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Muslim Diaspora in the United States


Increased migration processes are a characteristic feature of a globalizing world. Globalization makes the "national barriers" more transparent, and millions of people leave their homes and rush into other countries in search of a better life. The sharp increase in the scale of migration is in parallel with the consolidation of the immigrant ethnic communities. Being in a new place, migrants tend to unite together not only to survive, but also to preserve their customs and traditions often in very hostile ethno-cultural environment with alien language (Cohen, 2008). They either join the existing diasporas or create new ones. As a result, the number of diasporas in the world is continuously increasing. One of the fastest growing diasporas is Muslim diaspora, especially in the United States. They confront many obstacles and prejudices because of religious and cultural specialties. The purpose of the article is to analyze the migration history, the arrival and settlement of Muslims in the US, their major characteristics, the nature of religious and cultural challenges they confront, and the relative success in overcoming these challenges.

The Migration History of Muslims in the United States

Black Muslims appeared in the US in the early 17th century, when Muslim slaves were brought to America from Africa (GhaneaBassiri, 2010). However, in the early twentieth century, black Islam acquired new quality. At that time, there was black nationalism, and Islam started to gradually occupy the position of alternative religion in relation to traditional Christianity.

The first black mosque (Moorish Science Temple) was established in 1913 in New Jersey, and it later became the center of missionary activity. Moreover, it promotes black nationalism GhaneaBassiri, 2010). This ideology was overtaken by the movement of the Nation of Islam (also known as the Black Muslims) being created in 1931. The first three decades of its existence, this movement was quite weak and uninfluential. The situation changed dramatically in the early 1960s, when the US gained momentum in the movement for the abolition of the segregation laws led by a priest, Martin Luther King GhaneaBassiri, 2010). Black Americans have abolished racist laws using non-violent methods. However, the movements for equality were launched in black ghettos, with some of the former escalating into riots (Cohen, 2008). The ideology of the informal leaders of the riots was very close to the ideas that promoted the Nation of Islam. The latter has become an influential and powerful organization in the 1960s, but there has been a split between black nationalists and Islamic adherents of more orthodox form of Sunni Islam afterwards GhaneaBassiri, 2010). In the 1990s, the political circles of the USA have recognized the growing influence of African American Muslims.

History tells about five waves of Muslim migration to the United States (Curtis, 2009). The first wave refers to the beginning of the 19 century, when the Muslims came to America at the invitation to work in the fields unknown to European settlers (Curtis, 2009). The peak of this wave occurred in the period between the end of the American Civil War and the First World War. The second wave of Muslims migration began after the First World War and the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

The third wave of Muslim migration to the United States began after the new immigration law in 1930, when Muslims were allowed to invite relatives and members of their families to America (Curtis, 2009). The fourth stage of the migration of Muslims to the United States began after World War II and continued until the 1960s (Curtis, 2009). Most of Muslims, who immigrated to the United States during this period, were businessmen, students and workers of different professions. The main reasons for this influx were economic, cultural, educational, and social considerations.

The fifth wave of Muslim migration to the United States has been associated with the transformations of the geopolitical processes in Muslim regions (Arab-Israeli war, Israeli occupation of Lebanon, war in Afghanistan, war in Iraq, geopolitical changes in the South Caucasus and Central Asia, etc.) (Curtis, 2009). During this period, that continues to the present day, there is the largest wave of migration of Muslims to the United States from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, the Arab countries of the Middle East, Palestine, Turkey, North Africa, and CIS countries (Curtis, 2009).

The Major Characteristics of Muslim Diaspora

Islamic organizations and movements in the United States are politicized, and this may be a radical politicization. At the same time, there is no reason to talk about establishment of united Muslim Ummah in contemporary America. There, Islamic diaspora is not united because of its ethnic and religious differences. Often, Muslims of African and Asian origin operate in parallel, but independently of each other. Each team participatng in the political struggle tries to achieve local objectives. Nevertheless, the Muslim community in the US is one of the fastest growing minority not only in quantity and quality, but also in terms of organizing of its activities in the West.

The settlement and social adaptation of American Muslims led recently to positive results. It is necessary to point out that although their community is very diverse and is made up mostly of immigrants, they are nevertheless more Americans than aliens in their outlook, values, and attitudes (Moghissi, 2006). Various indicators of the level of income and education among American Muslims demonstrate that the extent of their integration into society as a whole is comparable to the average of other minority groups (Moghissi, 2006). The American Muslim community is largely composed of middle-class doctors, engineers, and scientists. It reinforces positive feelings like social confidence, being needed, belonging to the surrounding society and their new homeland within diaspora. Every American mosque is the center of the local Muslim community and has its own program for the promotion of Islamic values in the US society.

In the United States, the followers of Islam are largely satisfied with their lives and profess more moderate views than their coreligionists in Europe. In addition, US Muslims are trying to actively participate in public and political life. In this aspect, the US experience is unique and interesting. According to public opinion polls, 77% of Muslims reported their participation in the organizations of assisting the poor, the sick, the homeless, or the elderly (Moghissi, 2006); 71% of them are involved in the activities of religious organizations or mosques; 69% of them are the members of school and youth programs; 51% of Muslims said that they had signed petitions for various topical issues, wrote in the media, and appealed to politicians for their concerns (Moghissi, 2006).

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Finally, there is another feature that distinguishes the American model of integration of the population professing Islam. This is an understanding and accepting by the US Muslims the fact that they live in the country of their choice. Unlike Europe, the United States of America is a country of immigrants, and it appears to them as a new and desirable homeland. They deliberately made the choice to become Americans and are interested in harmonious integration into society.

Such processes were likely to be developed further, but the events of September 11th, 2001 seriously (and probably permanently) changed the context of interaction of American Muslims and other citizens into the American. Before this tragedy, Americans perceived Muslims as bearers of "other cultures" and "other traditions", but this attitude was neutral. After the incident, Islam turned into something alien or "anti-American" in the public consciousness. Anti-terrorist sentiment and suspicion, which appeared after the destruction of the twin towers, were replicated in media, thus escalating Islamic phobia. The established atmosphere of fear in the US and the wave of ensuing anti-Islamic statements were so strong that they even required the intervention of the highest state authority. The current US policy could be called dual and contradictory: it combines the efforts to establish a dialogue with the Muslim community and the constant pressure on it. The situation with Muslims is somewhat like with Jewish diaspora in the US, but the latter have problems with anti-Semitism (Sheffer, 2005).

Challenges for Muslim Community in the US Society

Typically, the US experience in the field of regulating interracial, interethnic, and inter-religious cooperation is seen primarily as positive. This is largely true: the country, in general, eliminated the most glaring inequalities that African Americans and other ethnic groups had to face for a long time. It has historically been a disadvantage with respect to the white majority's position. America developed today a strong legal protection of minorities, which goes back to the official paradigm of cultural pluralism (multiculturalism) providing them with a guarantee of the preservation and the development of their identities. On this doctrinal basis, the US authorities were successful to solve the problems relating to compliance with such civil equalities as the fight against xenophobia and discrimination on racial or religious grounds. In short, everything that prevented full social integration of people of other nationalities, confessions, etc was rooted up. However, it became obvious that the solution of problems related to the alignment of the political and legal status of minorities does not release the United States from other problems in the field of intercultural and interethnic relations. One of these threats is a real crisis of American identity even described by Samuel Huntington in his fundamental work “Who are we? “ Its essence lies in the fact that nowadays the vast range of minorities in the United States not seeking for mastering the state language and common standards of life, calls for the question of the integriity of the American political nation.

When it is necessary to calculate the approximate number of Muslims in the United States, one has to consider three factors. Firstly, while counting, it is necessary to distinguish the number of Muslim migrants from the number of African-Americans who converted to Islam because of vigorous activity of the "Nation of Islam" in the 20th century. Secondly, it is necessary to take into account traditionally high birth rate among Muslim migrants and African-American Muslims. Thirdly, one cannot ignore the number of newly converted Muslims from among "white" Americans and Hispanics.

There is no precise data about the number of Muslims in the United States, but their number is probably about 7 million people or about 2.5% of the US population according to the most common estimate. In the list of religious minorities, Muslims occupy the fourth position. Muslim population in the US is growing rapidly due to immigration, high birth rates, and people changing their faith in favor of Islam.

The Muslims are divided into three groups in the United States. The first group are the "black" Muslims (i.e. African-Americans), who now make up more than 40% of all Muslims in the United States. The second group includes the so-called "white" Muslims and consists of Arabs and the various peoples of the Middle East. The representatives of the third group are Asian Muslims from Southeast Asia. In addition, some followers of Islam in the United States are immigrants from Latin America. The Muslim community is unique in its diversity: only 35% of its members were born in the US (mainly, they are the representatives of the so-called "black" Islam' they are Afro-Americans who adopted Mohammedanism); others came from 80 different Asian countries (two-thirds) and Africa (one third). No other country has such a rich palette of Muslims of different backgrounds. These people are an unusual mosaic of ethnic, linguistic, ideological, social, economic and, religious groups, that are connected to the US neither historically nor culturally. The Muslims sometimes have demands. The American Muslims and Muslims in the West (and also in Australia, Britain, and Canada) have required recognition and putting in force some aspects of the Islamic shariah. That is important religious point pertaining Muslim marriage and divorce (Ali, 2010).

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Faithful Muslim migrants have to get used to living in a society that is not only secularized, but also tolerant towards atheists. There is a lot of atheists, and they do not hide, and often demonstrate their unbelief openly. This is difficult to imagine in most societies of the Muslim East. Thus, there is no coincidence that President Obama said in one of his speeches that America is a country of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and nonbelievers. Meanwhile, the US will never elect the candidate as president if he or she does not talk about his faith in God.

Due to ethnocultural and religious specialties, it is believed that the Muslim community is usually quite a closed one. However, the Muslim community is not excluded from the rest of society in America; this situation is different from the situation in Europe. There, Muslims often live in separate and closed to outsiders blocks, essentially transformed into a kind of voluntary ghetto (Michalowski & Burchardt, 2014). This adds further to their alienation from the host society and the growth of prejudice against the Islamic minority. While living in American society, one may also experience negative stereotypes about Muslims. However, their situation looks better than in many other countries with an Islamic diaspora. Especially important are the activities of organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Federation of Islamic Associations of the USA and Canada, the Muslim Student Association, the Islamic Society of North America, the Islamic Training Center, and others.


Diasporas have a major impact on host countries. They change their demographic structure, ethnic and religious composition. Diaspora not only maintains its traditions, customs, rituals, but often imposes alien values of its members on host country. The impact of diasporas is growing not only in terms of domestic but also foreign policies of the host countries. The large transnational diasporas with significant financial resources are actively lobbying the interests of those countries which have recently been the homeland for them and with whom they have close ties.

Muslims came to the United States in five waves of immigration. They have experienced the rise and decline in the American society's relationship. The main reason of the recent decline was terrorist attacks. Muslims are easy to adapt to new environment, and their attitude to the US is different from the Muslims' attitudes to host countries in Europe. American Muslims comply easier with local laws and traditions. However, they have to get used to atheistic, multicultural, and secular American environment.

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