American values are influencing Islam in the United States might help make that whole straightening out go a little easier. Since it’s not likely that much beyond references to Islam as “a cancer” is going to make it into your briefing papers anytime soon, I thought I’d toss this out into the webosphere in the hope that you might trip across it late some night while prowling the net.
(It’s OK to just read the stuff in bold print.)
The Saudi, Egyptian, and Pakistani conservatives are losing their grip on American Islam. Those old-school clerics who espouse a Saudi-inspired brand of the religion and once had a significant presence in many American mosques are yesterday’s news for a growing number of American Muslims. If anything, the rise of the so-called Islamic State has only sped up that process.
“The light of Islam will shine from the West,” Farooq Khan of the Islamic Center of Long Island recently told me with pride in his voice. “And the reason is because we have all the constitutional protections. We have the freedom to write, freedom to speak, and freedom to interpret.”
If you were a Sunni Muslim in America in the 1970s and 1980s and wanted to study more about your religion, the odds are you ended up with a textbook written in Saudi Arabia. That was natural. After all, one of the Saudi king’s many titles is “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.” Translation: We call the shots when it comes to Islamic orthodoxy.
There’s no pope of Sunni Islam, the largest branch of the religion. But the chief clerics in Saudi Arabia and their counterparts at Egypt’s Al-Azhar University come awfully close. Or at least they did. That’s changing.
“We’re no longer talking about a group of Egyptian, Pakistani, or Iranian sheikhs who are imported here to teach Americans about Islam,” says Omid Safi, a professor of Islamic studies at Duke University. “More American Muslims want to have someone who articulates their vision of Islam with an American accent.”