BBC – March 15, 2005
Muslim American: A new identity?
By Ruhi Hamid
Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the US, yet one in four Americans regard Muslims living among them with suspicion. What does it mean to be both Muslim and American?
Touring the US with his band Junoon, rock star and Muslim American, Salman Ahmed, wanted to find out how the aftermath of 9/11 continues to shape the lives of Muslim Americans in 2005.
"Following the attack," he says, "there were human rights abuses against Muslims, using immigration violations as a weapon. Thousands have been detained and others deported."
One month after the attacks on New York and Washington, Congress rushed the Patriot Act into law to help track down terrorists.
"The Act gave the FBI the right to spy on American citizens, to look into our lives, our email, and even our library records," he says.
Even though the hijackers who attacked the Twin Towers in September 2001 represented a militant fringe, some Americans have blamed the entire Muslim world.
And the claims made by terrorists, that they acted in the name of Islam, have outraged many Muslims.
Salman met Shereef Akeel, a contracts lawyer whose life had been "turned upside down since 9/11."
Shereef says he has been defending students and people who have lost their jobs and been intimidated just because their name is Mohammed, or because they are Pakistani or simply Muslim.
"This is my country, but it is a difficult time. It's a sad time. It's difficult to be a Muslim here - for all of us," he says.
So, how should the Muslim American community challenge suspicious minds in the US?
Former lawyer, Azhar Usman, believes the answer lies in comedy.
Currently touring the US with the show Allah Made Me Funny, Azhar is convinced that many Americans want to hear from moderate voices.
"The more mainstream America hears the moderate voices, the less suspicious they'll be," he says.
"We as American Muslims must stand up, be proud of who we are, and be people who say unequivocally and enthusiastically, that we're American Muslim."
However, he is also critical of his own community. He says: "Our problem as a community is that we're very isolationist. We don't want to get out there and make bridges with people, connect with people."
There is a stirring in Muslim communities. A new breed of activists driven by anger and injustice against Muslims, both at home and abroad, is on the move.
The war on terror at home, the invasion of Iraq and the Abu Ghraib scandal are just some of the issues that drive them.
In the aftermath of the terror attacks, Muslims retreated from local and state politics to an astonishing degree: more than 90% of Muslim politicians were no longer in office by 2002.
However, the US election in 2004 captured the attention of this community like never before and brought them back into politics.
Mosques and Islamic organizations were urging Muslims to exercise their right to vote.
Traditionally, Muslims have voted Republican because of their emphasis on moral values, but in 2004 many considered switching to the Democrats, hoping they would be less of a threat to Muslims both in America and abroad. …