Muslims in America

Forty or fifty years ago, Americans knew very little about Islam. Today, Islam is one of the nation's fastest-growing religions. I'm Shirley Griffith. And I'm Sarah Long. We tell about Muslims in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

Muslims throughout America have just celebrated the end of the holy month of Ramadan. The month marks the time when the Prophet Mohammed received the first revelations of the religion. Muslims believe these messages and teachings come directly from God. Revelations to Mohammed became the Muslim holy book, the Koran ('qu-rahn).

Muslims say special prayers during Ramadan. They restrict eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset. They are urged to take part in self-denial and self-examination. Some Muslims who have studied the Koran intensely repeat the whole book from memory.

Many Muslims arrived in the United States from other nations within the past thirty years. They came from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Some came to the United States to get work or training. Some came to attend universities. Now the children and grandchildren of these people also have made their homes in America.

On September Eleventh, foreign Islamic extremists attacked the United States. The attacks killed more than three-thousand people in Washington, DC, and New York City. The attackers belonged to the al-Qaeda group led by Osama bin Laden. He is Muslim, and has declared a holy war on the United States.

American Muslims condemned the terrorist attacks. They declared their loyalty to the United States. They noted that many victims of the attacks were Muslim. Muslim religious centers all over the country held prayer services for victims of the attacks.

Still, Muslims and others from Arab countries say they have suffered as a result of the attacks. Some Muslims say they were threatened or insulted at work. Others say they were dismissed from their jobs because of their religion. Still others say they are unable to get work. In several incidents, airplane and bus passengers said they were afraid to travel with other passengers who appeared to be from the Middle East.

After September Eleventh, hundreds of students from Middle Eastern countries left universities in the United States and returned home. They said they feared being attacked or being suspected of something.

The United States government is now holding hundreds of young Muslim men. They were seized because they were similar in some ways to the young Muslims responsible for the terrorist attacks. Only a very few of the men held are suspected in connection with terrorism. The others are suspected or charged with less serious violations. Some, for example, are in the United States illegally.

The government has made an offer to any of these men who provide helpful information about the attacks. In return, they will get help gaining travel documents or becoming United States citizens. Other foreigners also may receive this help if they co-operate with the government.

President Bush has called for such cooperation in the search for the terrorists who attacked the United States. At the same time, the president has repeatedly expressed friendship toward the American Islamic community. He urges other Americans not to blame innocent Muslims for the deadly attacks.

Mr. Bush visited the main Islamic mosque in Washington, DC, soon after the attacks. He described Islam as a religion of peace. He also held a Ramadan dinner recently for members of the Muslim-American community. It was probably the first such event ever held in the White House.

Many Americans say they want to increase their understanding of Islam. Booksellers say they are having trouble supplying all the requests for books about the religion.

Members of Christian churches and Jewish synagogues have met recently with Muslims. For example, members of the Foundry Methodist Church in Washington visited a nearby mosque. Members of the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia, soon will visit Foundry church.

The State Department reports that at least six-million Muslims live in the United States. More than seventy percent work as doctors, professors, teachers, or in technical or business jobs. However, some of the newest arrivals are poor.

About three-hundred-seventy-thousand Arab-Americans live in or near the major city of Detroit, Michigan. Estimates say about half are Muslims. Population experts say many Muslims in the Detroit area were Palestinians.

Others fled countries like Iraq and Yemen. They left because of economic and political problems in those areas during the early twentieth century. A similar immigration took place about thirty years ago. Many of the arriving Muslims first worked in car factories, a major industry in Detroit.

Dearborn, Michigan, is said to have the largest population of Muslims of any American community. Other cities with large Muslim populations are New York; Los Angeles, California; and Chicago, Illinois. However, Muslims live all over the United States.

Muslims now have more than two times as many religious centers in the United States as they did eleven years ago. Today, Muslims worship in more than one-thousand-two-hundred mosques. Many mosques are expanding and new ones are being built.

For example, workers are increasing the size of the mosque in Dearborn, Michigan by one-hundred percent. Members need more space because so many people attend services. Muslims also are building one of the largest mosques in North America in Dearborn. This Islamic Center of America will cost fifteen-million dollars.

Most mosques in the United States have Asian, African-American and Arab members. In any Islamic mosque, men and women pray separately. Muslims hold weddings and memorial services in the mosque. Children and young people receive religious education there. At the same time, adults discuss the Islamic religion. Some American Muslims gather for meals and social events in the mosque, too.

The Prophet Mohammed was born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia in the seventh century. He declared the Islamic religion in the year Six-Hundred-Ten. Like Jews and Christians, Muslims believe there is only one God. Muslims believe God also spoke to people besides Mohammed. They include the prophets of Judaism and Jesus of Nazareth. However, Muslims believe Mohammed completed God's message.

Mohammed is said to have repeated the revelations he received to his supporters. Some experts in Islam say people wrote down the words. Older Muslims also repeated the Koran to their children over the centuries. Some modern Muslims also learn every word in the Koran.

Islam has been known in the United States since slaves were brought here from Africa in the Sixteen-Hundreds. Perhaps twenty percent of the slaves were born Muslims. Most changed their religion to Christianity. Some were forced to do so. This history partly explains why some black Americans have joined the Islamic religion.

The first Muslims who came freely to America arrived in the Eighteen-Seventies. They were among many Middle Eastern people who came during that time. Some Muslims gave up their religion and customs. They married Christians and followed Christian ways. Others followed the ways of Islam.

Muslims pray five times each day. They are not permitted to drink alcohol or use illegal drugs. They may not eat pork or any meat that has not been prepared under Islamic supervision. They must keep their bodies well covered. These rules require a way of life that is different from the main American culture.

A Muslim writer says it is not always easy to live a truly Muslim life in America. However, she says it is worth the effort.

This program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Paul Thompson. I'm Shirley Griffith. And I'm Sarah Long. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.